Steroid Use, Eating Disorders Are Common Among Female Bodybuilders
WebMD News Archive
Feb. 14, 2000 (New York) -- A new study shows that male bodybuilders aren't
the only ones taking steroids to bulk up. In addition to showing that female
bodybuilders also take steroids to improve their physiques, the alarming
research, published in the current issue of Psychotherapy and
Psychosomatics, shows that eating disorders are also common among these
The study, one of the first to examine the issue of steroid use in women,
looked at 75 female athletes who were recruited by posters at gym and
bodybuilding contests in Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. One-third of the
women reported past or current steroid use. The study investigators found that
women who used steroids were more muscular than their non-steroid-using
counterparts and were also more likely to use other performance-enhancing
The new study also showed that women bodybuilders are more likely than their
non-iron pumping counterparts to suffer from eating disorders and body image
disorders, including the newly dubbed eating disorder/bodybuilder type (ED/BT),
a disorder marked by high-protein, high-calorie, low-fat diets eaten at
regularly scheduled intervals and muscle dysmorphia, a disorder marked by a
distorted body image.
"The take-home message is that the gym culture, which is becoming
increasingly accessible to many people, is potentially dangerous for women at
risk of body image disorders, substance abuse disorders, or eating disorders --
all of which are related," study author Amanda J. Gruber, MD, tells WebMD.
Gruber is a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and the
associate chief of substance abuse research at the Biological Psychiatry
Laboratory at MacLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass.
"It's not just about bodybuilders either. There are other women in gyms
who are taking performance-enhancing supplements such as ephedrine to increase
lean body mass and promote weight loss," she says. Gruber conducted the
study with her colleague Harrison G. Pope Jr., MD, chief of the biological
psychiatry laboratory at MacLean Hospital.
Anabolic steroids, also called ergogenic drugs, mimic the bodybuilding
traits of the male hormone testosterone. According to data cited in the new
study, 145,000 American women have abused steroids at some point in their
lives, and studies of high school girls show that this number is even higher
among younger women.
"While men tend to experience isolated steroid abuse, women who abuse
steroids are more likely to also have insane diets and engage in compulsive
behavior," Gruber adds. "If you are a women at risk for a body image
disorder, had an eating disorder in the past, or are at risk for a substance
abuse disorder, and you start going to a gym, your risk will increase because
you are exposed to people who engage in these unhealthy behaviors"
In the study, 16 of the 25 steroid users reported at least one psychological
effect as a result of anabolic steroid use, including moodiness, irritability,
and aggressiveness. One in 16 of these women reported engaging in a violent act
while taking these drugs. Such acts are often referred to as "'roid