US Army soldiers' supplement use up 8% in four years

By Stephen Daniells

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock / zabelin
© iStock / zabelin

Related tags Dietary supplements United states army

The use of dietary supplements by US Army personnel is on the rise, with protein and combination products leading the way, says a new analysis.

Regular use of dietary supplements increased from 56% to 64% between 2006-7 and 2010-11, which was mostly driven by increasing use in soldiers aged between 18 and 24, according to data published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism​.

The use of protein supplements was found to increase 4% over the same four-year period, while combination product use increased 14%. A combination product was defined as a product containing a mixture of vitamins, minerals, protein and amino acids. Significant increases in the use of individual vitamin and minerals, including iron, magnesium, selenium, and vitamins A, B6, B12, and D were also reported.

“The reasons for use of [dietary supplements] cited by soldiers indicate increased reliance on performance-enhancing products because of the occupational demands faced by soldiers, such as maintaining and enhancing high levels of physical endurance and strength,”​ wrote the authors, led by Krista Austin from the Military Nutrition Division at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine.

“Furthermore, soldiers report relying on [dietary supplements] to assist with meeting Army occupational requirements for body weight management. Patterns of [dietary supplement] use by Army personnel continue to diverge from that of the civilian population,” ​they added.  


The US military continues to survey its personnel over dietary supplement use. A systematic review and meta-analysis of 14 studies across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Elite Forces reported that men in elite groups such as the Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Army Special Forces had very high usage, with 76% reporting using any dietary supplement.

The meta-analysis also found that use among female personnel was higher than men, with 71% of women reporting dietary supplement use compared with 59% of men  (BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine​, ​2014, Vol. 14, pp. 143).

Military sources have previously expressed concern over the excessive use of supplements by service personnel. In an interview with NutraIngredients-USA in 2011​, Edward Zambraski, PhD, Division Chief, Military Performance Division, US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM) said that a lack of understanding of the effects of some supplements was causing concern within the US military.

Dr Zambraski said that, while supplement use per se​ is not a concern, excessive supplement use is.

Study details

The new study used data from 989 soldiers in 2006-7 and 1,196 soldiers four years later using a standardized questionnaire.

The data indicated that use in soldiers aged between 18 and 24 increased from 43% in 2006-7 to 62% in 2010-11.

Multivitamin and mineral use decreased slightly over the four-year period from 41% to 39%, while the greatest increases in use were observed for protein products and combination products. The top reasons cited for taking protein products were “greater muscle strength” and “performance enhancer”, while the top reasons for the use of combination products in 2010-11 were “performance enhancer” and “weight loss”.

“Expenditures on DSs increased significantly between 2006–2007 and 2010–2011 with a significantly greater percentage of respondents (25% vs. 32%, respectively, p < 0.01) reporting expenditures of $50 or more every month,” ​wrote the authors.

“The increasing prevalence of DS use among soldiers, especially of performance-enhancing supplements, highlights the need for a surveillance system capable of detecting DSs that may be unsafe or cause side effects either alone or in combination. Increased education to ensure appropriate use of DSs by soldiers is warranted given the extensive use by soldiers of DSs to optimize physical performance and enhance weight loss,” ​they added.

Source: Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism
Volume 41, Issue 12, Pages 1217-1224, doi: 10.1139/apnm-2016-0296
“Longitudinal trends in use of dietary supplements by U.S. Army personnel differ from those of civilians”
Authors: K.G. Austin et al. 

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