Behind closed doors

Potent Steroids

Behind closed doors

For years, the City’s martial art and fitness-training industry has minted money off the promise of better fitness – but the business has a darker underbelly which is far from healthy.

Apart from recommending physical routines, instructors seem to have taken to prescriptions of an entirely different kind: growth-inducing steroids. This trend has seen an upswing in the last couple of years, with several gyms and martial art centres lacing their lessons with a liberal dose of medication. What’s particularly alarming isn’t the nonchalance with which instructors recommend these drugs – it’s the ease with which fitness-enthusiasts procure them. Metrolife speaks to a few doctors and trainers to find out more.

P L N Murthy, a senior taekwondo instructor, belongs to the old school of thought and steers clear of any medical supplements. But he can’t say the same for his peers — instances of taking steroids to build muscles or get energy are frighteningly common. “In the last year or so, I’ve noticed many trainees taking steroids when they need instant energy. I believe the trend began in other sport industries, and passed on by word-of-mouth. Interestingly, I don’t believe trainers take these pills themselves — they simply encourage their students to experiment with them. After all, when a student performs better, their coach gets a better name too,” explains Murthy. In other cases, he adds, trainees take to steroids with no instruction. “Students hear about these drugs and take them themselves. Sometimes, trainers aren’t even aware of this habit,” he notes.

What shocks Dr Dayananda, a physician, is the fact that dispensaries stock such steroids and sell them without prescriptions. “They should never be sold such — but pharmacists who want to make a quick buck go ahead and do so. Popular steroids include Deca-Durabolin as well as injections of hormones like erythropoietin and testosterone.
While Deca-Durabolin tablets are priced at Rs 150 and are taken on a daily basis, erythropoietin injections can cost up to Rs 8,000 per week. Oral tablets aren’t available in India but can easily be bought off the internet for 50 dollars or so. They’re fairly expensive — but for the people who take them, price is no issue,” he says.

He’s quick to add that there are very few people who understand the side-effects of these steroids. “Basically, they are growth hormones. The body produces these hormones when there is a need but when people begin to inject them exogenously, the body stops producing them internally. This can result in diabetes, faster aging of the bones and muscles — and eventually osteoporosis — and since testosterone production goes down, it can also lead to impotency in the long run,” he explains.

Predictably, fitness centres and gyms aren’t steroid-free either. Shankar S B, the fitness manager at ‘Fitness First’, describes a frightening situation wherein a huge demand for these steroids is coupled with easy availability. “The most common steroid which is taken is Deca-Durabolin, which can be taken orally. Other illegal steroids, which are injected, are also available. These are never prescribed by doctors — information about them is easily available on the internet or by word-of-mouth. Since these products are illegal, those who take them strike deals with their chemists for a regular supply,” he explains, adding, “I believe people are well aware of the side-effects of these steroids — but all that matters to them is their performance.”

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