Are Armed Forces Personnel More Likely Than Civilians to use Potentially Dangerous Dietary Supplements?

Research Paper Title

Surveillance of the armed forces as a sentinel system for detecting adverse effects of dietary supplements in the general population.


Half the US population takes dietary supplements, but surveillance systems available to regulatory and public health authorities to determine whether specific dietary supplements present a risk are inadequate and numerous severe injuries and deaths have occurred from their consumption. Uniformed military personnel regularly use dietary supplements and are more likely to use potentially dangerous supplements than civilians. Recently, the supplement 1,3-dimethylamylamine (DMAA) was marketed for physical performance-enhancement and weight loss. However, after over 100 reports of illness attributed to DMAA, including six deaths, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning to cease its sale.


When DMAA was legal (2010-2011), the researchers conducted, using convenience samples, supplement surveys of service members and determined prevalence of use and self-reported symptoms of DMAA use.

They surveyed 4374 armed forces personnel using a standardised dietary supplement survey administered by local health-care professionals.


Overall, 11 % of survey respondents used dietary supplements labelled as containing DMAA at least once/week. Regular users were over two times more likely to report tachycardia (P<0·0001), tremors (P<0·0001) and dizziness (P=0·0004), and over three times more likely to report numbness/tingling (P<0·0001) than non-users.


Military services could readily monitor adverse events associated with dietary supplements using electronic surveys and medical records. Since armed forces personnel are much more likely than civilians to use potentially dangerous dietary supplements like DMAA, near real-time surveillance of them using electronic surveys and medical records would provide early warning to regulatory agencies and the medical and public health communities when high-risk dietary supplements are introduced.


Lieberman, H.R., Austin, K.G. & Farina, E.K. (2018) Surveillance of the armed forces as a sentinel system for detecting adverse effects of dietary supplements in the general population. Public Health Nutrition. 21(5):882-887. doi: 10.1017/S1368980017003111. Epub 2017 Nov 20.


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