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Doctors warn Marines against using fat burners in Iraq

22 Jun 2004 | Cpl. Paula M. Fitzgerald

For many of the Marines and sailors in Iraq with 1st Marine Division, this deployment is an opportunity to shed a few unwanted pounds.

But Navy Lt. Christina J. Gondusky, surgeon for Headquarters Battalion, 1st Marine Division, warned these Marines and sailors to avoid turning to dietary supplements like fat burners for "quick and easy" results.

The Internet is home to nearly 400,000 Web sites for fat burners such as Rip Fuel, Hydroxycut or Xenadrine. Each claims to reduce appetites, increase energy and support weight loss.

Not so said Gondusky.

"A lot of people don't realize that fat burners haven't even been proven to work at all," she explained. "They're usually not even tested out on human beings before they're put on the market."

Using these products, especially in the dry, desert Iraqi climate, can be harmful to a Marine or sailor's health.

With temperatures reaching between 110 and 120 degrees, people working here are already at a higher risk for suffering from dehydration or heat injury.

"Half of the Marines and sailors who come in for heat injuries are using some sort of fat burner," Gondusky explained

Many of them participate in convoy security, patrols or other combat operations during the hottest times of the day. Wearing armor-plated vests and helmets also increases their
body temperatures, which adds to the danger fat burners already pose.

She told of a Marine who was taking part in the Marine Corps Martial Arts Program recently. He had been training all morning but did drink enough water. As the day wore
on, he began to vomit and then passed out.

"We gave him some fluids and an IV, which made him feel better," she explained. "He told us he had been using Xenadrine to lose weight."

She said many Marines and sailors are not aware of the risks associated with using fat burners in an extreme climate like that of Iraq.

These substances can cause a number of unwanted side effects such as heart irregularities, seizures, personality changes and a whole host of other problems.

"Fat burners work by increasing the metabolism, the heart rate and the body's core temperature," said Gondusky. "Out here, the body is already having to work harder to keep itself cool. When you add a fat burner, you're just increasing your risk of becoming a heat casualty."

Common heat illnesses include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which is the most serious and can be deadly.

Suffering from a heat injury is not only dangerous but it can also lead to an administrative separation from the military," Gondusky added.

Still, many Marines and sailors run the risk by taking these substances.

Cpl. Jim Sissom, who described himself as "chunky," began using Rip Fuel a little over a month ago.

"I'm not too worried about the side effects," the mechanic said. "I've known several people who took this stuff, and they never had any problems. And I make sure to drink
plenty of water so I don't get dehydrated."

Sissom said since he's started to use the fat burner, he's lost 15 pounds and won't stop taking the product until he loses 15 more.

But, according to Gondusky, he may be setting himself up for a dangerous fall.

"You should set a goal to lose about one or two pounds a week," she said. "Any more than that is dangerous. It's probably just water weight."

Instead of turning to fat burners, Gondusky suggested Marines and sailors stick to a well-balanced diet and get plenty of aerobic and anaerobic exercise.

That's exactly what Sgt. Jenny M. Castro, embarkation noncommissioned officer-in-charge, plans to do.

"A lot of people use fat burners because of peer pressure. They want to look like the models in magazines, but fat burners are just not healthy," she said. "Especially somewhere like Iraq."