Body Image Drugs

exposing body image issues's picture

By Judith Brisson

I work part-time as a landscaper at my pal Bar’s golf course and last week I overheard a sustained bout of shouting coming from the direction of the club house. Later, when I asked him what all the yelling was about, he explained that he reacted badly to the news that his daughter was planning to become a plastic surgeon. Even though in previous entries I’ve taken a stand mostly against the use of plastic surgery as a means to looking prettier, I don’t feel the same kind of electric revulsion as my friend Bar.

I even visited a plastic surgeon one time to discuss options, costs and risks associated with the types of surgery I was considering.  Pregnancy for me meant a weight gain that nearly doubled my size; this was followed by intense dieting that was nearly anorexic, so there was a lot of loose flesh floating around. Instead of spending my money on plastic surgery, I decided to start exercising.

The gain and loss of nearly 100 pounds within two years produced a bad case of hypoglycemia, a condition I still have to this day. Even though I didn’t take the risk of surgery, I did damage my health by insisting on losing the weight so quickly. All this misery accomplished even without the help of body image drugs.

A recent study by Matthew M. Davis says that one in ten high school athletes use performance enhancing drugs (2007). Natalie Angier, in a 1998 article in the New York Times, compares the exaggerated bulk of contemporary G.I. Joe models to the busty blonde Barbies in the kind of sex-specific physique that is idealized in childhood.  Angier speculates that these gender idealizations might contribute to the widespread use of these drugs in body-conscious male youth.

I’ve lifted the term “body image drug” from Harrison G, Pope Jr. and James I. Hudson, publishing in “Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics”, who use the term instead of “performance enhancing” or ergogenic because much of the drug use they encountered had little to do with enhancing performances and much to do with enhancing self-images.

I understand the underlying sense of insecurity that motivates people to take such extreme measures as drug consumption and going under the knife or the suction-tube-adipose-removing-device. Although I gave surgery a cursory consideration, I never really investigated much about what kind of body-enhancing drugs are out there nor what their risks are. It would be a good time to learn about it since September means a return to the classroom, where I’ll be teaching a course on human biology.

Here is a brief review of some of the drugs:

Creatine: Is a nitrogenous organic acid that is closely related in structure to an amino acid. A quick review of on-line journals would indicate that there is little scientific information available as to what the effects of consuming this food supplement are and, depending on the source, side effects range from “negligible” to renal and liver dysfunction.  Often sold in health food stores, creatine has flown under the radar of many researchers, even though some evidence suggests that side effects of consumption include “weight gain; influence on insulin production; feedback inhibition of endogenous creatine synthesis; long-term damages on renal function” (J Sports Med Phys Fitness, March, 2001).

DHEA: is a steroid produced in the adrenals and the brain and is associated with the production of testosterone in the body.  It has a variety of medical applications in the treatment of medical disorders such as lupus and diseases associated with aging. There is a noted lack of medical investigation into long-term side effects of using dehydroepiandrosterone. (Mayo Clinic 2009, Angier 1998)

beta agonists: are bronchi-dilating substances used in the treatment of asthma and other diseases. They increase heart rate and dilate the vessels of the body, enhancing breathing and blood circulation. Apparently they can make you feel like you had several coffees too many, too late into the day.

Androstenedione: a precursor of testosterone and estrogen. This anabolic steroid has been implicated in all of the health risks associated with the consumption of steroids, “Taking andro raises testosterone levels above normal. Side effects include acne, male baldness, and a decrease in "good" cholesterol, which may predispose to cardiovascular disease.” (Medicinenet.com 2004)

The idea that these drugs actually enhance performance is highly debated in public domain, but most recent research indicates that any performance enhancement benefits are marginal. In some sports requiring a lean body mass, the bulking effect of using these drugs may impede performance. Ah, but the look...

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