Choose your Supplements Wisely

  • Published
  • By Capt. Joanna Amstelveen MS,RD,LD/N
  • 52nd Medical Group
Are you currently taking or thinking about taking a dietary supplement? Do you know what you are taking?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a dietary supplement is "a product intended for ingestion that contains a 'dietary ingredient' intended to add further nutritional value to supplement the diet. A 'dietary ingredient' may be one or any combination of the following substances: a vitamin, mineral, herb, amino acid, a dietary substance for use by people to supplement the diet by increasing the total dietary intake or a concentrate, metabolite, constituent or extract." This also includes multivitamins.

Supplement labels can claim to improve performance, increase energy, assist in weight loss or muscle gain. They can be found in tablet form, softgels, capsules, liquids or powders. An article written by author Michael Bell using data obtained from the Air Force WebPHA, determined that nearly 80% of Airmen reported consuming supplements regularly.

If you plan on or are currently taking dietary supplements, here are a few things to consider.

First, be aware that supplements are not regulated by the FDA. Supplement companies are responsible for evaluating the safety and labeling of their own products before marketing. The FDA is responsible for taking action against the supplement in question once it reaches the market. Essentially, just because a supplement is on the shelf, doesn’t mean it is considered “safe”.

Second, due to the lack of regulation, supplement manufacturers can make false claims touting the functionality of a product. Supplements may also include ingredients not listed on the label, or may be listed in unknown amounts making it far too easy to overconsume ingredients. Supplements listed with “blends” are not required to specify the amount of the ingredient delivered. Ultimately, members may be ingesting substances that may have unfavorable results on U.S. Air Force drug tests.

Finally, consider looking for a third party certification. A third party certification is obtained when a manufacturer’s facility and ingredients have undergone a thorough investigation by an unbiased agency. The five primary third party certifiers are: 1. National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), 2. U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP), 3. Informed Choice, 4. Banned Substances Control Group and 5. Consumer Labs. If a supplement has undergone this extensive testing the label will receive a unique seal displaying the third party certification.

“Make sure you research the supplement you are considering,” said U.S. Air Force Col Jason Bailey, 52d Fighter Wing Commander. “The dietitian on base can help you decipher the good, the bad, and the ugly about supplements. And you can also check out the Operation Supplement Safety website.”

“Ensuring the safety of our Airmen is a top priority,” Bailey said. “Airmen should be as informed as possible regarding the dangers of dietary supplements so we don’t have any adverse events on the ground, in the air, or at home.”

Operation Supplement Safety is an initiative designed to educate service members on safe supplement use. Any supplement that achieves a score of eight or above is likely safe to use. If you have any questions on dietary supplements, or want more information on the Operation Supplement Safety initiative, please call Health Promotions at 452-7385 or visit

1. Unknown. (2016, April 04) Dietary Supplements Retrieved from
2. Bell, Michael. 2015 “Dietary Supplement Use Associated with Air Force Fitness and Deployment Health” CORE Scholar
3. Gonsalves, Stephen et al. 2012 Dietary Supplements in the Department of Defense: Possible Solutions to Optimizing Force Readiness Military Medicine 177, 12:1464-1470