WASHINGTON, D.C. — For peak performance, Airmen should eat healthy and exercise regularly. But in the quest to gain an “edge,” many Airmen resort to dietary supplements.
Enter Operation Supplement Safety, or OPSS. This Defense Department educational campaign, accessible at www.hprc-online.org/opss, educates the warfighter and health-care provider on responsible dietary supplement use.
While some supplements, such as multivitamins, are generally safe, other supplements can pose a hazard to health and jeopardize careers from adulterants that cause a positive urine drug screen.
“One third of Airmen report using legal body-building supplements and one in six report weight-loss supplements in the past year,” said Col. (Dr.) John Oh, the chief of health promotion for the Air Force Medical Support Agency. “Body-building and weight-loss supplements, as well as sexual enhancement and diabetes supplements, are high-risk categories that should raise red flags.”
Ephedra is a cautionary tale of a problematic dietary supplement. Heavily marketed as a supplement to help improve athletic performance and promote weight loss, serious health events, including deaths first reported in the military, led the Food and Drug Administration to ban ephedra in 2004.
The OPSS website contains videos, fact sheets, FAQs and briefings to help Airmen make informed, responsible decisions on supplement use, as well as an “Ask the Expert” feature in which Airmen can directly pose a question to a supplement expert.
“The OPSS website is a must-read source for Airmen, commanders, first shirts, superintendents and their health-care providers,” Oh said. “People think if a dietary supplement is sold on base, it must be safe, but that’s not necessarily true.”
Unlike prescription meds, the FDA does not approve dietary supplements for safety and effectiveness prior to marketing.
“For prescription drugs, the manufacturer must show that the drug works and is safe before putting it on market,” Oh said. “But most supplements are marketed first, and the burden is on the FDA to prove they are unsafe.”
Since supplements can be adulterated with prescription and illegal drugs, Airmen may put their careers at risk with a positive drug screen. Service members who chose to use supplements are encouraged to stick with brands that have undergone third-party certification by independent companies such as USP, Informed Choice, NSF International and ConsumerLab.com. Third-party certification does not guarantee that the supplement is safe or effective, but it does validate manufacturing practices, purity and/or quality, so that what’s on the label is accurate.
Airmen are encouraged to be strong Wingmen for each other and help spread the word on supplement safety.
“The aim of Operation Supplement Safety is to not stamp out supplement use,” Oh said. “We want Airmen who use supplements to be informed consumers and choose wisely.”
For more information on dietary supplement safety, visit The Human Performance Resource Center website at www.hprc-online.org. To request OPSS education materials, military members can contact their local Air Force health promotion staff. Civilian employees can contact their local Civilian Health Promotion Services team or visit AFMCwellness.com.
Air Force Materiel Command Wellness Support Center contributed to this article.