Recent research has shown that an increasing number of men are using over-the-counter bodybuilding supplements to the point where it may be characterized as an eating disorder. Findings from the study were presented at the American Psychological Association’s annual convention.

Study authors enrolled 195 men aged 18–65 years who had taken legal appearance- or performance-enhancing supplements such as whey protein, creatine, L-carnitine in the past 30 days and worked out at least twice a week for fitness or appearance-related reasons. The male participants took an online survey on questions about supplement use, self-esteem, body image, eating habits, and gender role conflicts.

The study found that over 40% of participants reported an increased use of supplements over time and 22% reported replacing regular meals with dietary supplements not originally intended to be meal replacements. Further, 29% of participants reported concern about their own use of supplements. Physicians had advised to reduce or discontinue supplement use due to actual or potential adverse events in 8% of participants, and 3% reported being hospitalized for kidney or liver problems related to supplement use. A scale developed by researchers revealed a significant correlation with diagnostic indicators of an eating disorder such as eating concern and restrictive eating.

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Factors such as body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and gender role conflict seem to be causes of the misuse of legal workout supplements, researchers conclude. It will be important to address and treat the psychological causes and effects of excessive use of these supplements as they become more prevalent.

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