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STERO I D NATION; SPECIAL REPORT: Experts' fears as more men risk their health for the perfect body.


TODAY Wales on Sunday can reveal the shocking levels young men across the nation will go to in a bid to achieve the perfect beefcake body.

Under increasing pressure from glossy magazines, and their sporting and Hollywood heroes to look good, latest figures show men are increasingly taking risks with their health to get the perfect body.

Anabolic steroid use by young men in Wales has jumped by almost 20%.

Seven out of 10 men using "hardcore heavy lifting gyms" regularly use steroids, research shows.

And experts have raised new fears, warning that steroids' soaring popularity is fuelled by an ever-increasing number of internet sites selling the drugs illegally.

Online buyers don't know what they are getting, with almost 40% of all 'roids used in parts of South Wales now deemed fake.

Experts told the Wales on Sunday these stark stats are just the tip of the iceberg for a craze that has seen boys as young as 16, who are desperate to bulk up, resort to taking steroid tablets made for cattle.

Drug charity worker John Lowes, of the Swansea-based West Glamorgan Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, said the tablets are given to cows by farmers to force the herd to produce more meat.

"The potential side effects in humans have not even been studied," he said.

He added that youngsters obsessed with expanding their muscles - so-called bigorexics, which are the opposite of anorexics - generally have no idea what they are taking and what the side effects may be.

Ignorance results in many being duped into buying counterfeit steroids from foreign internet sites.

Mr Lowes said vials of liquid sometimes contain part steroid and part baby oil or cooking oil. Sometimes they contain no steroid at all.

Peter Hinkin, a substance misuse worker for drug charity Ogwr Dash in Bridgend, said the counterfeit oil may cause a rash, spots or general reddening of the skin when injected.

"At the last conference I attended we were told that 37% of all steroids within the area are counterfeit." But he said the greatest danger is posed by real anabolic steroids, both tablet and liquid form, bought off the internet.

As the drugs often come without any instructions or with instructions in a foreign language, teenagers trying to out-bulk their friends and match the Hollywood image are risking their health by taking huge doses of the synthetic hormone.

"Their bodies haven't fully developed and some of the side effects they get will be irreversible," he told Wales on Sunday.

"Often, they are just using a steroid that their friend is taking without knowing what it is.

"Common side effects are acne, greasy skin, hair loss and increased facial and body hair.

"We are also seeing significant problems with needle infections which can cause muscle damage.

"People will inject as soon as they finish working out in the gym because they think they'll get more benefit as their blood is circulating. What they are actually doing is forcing dirt and sweat into their bodies because they haven't swabbed the skin." But Mr Lowes, a needle exchange worker who provides 'roid users with clean needles, said the side effects can be even worse.

"Their bodies will switch off its own testosterone production because it's getting it from an external source," he said.

"And because they haven't researched what they are doing and don't take a break between courses of steroids to allow their bodies to recover, it might never switch back on, leading to testicular atrophy (wasting away), erectile dysfunction and problems with their sperm production, which can render them infertile.

"Bone growth is another issue. Steroids cause the bones to mature early and because they haven't developed properly their bones may not develop to their full potential." And boys who idolise bodybuilding heroes including Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Hollywood heyday and American weightlifting icon Gregg Valentino, the owner of the world's largest biceps, are pushing their bodies even further by taking a cocktail of drugs.

Mr Lowes said using a process known in gym slang as stacking, boys will take numerous steroids to increase the effects and even more drugs to counteract the side effects. These include Tamoxifen, usually given to women battling breast cancer.

He said that as some of the anabolic steroids cause a reaction in the body that produces oestrogen, some 'roid users grow boobs. The Tamoxifen counteracts the oestrogen and decreases breast size.

They are also injecting synth oils, an inert pharmaceutical substance, which help their muscles expand even further beyond the limits they can achieve with steroids.

"Muscle growth is genetically limited," he said. "But they get around that by injecting synth oil which expands the muscle fibres.

"Some of the synth oils also contain silicone to artificially plump up the muscles and I know of a 16 year old who was using that." He said boys are motivated to go to these extremes by the pressures being put on them by society.

"We have always had the size eight ideal for women and now there's a size ideal being applied to men where only a minimum of a six-pack and pecs will do." Professor Bruce Davies, from the

University of Glamorgan's health, sport and science facility, said: "We looked at regular gym users in the hardcore heavy lifting gyms in the Valleys in 2001 and found 53% were taking some form of anabolic steroids.

"We did another survey in 2006, virtually the same as in 2001, and found that 70% were taking anabolic steroids.

"From what we have seen, steroid and growth hormone use shows no sign of slowing down and there's a good chance it has increased since 2006.

"The people who run the needle exchange programmes tell me that it's growing more for steroid use than anything else. Steroids are a feature of many people's lives.

"Some steroid users have what is called bigorexia, it's the opposite to anorexia.

They misjudge their body image and see themselves as skinny or not as big as other people.

"They become obsessed about their size and worried if they lose just a few pounds. This leads them to take more and more steroids.

"Unfortunately, we live in a society where the perfect cosmetic look is given a lot of importance.

"There's a lot of pressure on people to look good all the time."

WHAT ARE ANABOLIC STEROIDS? AVAILABLE in tablet and injectable liquid form, anabolic steroids are synthetic testosterone which promote rapid muscle growth and increase endurance, allowing users to train harder and for longer.

They were first seen in US gyms in the 1960s.

An American weightlifting coach had teamed up with a pharmaceutical company to synthesise the hormone after discovering his Soviet rival was using testosterone injections to help his team grow larger.

The most common anabolic steroid brands used by young bodybuilders are Sustanon and Deca Durabolin, also known as Deca and Nandrolone.

Both are freely available on the internet but are only legally available on prescription.

Professional bodybuilders who thoroughly research the steroids they use will inject up to three millilitres a week of the drugs into their buttocks in six or eight-week cycles and then go six to eight weeks without using the drugs to allow their bodies to recover.

Each cycle can cost around pounds 100, but younger, inexperienced users may pay out far more as they will use much larger doses - up to 10 millilitres - for longer periods.

The law surrounding steroids in the UK is generally regarded as a grey area.

Some steroids are class C drugs, which makes it illegal to posses them or supply them.

But most are legal to possess, although they will be illegal to supply without prescription..

'I'm addicted to being big'


A BOUNCER from Bridgend told Wales on Sunday he is addicted to being big.

The 24-year-old, who asked not to be named, said he has been using anabolic steroids since he was 17 and wishes he had never started.

But he said he is not able to stop as he cannot face losing his 20-stone frame and the status it gives him in work and among his peers.

He spends around pounds 100 on each six-week cycle, during which he will inject one-mil doses of Cypionate three times a week.

"I started taking it because I wanted to be big. I thought that's how a man should look.

"I've noticed over the last two to three years that more and more boys are taking anabolic steroids and they are getting younger, sometimes just 16.

"I think a lot of people now are taking it for image because they are expected to look a certain way, especially in the culture we have in Bridgend. They compete with each other more than anything. The only star they aspire to be like is Arnie Schwarzenegger, even now.

"The side effects weren't a concern for me when I first started, but I have since had a fertility check just to make sure everything's OK.

"I wish I had never started because it's addictive.

"I'm now 20st and 6ft and if I went down to 15st I think it would fry my head."


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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 10, 2009
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