HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE– Protein powders, pre-workout supplements and multi-vitamins may be seemingly harmless. But, could they be posing an unforeseen risk to your health and career?
“Supplements are not regulated by the (Federal Drug Administration), the only thing that’s regulated is the label,” said Juli Bailey, 49th Medical Group health promotion coordinator.
Bailey said the FDA has a list of banned ingredients that cannot appear on a supplement’s label, but that does not guarantee that ingredient will not end up in the bottle. The FDA does not conduct testing to inspect the components of a supplement to verify it matches the label. Companies could be putting potentially harmful and illegal ingredients in their products and the consumer would have no idea.
While the FDA may not test supplements to determine if the components of a supplement match the label, but there are third-party companies who do.
“The way that you tell if a supplement has been researched and tested is by the third party seal of approval,” said Bailey. “If a supplement has one of the seals, it means a third party has tested, researched and verified what the company says is in the bottle, is in the bottle.”
It is of the utmost importance for all members of the Department of Defense to be educated regarding what they are putting in their bodies, not only because of the health risks, but also the potential legal ramifications.
“If something comes back on your urinalysis and you say, ‘oh it must be from this supplement.’ But, the (supplement company) tells us there’s no way this ingredient could have tested for what you popped positive for — where do we go from there,” said Capt. Ross Hoogstraten, 49th Wing assistant staff judge advocate. “Onus is on the member, and instead of getting into a situation like that it’s easiest to set the strict line that you’re taking it at your own risk.”
In addition to looking out for illegal ingredients being added unbeknownst to the consumer, military members, federal employees and their dependents should also check for ingredients that are legal for civilians, but illegal for military members.
“In New Mexico, there’s a new law being enacted on 1 July that legalizes CBD in certain food products and certain drinks,” said Hoogstraten. “It’s going to be more rampant in food stores verses in just supplements.”
CBD stands for Cannabidiol, and is a chemical compound derived from the cannabis plant. With the exception of FDA approved drug formulations, the Drug Enforcement Administration considers CBD a Scheduled 1 controlled substance making it off-limits to service members and federal employees without a prescription.
Specific state laws may differ from federal law, and while some states allow marijuana or marijuana derivatives, to include CBD, to be sold legally that does not give military members and federal employees the greenlight to possess and consume CBD or marijuana products. New Mexico residents may see CBD products popping up in many big-box stores in the coming months, and in products ranging from pet supplements to electronic cigarettes — military members and federal employees need to remain vigilant and ensure they are educated about the products they are consuming.
Hemp is another compound that is legal for civilian use and consumption, but not for military — with one exception, FDA testing.
“You can now take FDA approved food hemp items, but the Air Force still criminalizes non-FDA approved hemp items,” said Hoogstraten.
Navigating what supplements are safe and legal can be a daunting task as there is not a ‘black list’ of banned supplements and supplement brands available.
“There is no list of banned supplements, there’s a list of banned ingredients,” said Bailey. “The list is very long, (but) you can get the Operation Supplement Safety application and it can tell you high-risk supplements — supplements that are flagged that could cause potential issues.”
The OPSS app is available for free for both Android and Apple device users, and provides military members and their dependents a quick and easy way to check the safety and legality of their supplements.
OPSS also has a website, which contains additional information and resources regarding supplements and their use. In addition to providing education about what supplements are safe and legal to use, another goal of OPSS is to provide education regarding the safe use of supplements.
The goal of OPSS is not to scare military members, federal employees and their families away from using supplements, but rather to give them the tools and education needed to pick the right supplements and use them in a safe and legal manner.
“We aren’t saying that all of these (companies) are being nefarious and putting ingredients in the bottle (but not the label), but they could be and that’s the potential harm,” said Hoogstraten. “Check your labels and make sure there isn’t anything bad in it like (non-FDA approved) hemp or CBD. It’s safest just to not possess it, even if you’re giving it to your dog or spouse or kid, it is safest just to not have it.”