Edward Zambraski, PhD, Division Chief, Military Performance Division, US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) told Stephen Daniells at the recent IFT in New Orleans that a current lack of understanding of the effects of some supplements is causing concern within the US military.
A recent USARIEM survey of US Army personnel revealed that that 53 percent of the surveyed soldiers were users of dietary supplements, with the average monthly spend of $38
While 63 percent of the soldiers took supplements in order to improve their health, a significant proportion also listed reasons including providing more energy, increasing muscle strength, and enhancing performance, according to findings published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (Vol. 92, pp. 985-995).
And while supplement use per se is not a concern, excessive supplement use is, said Dr Zambraski.
“The Army is concerned about the excess of supplements being taken [by soldiers] and particularly supplements that we really don’t understand their effects, supplements that could be interactive with one another, or with other medications that may be taken, or supplements that we don’t understand how they may work in the environment of a military operational setting,” said Dr Zambraski.
“The US Army Medical Research and Material Command has set up a specialized group to deal with nutritional supplements in terms of obtaining information in the operational theatre […] and trying to get a handle on that.
“And where there are gap areas, we’d sponsor research to fill those gaps and then getting that information out.”
When a nutritional need is identified amongst specific personnel, Dr Zambraski added that the Army would probably prefer to provide supplementation not in pill form but in food.
“The advantage is that there is a lot we don’t know about food and all the bioactives molecules that may be in it, so if we can provide it through a food there may be some interactions that are more beneficial that we may lose with a simple supplement for a given nutrient,” he said.
Dr Zambraski also dismissed comparisons between soldiers and athletes when thinking about nutrition.
“We’d like to say that a soldier is like a superior athlete, but the demands on a soldier in terms of performance are so very different to the demands on an athlete performing a specific event. It is much more complex being a soldier,” he added.