Social media, fitness challenges and unrealistic expectations are behind the dangerous use of sports supplements, warns a former international bodybuilder turned academic.
CQUniversity risk management expert Dr Betul Sekendiz said some sports supplement chains were promoting social media fitness challenges through "influencers" who were not qualified to provide advice.
"It is putting the health and safety of the participants at risk because they think they are doing something good for themselves," said Dr Sekendiz, who competed in high-level international and national bodybuilding competitions.
But the rise in supplement use is not just from the chains.
More people are trying to imitate bodybuilder-competition looks and celebrity bodies — images pushed on social media — but these ambitious objectives are unattainable by natural means, Dr Sekendiz said.
She said these social media images did not reflect reality, as images were photoshopped 90 per cent of the time and pictures of bodybuilders were taken close to competition time.
"These people are not going around, year-round, in that condition," she said.
However, these pictures influence people's expectations and they are in turn placing pressure on the fitness industry to help them achieve unrealistic results, according to Dr Sekendiz.
"[Those in the fitness industry] find themselves in a situation where they feel it is alright to also provide supplements to their clients so they can achieve their goals in a much shorter time," she said.
No awareness of risks associated with supplements
Dr Sekendiz said sports supplements were one of the fastest-growing industries in the world as people became more health conscious, but many people are putting their health at risk.
She said that between 2011 and 2016 there were six organ transplants linked to the use of herbal supplements also found in sports supplements.
"Consumers are not aware of the risks associated with the supplements that they are made to use as being involved in these fitness challenges," she said.
Dr Sekendiz said she had seen an increase rate in brain tumours, and liver and kidney problems in bodybuilders who had been using supplements and performance-enhancing drugs.
"Unfortunately, these people are not old — they are only in their late 30s and 40s — and they have to pay the costs in a very hefty way," she said.
Recently, a 25-year-old female bodybuilder with a genetic disorder died from an inappropriate use of protein supplements, she added.
"The biggest issue is the lack of regulation in the supplements industry," she said.
Investigating social media fitness challenges
Sports supplements are controlled by the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).
Manufacturers are not required to show proof of their claimed benefits other than demonstrating that they are of acceptable quality and do not present safety risks, Dr Sekendiz said.
"Usually, when people take supplements, they don't go to their doctor to have a medical examination to see how these actual supplements may interfere other medication they may be using," she said.
Dr Sekendiz said she investigated social media fitness challenges and the use of sports supplements after participants contacted her.
"They were really worried about outcomes and how this would affect other people who are not aware of the dangers."
She said it was good for people to try and be the best version of themselves but they needed to get expert advice from qualified health professionals who had worked for many years to gain qualifications.
Dr Sekendiz represented Turkey in the 2003 IFBB World Amateur Women's Bodybuilding Championship and said she had avoided taking sports supplements, including performance and appearance-enhancing drugs during her career.