I should have asked someone first...

  • Published
  • By Edwards Health and Wellness Center staff
  • EAFB
As you look in the mirror at the start of another day, you see someone who looks bulked up and buff. But something very important is missing in that reflection--the uniform you once so proudly wore as a member of the U.S. Air Force. As you straighten your tie and head off to the unemployment office, you ask yourself if it was worth trying out the shortcuts. Was your career and long-term health really a fair trade off for the instant gratification some illegal supplements promised? Maybe you should have just asked someone first...

Pre and post-workout supplements are the rage these days and are tempting to some who are looking for a quick fix or those who have become wrapped up in the "muscle heads religion." Unfortunately, scientific research simply does not back up what these products advertise. Putting in "constructive" time in the weight room (not mirror gazing, chatting on cell phones or socializing) and controlling your diet is the only proven, tested and healthy way to get those muscles big and keep them looking that way.

The military imposes serious consequences for weight gain and substandard physical performance, which leads many to take extreme measures such as supplement use.

While "fitness experts" and their websites advertise drugs and supplements as the miracle key to your weight loss and fitness performance goals, they fail to inform you of the negative health effects and legality of these substances. They want your money, so your health and job security are not their concern.

Let's walk through some of the more popular "quick fixes" on the market today:
Clenbuterol: The promise is that this stimulant increases metabolism, resulting in weight loss. In fact, this is a great drug...if you're a horse. Yes, this is a drug used by veterinarians to treat horses with breathing problems and it is not approved for human use in the U.S. This drug has serious side effects that include heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms, headache, nausea/vomiting and permanent damage to the thyroid gland.
Liothyronine (Cytomel): Again, the promise here is to increase metabolism, resulting in weight loss. This is a potent hormone and is prescribed by physicians for use in patients with hypothyroidism (low functioning thyroid gland). The drug manufacturer clearly states that it should not be used for weight loss in patients with normal thyroid function. Such use can cause serious or life-threatening toxicity such as heart disease, loss of bone density and infertility. Also important to note is the use of this drug will result in loss of lean muscle mass, which reduces metabolism over the long term.

Jack-3D: This is a mixture of many substances and is advertised as a weight loss and performance enhancing supplement. It is banned from sale at Army and Air force Exchange Service stores due to severe health risk associated with its use including lactic acidosis, hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding in the brain), heat stroke and death in military members who have tried it. For obvious reasons, use of this supplement is highly discouraged.

Ephedra: A range of nutritional supplements, some of which purport to enhance fitness, increase endurance or control weight, contain Ephedra or its alkaloids. They have been implicated in over a thousand adverse event reports submitted to the Food and Drug Administration Adverse Event Reporting System. Some outcomes have been fatal, including U.S. military personnel. Use of Ephedra is strongly discouraged by the Air Force Surgeon General and is banned from sale at AAFES stores.

Energy drinks: Example brands: Red Bull, Monster, Diesel, Venom, Sprin and Adrenaline Rush. These have no proven benefit to athletic performance and in fact have negative side effects to include: increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, anxiety, nervousness and abnormal heart rhythm. These should be avoided prior/after PT. The Fitness Assessment Cell has seen an increase in PT failures directly related to someone attempting to "amp up" on energy drinks prior to testing. While not illegal to use, any situation that leads to failing the fitness test sets your Air Force career up for failure. Mixing energy drinks with alcohol is a prescription for disaster in regards to physical health and should be avoided.

So if these supplements/enhancers have potentially harmful side effects, why are they commercially available and advertised on TV?
United States law, therefore the FDA, defines a dietary supplement as a product taken by mouth that contains a "dietary ingredient." Dietary ingredients include vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbs, botanicals, etc. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 places dietary supplements in a unique category under the general umbrella of "foods" not drugs. The FDA fully evaluates the scientific research, effectiveness and potential side effects of all drugs before they are allowed to be sold and used in the country. However, the FDA does not evaluate food. Since dietary supplements are considered a food, federal law does not require supplements to verify or prove the accuracy of their claims and doesn't require the FDA to prove those supplements safe for consumption. The FDA suggests that you discuss the use of any supplements with a qualified healthcare provider.

The American Dietetic Association states that "the best nutrition-based strategy for promoting optimal health and reducing the risk of chronic disease is to wisely choose a wide variety of foods." Vitamin and mineral supplements may be useful when they fill a specific identified nutrient gap, but they cannot replace a healthful diet. Individuals who are already consuming the recommended amount of nutrients in food will not achieve additional health benefits with super-dosing. In the end, the best way to maintain health and fitness, and prevent chronic disease, is to consume a wide variety of nutritious foods, stay well hydrated and engage in physical activity most days of the week.

If you choose to utilize supplements, shop for products with seals from third party/independent verification programs that evaluate and certify dietary supplements for quality. Notable names are United States Pharmacopeia, NSF International, Informed-Choice, HFL Sport Science and Consumer Lab. If you experience adverse effects with dietary supplements, contact your healthcare provider immediately and report this problem to the FDA (www.cfsan.dfa.gov/~dms/ds-rept.html), or notify the product's manufacturer or distributor through the address or phone number listed on the product's label.

Not only does using "fitness supplements" affect your physical and mental health, it can impact your career as well. Everyone knows supplements can be purchased via the internet. However, some of the supplements which are available for purchase online are not legal for active duty members to use or even possess. Using some of the substances mentioned in this article, or the countless others available on the internet, opens the door to administrative discharge or other adverse actions. Please seek out the guidance of the personnel listed below before you start taking a substance to make sure that you are not engaging in an activity that could adversely affect your career and health. Your career and health may be riding on it.

Remember, ask someone first.

Contact your PCM or:

Aerospace Physiologist - 1st Lt. Carolyn Price at 277-3025
HAWC Dietitian - Alice Flores at 277-8480
Fitness Center - Pete Smith at 275-4961
Area Defense Counsel - Capt. Nick Peterson at 277-2809

Recommended/reputable websites for medical information: