As a physician assistant who has been caring for soldiers in combat arms units for the past 10 years, I read with great interest the Jan. 9 article regarding supplement use (“To take or not to take: Supplements may boost energy but strain troops’ hearts”) and the replies it generated.

Supplement use is widespread throughout the military, and educational programs are significantly lacking. Our servicemembers are always looking for an edge, and they deserve to know the scientifically proven benefits and potential adverse effects of each of these marketed supplements, apart from the manufacturers’ purported claims.

To the certified personal trainer who claims that “supplements themselves are safe,” I would like to ask how many servicemembers he has cared for who have suffered from the adverse effects of supplements, even when used alone in by-the-label dosages (“Only use supplements properly,” letter, Jan. 17). Or perhaps he would like to explain the several international studies confirming the contamination of up to 25 percent of marketed supplements with illegal or prescription drugs. Or perhaps he would he care to explain the hundreds of supplements that have been pulled from shelves after having been deemed unsafe or illegal after users have suffered serious or fatal side effects.

I am puzzled daily by patients telling me, “I don’t like to take prescription drugs,” [even though those drugs] have been rigorously tested by the Food and Drug Administration, but they are willing to ingest untested supplements because they are purportedly “natural.”

The bottom line is that the supplement industry wants your money first. Manufacturers do not have to ensure or prove safety of their products prior to release to the public. One need only read the label to recognize how poorly regulated these products are. The “proprietary blends” that many labels display fail to list the amounts of each ingredient in such blends, and how these numerous ingredients interact with one another has rarely been tested in controlled studies.

The supplement industry continues to be under-regulated by the FDA. However, we in the medical community can (and should) do much more to assist the FDA in regulating these supplements by reporting the adverse events, as the author of “Enact safe supplement system” (letter, Jan. 17) so keenly suggested.

I want the biggest, strongest, fittest soldiers next to me in a foxhole, but not at the cost of those soldiers’ overall health. Educate yourself on what you are really putting into your body.

Maj. Jonathan Monti

Forward Operating Base Cobra, Iraq

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