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HAWC offers tools for safe, effective supplement use

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- You really ought to think twice before you swallow that nutritional supplement.

With an increasing number of Defense Department employees and their family members using dietary supplements, it's important to get educated on the products - including their effectiveness, safety and regulation details. 

A recent U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine  study revealed that 53 percent of active-duty military members self-report using supplements, but that fewer than half understand how the Food and Drug Administration regulates supplements or where to go to find out how safe and effective they are. 

The study reports that one third of those surveyed mistakenly thought the FDA exercises pre-market approval of dietary supplements; however, generally the FDA only gets involved with a supplement when it gets notices that people are having adverse events from a particular product. 

Sixty percent of military physicians included in a study said they had observed adverse effects in patients who use supplements.

Stuart Bapties, Robins Health and Wellness Center director, said the growing number of reported adverse effects - including death - has prompted the DOD to address the gap between use and knowledge.

"Operation Supplement Safety is an educational and awareness campaign that provides you with the tools needed to make informed decisions about supplements," he said. "OPSS includes free access to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database through the Human Performance Resource Center Website at http://hprc-online.org/dietary-supplements. 

"Anyone with a .mil email address can access the database for free, a service that otherwise would cost $49 annually, he added." 

The database includes more than 86,000 entries detailing the origin, mechanisms, research and potential interactions of supplements, pharmaceuticals and foods in an easy to search format. 

OPSS also includes information and links to help report adverse events involving supplements and drugs.

"After taking some time to explore the OPSS information, you can check out the rest of the Human Performance Resource Center Website at http://hprc-online.org/," Bapties said. "The website is a free clearinghouse for evidence-based information and resources to help DOD personnel and their families in all aspects of performance to achieve total fitness and, ultimately, human performance optimization."

Bapties said the HPRC has both general and cutting-edge information, resources, strategies, tools, and applications and videos organized around the following areas:

Family & Relationships: This area includes topics such as relationship enhancement, family resilience, deployment phases, family nutrition and physical fitness. Many are geared towards the specific needs of military families.

Physical Fitness: This section covers topics such as physical training and exercise, injury prevention, weight management, fitness tools and resources for women.
Dietary Supplements: Dietary supplements are covered and how to choose them wisely, with a special section about supplement safety.

Nutrition: This area includes nutrition basics, alerts, resources, interactive tools, and "Fighting Weight Strategies."

Mind Tactics: This section addresses topics such as mental focus or toughness, resilience, relaxation, stress management, sleep, and alcohol, tobacco and drugs.
Environment: This section contains information that will help you perform optimally in extreme conditions of heat, altitude, aerospace, water, and more.

Total Force Fitness: This area highlights information and resources on total fitness, bringing together all the above domains to help warfighters develop resilience and optimal performance, as well as integrative performance enhancement programs and practices, and detailed strategies for pain management.

HPRC translates evidence-based materials on various aspects of performance, creates materials on specific topics, and highlights existing resources, Bapties said. 

"You can go to any HPRC domain and find pertinent information--anything from brief downloadable "recipe/tip cards" to longer pieces that address specific topics and each domain has unique information related to its subject area, many related specifically to the military," he said.