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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 July 2018

Use of illegal steroids on rise among UAE women

A rising number of women in Dubai are turning to illegal drugs including fat burners, human growth hormone and steroids to hone their physique and improve their performance in the gym or sporting contests.
Personal trainer Amanda Camper says more women are using illegal drugs for body appearance and sports performance. Jaime Puebla / The National
Personal trainer Amanda Camper says more women are using illegal drugs for body appearance and sports performance. Jaime Puebla / The National

DUBAI // More women are risking their health by using illegal performance-enhancing drugs, including fat burners, growth hormones and steroids, to improve their bodies’ appearance and for sport.

Such drugs have traditionally been associated with male bodybuilders, but those in the health and fitness industry say they have noticed more women using them.

And they say they are surprised that the growing use of the drugs is so open.

“So many people want the results right away that they’re not taking a second thought about what they’re injecting into their bodies,” said Amanda Camper, a personal trainer in Dubai.

“It is easily attainable here. It is also openly talked about, especially the aesthetic look it provides.”

Ms Camper has noticed an increase in female drug users since she arrived in the UAE only two years ago. She said use of the performance enhancers is more open here than in the US, despite zero-tolerance policies and harsh penalties handed down by the courts.

“I’m not saying they use it any less in the States, but it is definitely a lot more discreet,” Ms Camper said.

“I’m not entirely sure why it is so openly talked about here, but in the States it is considered to be an illicit drug and it is a felony if you are caught with it, along with possibility of serious jail time.”

The Mayo Clinic in the US says the use of performance-enhancing drugs by women can lead to a deepening of the voice, increased body hair, hair loss and infrequent or lost menstrual cycles.

Men and women can also experience severe acne, liver abnormalities, high blood pressure, heart and circulatory problems, aggression and psychiatric disorders including depression.

“The scariest thing is most of these side-effects are considered irreversible, even after the steroid use has stopped,” said Ms Camper.

Lii Schacht, a doctor of naprapthy, which is a mix of osteopathy and physiotherapy, said the effects of such drug use also affected people’s joints.

“Since the muscles grow faster and stronger than the ligaments and tendons, the risk for injury increases due to the excessive force on the tendons and ligaments that are above their tensile strength or load capacity, which will have a negative effect on the joints,” Dr Schacht said.

“Some drugs will disguise injuries by masking pain and inflammation, so that you continue to train with an injured joint, tendon or muscle, causing it to become a chronic issue.

“Once you come off the drug that is masking the problem, rebound inflammation and accompanying pain occurs and you are suddenly unable to even train.”

The rise in the popularity of extreme fitness and sports such as bodybuilding and CrossFit has been attributed by experts in the industry to the increase in people’s use of performance enhancers.

Malin Blomdahl Lenner, a personal trainer at Gamechanger Performance, a Dubai-based company, said she had seen it among the growing number of female physique athletes.

“I think many women use competitions as a diet fix,” said Ms Lenner, a Swedish national, who was surprised by the lack of social stigma around drug use in Dubai.

“People are more open here... people have openly mentioned to me that they take drugs and they say this as naturally as if they were telling me what they had for breakfast.”

Ross Gilmour, a strength and performance coach with Gamechanger, said he was shocked by the openness of those using drugs in sport.

“Since coming to Dubai I was quite shocked at how many people were very blatantly using drugs here,” Mr Gilmour said.

“Even some of the most well-known trainers, people who are seen as role models in Dubai, are either using, dealing or both.”

He said the drugs were readily available.

“The average person can walk into a certain few gyms and get their hands on it so easily, it’s ridiculous,” said Mr Gilmour.

“It’s much harder for women to build muscle mass than men and many are not willing to spend the time to get there naturally or they are pressured by their coach, who is too lazy or uneducated to do the job properly.

“Some education on the long-term effects or some scare-tactic advertising may help as a deterrent.”

mswan@thenational.ae