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'Supplemental' information

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Dietary supplements are part of a $19.8 billion industry spanning a wide variety of products and uses.

Military personnel looking to benefit from dietary supplements are mostly aware of prohibitions against the use of substances such as anabolic steroids and DMAA, but many think dietary supplements are safe if they are not banned, said Cynthia Mulcahy, Health and Wellness Center dietician.

Just because a supplement is not banned does not necessarily mean it is safe to take, she added.

As part of the Operation Supplement Safety Campaign, an endeavor to increase awareness of nutritional supplement safety information throughout the Department of Defense, Mulcahy is scheduled to hand out information and answer questions about nutritional supplements at the Base Commissary Oct. 12.

"These things act like drugs even though they're called supplements," she said. "The difference is drugs are tested before they're given out. Supplements don't have to be tested."

New supplements are not tested and can lead to adverse effects in users, and because they are not tested, it is only in hindsight that products can be seen as unsafe because people suffer from harmful effects due to their use, Mulcahy said.

Not all supplements are dangerous, however.

Some, especially vitamin supplements which have been produced for a long time, are healthy and actually recommended for people who have a low-calorie diet, Mulcahy explained.

"Before taking a supplement, I would ask what it is that you're wanting from the supplement," she said. "Increasing performance or weight loss are the main reasons people take supplements. Sometimes people want the supplement to do the work so they don't have to."

If the intended outcome of taking a supplement is something the person using the supplement can effect by changing their diet or exercise habits, Mulcahy recommends doing that instead.

Military installations have a list of substances, often found in dietary supplements, which can not be sold there. They can be on the list due to safety concerns, Mulcahy said.

Because of our nuclear mission, Airmen on the personnel reliability program have an added layer of concern regarding dietary supplements. Airmen on PRP status should consult with their healthcare providers before taking supplements they are not sure they are permitted to take, Mulcahy said.

For more information about supplements and supplement safety concerns, visit and click the OPSS link.