The Bitter Pill
DR. HARRIS R. LIEBERMAN
Military Nutrition Division
U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine
A lot of Soldiers take dietary supplements. Big pills, little pills, green pills, blue pills, bars, powders and drinks; you name it and you or your buddies have probably taken it. “So what?” you ask. After all, AAFES, supermarkets and drug stores couldn’t sell supplements if they didn’t work or weren’t mostly safe, right? Guess again. They can sell any supplement they want — whether it works or is safe.What you need to know
What the stores, magazines, packaging and internet won’t tell you is dietary supplements are barely regulated by the government. Companies can say things like, “Simulates fat burning” or “Speeds recovery and enhances performance,” but they never have to prove these claims are true. Of course, they’re not supposed to make false or misleading statements, and the government can, in theory, fine them and make them stop, but only if they catch them. There are way too many supplements out there for the government to check on; and as soon as one is banned, a new one just like it hits the market.Do they work? Are they safe?
In reality, most supplements don’t work as promised, and a few are downright dangerous. We know you don’t want to hear that and will probably ignore what doctors, nurses and scientists say. We also know you want to get every possible advantage so you can work and play harder, run farther, bench press more, have more energy, max out your PT test and be a better Soldier. We don’t blame you. After all, who wouldn’t want those things? Especially when the ads and packaging tell us we can get stronger and faster simply by taking a pill or drinking a protein shake. Well, remember that old saying — if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is? Bingo!
If you still feel like you have to take supplements, be especially careful of those found on the internet. Also, don’t stack them. Some contain impurities and extra ingredients that aren’t always listed on the label or website, including drugs that can cause you to fail your Army drug test or seriously harm your body. Right now, you could be taking these things without even realizing it. You can find up-to-date information on dietary supplements on the Operation Supplement Safety website, a Department of Defense resource for Soldiers and other service members, at https://www.opss.org/.Risks and benefits
Most Soldiers who use dietary supplements realize some can be very dangerous. However, they also think the benefits of using supplements outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, since most are useless, you get no benefit — just risk — and spend a lot of money to boot. I know it’s hard to believe, but Soldiers have died after taking some supplements — especially the ones claiming to be workout boosters.What is smart and safe?
First, do your best to eat a balanced, healthy diet. Carbohydrate beverages are good for helping you run farther and faster. But don’t overdo it; these drinks have a lot of calories. If you don’t have enough energy, try getting more sleep since most Soldiers don’t get nearly enough. Also, don’t smoke. In addition to potentially giving you cancer and wrecking your lungs, smoking hurts your athletic performance. It will slow you down when you run and decrease the rate at which you build muscle.
We wish we could give you a list of great dietary supplements to help you be healthier, have more energy, do your job better or perform better on the PT test, but we can’t. Just remember, we don’t get paid extra if you do or don’t take dietary supplements. So you decide who to believe — us or the folks who get richer when you fork over your hard-earned bucks!Disclaimer
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of the Army/Navy/Air Force, Department of Defense or U.S. government. Any citations of commercial organizations and tradenames in this report do not constitute an official Department of the Army endorsement or approval of the products or services of these organizations. Supported by the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command and the DoD Center Alliance for Nutrition and Dietary Supplements Research.