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PRO BASEBALL PLAYERS, AIRMEN AND 'THE EDGE'

Beware of the dangers of supplements. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet)

PRO BASEBALL PLAYERS, AIRMEN AND 'THE EDGE' - Beware of the dangers of supplements. (Photo by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Bendet)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- With spring training kicking off for professional baseball players in late February, it's a good time to point out that professional athletes and Airmen share more similarities than they may realize.

Consider the approach they take to their respective professions. First, both populations must conform to physical fitness standards. To be an effective asset to their team, members of both may seek human performance enhancement tools. Essentially, Airmen and athletes alike are looking for "the edge." Some hope to find that edge in the $20-plus billion dietary supplement industry. However, members of either organization must temper their eagerness to excel with their susceptibility to random urinalysis testing and, for aviators, the potential performance diminishing effects (see "Reduced G-Tolerance Associated with Supplement Use," below).

Also, like the average ball player, Airmen may be ignorant to the fact that dietary supplements purchased at trusted retailers, even those on Air Force bases, may threaten their health and careers. For example, a Consumer Reports article in July 2010, titled "Protein Drinks: Athletes Criticism," reports that in 2005, a National Football League running back temporarily used a well-known protein powder supplement. Subsequently, he tested positive for a banned steroid nandrolone, because of the presence of undisclosed ingredients. An independent lab analysis of the protein powder revealed the presence of norandrostenedione and androstenediol in the supplement, both steroid precursors.

Walking through an on-base store, I spotted the same protein powder used by the NFL player.

How could this happen?

First of all, the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act states that manufacturers need not register their products with the Food and Drug Administration nor get FDA approval before producing or selling dietary supplements. To make matters more interesting, the FDA will only take action against an unsafe dietary supplement after it reaches the market.

Thus, we, the consumers, become the free, willing and paying human test subjects.

The Air Force, however, has a more conservative approach to supplementation, especially when pertaining to the specialized undergraduate pilot training population. According to the "Official Air Force Approved Aircrew Medications" list (May 2011), dietary, herbal and nutritional supplements only can be used with the approval of a flight surgeon. Furthermore, the "Air Force Trainee Health Work Group Dietary Supplement Use Recommendation" (February 2010) recommends that all Airmen in training status be prohibited from using any dietary supplements. Exceptions to this ban only are supplements prescribed or administered by a military medical professional, multivitamins, and protein supplements with soy, whey or casein protein as the only active ingredient.

Bottom line, the nature of the supplement industry simply does not merit the amount of trust consumers place on it. When it comes to supplementation, ask a medical professional first. Not only does Air Force guidance demand it, the costs of supplementation outweigh any potential "edge." Plus, flight docs will tell you the medical truth ... and they don't get a sales commission.
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Article by Capt. Michael Bolduc, aerospace and operational physiologist with the 14th Medical Operations Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., and former strength and conditioning coach of the Los Angeles Angels and Cincinnati Reds. Maj. Maria Elena Gomez-Herbert, also an aerospace and operational physiologist from Columbus, contributed to this article.