• Dietary Supplements For The US Military

    Posted May 25, 2013: by Bill Sardi

    While dietary supplement usage in the US military is widespread, it is largely self-guided and does not come from top-down medical command.  Many medical advisories issued by US military health authorities consist of warnings of misuse and potential side effects rather than guidance for proper usage.   This problem may emanate from training by medical personnel in exclusively in pharmacology but not in nutricology.

    The leading categories of dietary supplements used by US military personnel are body building, weight loss and performance enhancement products, with magazines serving as the chief source of information about these “nutriceuticals.”  Some of these are considered “high risk” dietary supplements.

    Inexplicably, medical command has no qualms about prescribing potentially problematic mood, sleep and performance altering drugs, but takes a dim view of dietary supplements that address the same problems with far fewer side effects and cost.

    The prevalent practice of addressing every mental or physical condition as a drug deficiency is pervasive throughout modern medicine and the US military is no exception.

    This brief report will address common health and mental problems that US military personnel face, with accompanying links to published studies that point to dietary supplements as safe and efficacious remedies.

    The topics covered in this report include: (1) alcohol abuse and binge drinking, (2) post-traumatic stress disorder, (3) protection from radiation exposure, (4) anemia (largely in female soldiers), (5) suicide, (6) traumatic brain injury (concussion), (7) noise-induced hearing loss, and (7) dysentery from common water-borne or food-borne contamination, some which are related to nutritional deficiencies, that have limited the number of troops ready for combat in the field over the history of military operations.

    Dysentery, diarrhea

    Pathogens that induce dysentery and diarrhea are wide ranging, with common pathogens in military fields of operation being bacteria (E. coli, Shigella), viruses (norovirus), protozoa (cryptosporidium) and amoeba.

    Herbal antimicrobials such as oil of oregano (active ingredient carvacrol) and garlic (active ingredient allicin) exhibit effective activity against offending microbes that cause dysentery without inducing germ resistance.  Garlic is also effective against cryptosporidium, a particularly vile parasite that is usually encountered in water.

    [Note: garlic’s main active ingredient is not generally yielded from garlic pills because stomach acid negates the necessary enzyme needed to produce allicin.  A buffered allicin pill that resists stomach acid has been shown to yield real allicin.]

    Roman legions carried garlic cloves with them, and quickly planted more garlic in lands they conquered. Dioscorides, the chief medical officer in the Roman army during the 1st century AD, is said to have treated infected soldiers with garlic. Knowing of its prophylactic properties, Roman legions chewed on garlic cloves as they entered battle.  It would appear the strategic use of natural antibiotics prior to infection would offer a strategic advantage to any marching army in the field.

    Zinc is an essential nutrient for a proper functioning immune response and is effective against E. coli-induce diarrhea.  It is important to recognize that antibiotics work more effectively when the immune system is up to par.  The US Army Nutrition Division recognizes the importance of zinc nutrition among military personnel who may experience respiratory disease, malaria and diarrhea while on active duty.

    Alcohol abuse and binge drinking

    Alcohol abuse and binge drinking is a widespread problem in the military.  The problem is more acute among military personnel who have been assigned to combat areas. In one study 43% of active duty military personnel reported a binge-drinking episode in the past-month resulting in 29.7 episodes per person per year.  Alcohol abuse was reported in 2006 to cost the Department of Defense an estimated $1.2 billion.  Studies reveal military recruits are more likely to be binge drinkers.

    While there are many hangover remedies, few are scientifically validated.  A natural remedy derived from the Asian raisin tree has recently been identified that targets the very brain cell receptor responsible for the pleasurable and relaxing response produced by alcohol, as validated by a major university.  This commercially available product, placed in military PXs, might provide a controlling agent over symptoms produced by over-consumption of alcohol as well as protect the brain and liver.  Future studies may show this natural molecule curbs actual desire to drink.

    Post-traumatic stress disorder

    Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a prevalent problem among both active military and veterans.  While PTSD symptoms are wide ranging and include anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks and panic attacks, their underlying brain chemistry is a low cortisol level combined with elevated norepinephrine.  These are adrenal stress hormones.

    A number of prescription medications are employed to address PTSD.  Agents that counter elevated levels of norepinephrine are considered first-line treatment.

    Beta adrenergic blockers (chemical blockers of adrenal stress hormones – norepinephrine, called beta blockers) are currently the best documented treatment.  However, beta blockers may induce a dissociation of emotion and fear from memories and have been opposed on ethical grounds.

    Because modern medicine address every mental disorder as if it were a synthetic drug deficiency, natural remedies that reduce norepinephrine levels go overlooked and underused.  A class of herbals called adaptogens (examples: ginseng, bacopa) have been demonstrated to reduce norepinephrine and aid in dealing with anxiety and stress.

    However, theanine, an amino acid derived from green tea, is the best- studied natural anti-stress agent and is truly “nature’s beta-blocker.”  Its lower effective dosage range (100-400 mg) makes it more practical and affordable to use.  Theanine should be considered as an alternative to problematic beta blockers which are fraught with side effects (slowed heart rate, fatigue, breathing problems, impotency).

    Radiation poisoning

    Exposure to potentially harmful radiation in the battlefield is part of the job.  Depleted uranium represents one such hazard.

    Among documented natural radiation countermeasures are:

    These natural radiation countermeasures could be employed safely on a daily basis in modest doses to prevent any unexpected or unavoidable exposure to harmful radiation.


    The inclusion of female soldiers in the ranks of the military presents challenges.  Young menstruating females are often anemic due to iron losses during menstruation.  One survey found 22% of American females are iron deficient.

    Provision of iron-rich red meat is a dietary countermeasure.  Provision of vitamin C as ascorbic acid with meals increases iron absorption from foods.  Discontinuation of coffee and tea, which interferes with iron absorption, is another strategy.    Iron pills can be toxic if overdosed and present side effects such as constipation and nausea.  Carbonyl iron (Ferronyl iron, brand name) is 45 times less toxic than ferrous sulfate, a commonly used form of iron in dietary supplements.  Carbonyl iron should be the only iron pill utilized in the home or military.  Because iron pills can be conveniently used by suicidal military personnel carbonyl iron should be the only sanctioned source of iron supplement in military PXs.


    The number of suicides among active-duty soldiers doubled between 2003 and 2010.  The number of suicides in the US military now exceeds the number of combat deathsTraumatic brain injuries during military deployment increase the risk for suicide.

    Attempted suicide is associated with low levels of antioxidant vitamins, particularly carotenoids (beta carotene, lutein, lycopene).

    Tobacco smoking increases the risk for suicidal ideation.  Smoking depletes vitamin C and case presentation evidence links low vitamin C levels with suicide.

    Low vitamin D levels have been associated with active duty military with suicidal thoughts.

    There are a number of natural anti-depressants that may be useful among depressed and suicidal military personnel.  These include: SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine), resveratrol and vitamin D.

    Traumatic brain injury

    Traumatic brain injury occurs all too frequently in the military.  A sound concussion or impact injury to the brain is followed by a free radical storm (oxidation), inflammation and nerve cell death.  Currently there are no effective interventions to minimize the secondary oxidative injury following brain trauma.

    Resveratrol (rez-vair-ah-trol), known as a red wine molecule, is the best studied molecule for this application.  Resveratrol significantly inhibits oxidative stress following brain trauma and achieves behavioral protection in animal studies.

    Noise-induce hearing loss

    Loud noise emanating from weapons fire and explosions is commonly experienced in the battle zone.  Antioxidants are posed to prevent nerve cell death in the inner ear that can lead to hearing loss.  Among the best documented natural remedies for this problem are:

    It is clear that US military personnel, who are exposed to a number of environmental challenges in the battlefield such as nuclear radiation, contaminated water and food, and are under great physical and emotion stress, would be better served by dietary supplements than problematic and inappropriate drugs that were designed to treat existing disease, not to prevent or limit trauma, infection, or mental anguish.  This report presents only a brief list of the applications of dietary supplements by military personnel.  © 2013 Bill Sardi, Knowledge of Health, Inc.

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