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Eating Disorders in Men, Are Bodybuilding Supplements To Blame?

Guys who work out all the time may seem like the epitome of health, but a rigorous gym routine could be putting men at risk for an eating disorder.

A new study finds that many gym goers are abusing bodybuilding supplements in order to achieve a physical ideal, and it could be harming their health.

Welcome to the World of Supplements

Legal supplements like protein bars, creatine powder and glutamine capsules are marketed as easy ways to help people build lean muscle tone.

In a study from the California School of Professional Psychology in Alhambra, researchers surveyed 195 men who were all over the age of 18, worked out at least twice a week and had used a legal supplement in the last month.

Study Results

They found that 40 percent of men said had increased their supplement use over time; an alarming 29 percent said that their supplement use might be bad for their health.

Bodybuilding supplements are “widely available in grocery stores, nutritional food outlets and college bookstores,” and “are marketed specifically toward men hoping to achieve an ideal ratio of fat to muscle,” wrote study leader Richard Achiro and his co-author Peter Theodore.

Researchers found that many men were abusing the products. Of the men surveyed, 22 percent said they had used the supplements as meal replacements, despite that not being their intended use, and 8 percent had been recommended by a doctor to cut back on their supplement use or stop taking them altogether.

Perhaps most concerning is the finding that just over 3 percent of the men surveyed claimed that supplements had landed them in the hospital with kidney or liver damage.

Supplements and Eating Disorders

“Excessive legal APED [appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs] use may represent a variant of disordered eating that threatens the health of gym-active men,” concluded the report. This form of eating disorder could affect “a significant number of men,” said Achiro.

Researchers also looked for clues as to who was more susceptible to risky supplement use. Unsurprisingly, they found that men who had low self-esteem and dissatisfaction with their bodies were more likely to misuse the pills, powders and protein bars. Also more at risk were the men who had internalized a cultural ideal of male attractiveness – mainly thin and muscular – and men with rigid, traditional views about masculinity.

Additional Reading: Should Colleges Warn Parents About On-Campus Drug Abuse?