Excessive Bodybuilding Supplement Use May Signal Male Eating Disorder

Pharmacists might want to keep an eye out for men who buy excessive amounts of bodybuilding supplements, as new research suggests that they may have an eating disorder.

Pharmacists might want to keep an eye out for men who buy excessive amounts of bodybuilding supplements, as new research suggests that they may have an eating disorder.

The research analyzed men’s use of legal, OTC appearance- and performance-enhancing drugs (APEDs), such as whey protein, creatine, and glutamine.

Principal study author Richard Achiro, PhD, noted that these products are often touted to give individuals an ideal ratio of fat and muscle. However, some men may be overusing APEDs because of a lack of self-confidence, and this excessive use may result in adverse effects.

Dr. Achiro told Pharmacy Times that pharmacists can step in to help this population through patient education.

“[I]f pharmacists know this is a potential risk, they may be more inclined to think and talk about these issues with gym-active men who may already be showing signs of gastrointestinal issues, malnutrition, or complications with their liver and/or kidneys—some physiological signs of supplement overuse,” Dr. Achiro said.

The researchers examined 195 men 18 years and older who had consumed a legal APED within 30 days of taking the survey and hit the gym at least twice a week.

Prior to the study, the men filled out an online survey that gathered data on their demographics, self-esteem, gender role conflict, body attitude, eating disorder tendencies, sociocultural attitudes, and more.

The study authors found that cultural standards of attractiveness, self-esteem, gender role conflict, and body dissatisfaction were influential in the amount of legal APED use among the men.

In addition, more than 40% of the men said their supplement use had increased over time, and 22% said they sometimes replaced meals with dietary supplements. Almost 30% said they also had concerns over their own use of supplements.

Alarmingly, 8% said their physicians had asked them to cut down on their supplement use because of adverse effects, and 3% had been admitted to the hospital for kidney or liver problems because of their supplement use.

“Overall, the current findings suggest that excessive legal APED use may represent a variant of disordered eating that threatens the health of gym-active men,” the study authors concluded.

Pharmacists may be able to identify and direct these patients to seek help for this eating disorder, especially because many men may not recognize that their excessive supplement use is a problem.

“Body-conscious men who are driven by psychological factors to attain a level of physical or masculine ‘perfection’ are prone to use these supplements and drugs in a manner that is excessive and which was demonstrated in this study to be a variant of disordered eating,” Dr. Achiro stated in a press release. “As legal supplements become increasingly prevalent around the globe, it is all the more important to assess and treat the psychological causes and effects of excessive use of these drugs and supplements.”