The Pros and Cons of Dietary Supplements

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Supplements are designed to add further nutritional value to a diet, not act as a meal replacement.
Supplements are designed to add further nutritional value to the diet, not act as a meal replacement. (Airman 1st Class Daniel Brosam/U.S. Air Force photo illustration)

Dietary supplements can be used to improve physical performance during exercise, build muscle, change body composition and delay fatigue. If used unwisely, however, they can affect overall health adversely.

Dosage is one key concern that should be taken into account with supplement use. Service members and civilians can largely harm their health with a "more is better" attitude.

"We have an idea of how people react to dietary supplements at the dosages used in clinical studies, but many service members may decide to increase the dosage above and beyond what the manufacturer recommends, increasing their chances of suffering adverse reactions," said Lt. Col. Martha Davis, theater dietician, 115th Combat Support Hospital.

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Supplements may cause different reactions in a deployed environment and even affect troops' overall mission readiness.

"Service members may experience a different reaction to the dietary supplement due to the climate or stress," Davis said. "The heat and stress of a deployed environment may result in a change for troops' tolerance for certain dietary supplements."

In hot and humid environments like Iraq, supplements can greatly increase the risk of injury, especially since most of them require the user to increase fluid intake.

"The risks of dehydration and heat injury increase dramatically in hot, humid environments," Davis said. "When temperature and humidity are both high, there is a very high risk of heat illness."

Overall, supplements can often do more harm than good, and service members should consult a qualified health-care professional before taking any supplements, Davis said.

Some may cause dangerous side effects, such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, muscle breakdown, depression, agitation and increased risk of having a heart attack.

Weight lossmuscle gain, strength and endurance are important to the improvement of physical fitness, but when taking supplements, users always should take the proper precautions to mitigate the risk of adverse effects.

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