Let’s face it. Being a teen can be an awkward time – bodies are changing, and there is so much pressure to have a superstar body. And all those movie and TV images of svelte models or iron man athletes don’t help. It’s easy to start thinking, “Gee, if my body was perfect, my life would be better.” Some teens will even go through any extremes to lose a little weight or beef up, including using artificial means such as steroids or diet pills. But Dr. Roberto Olivardia, a clinical psychologist with Harvard Medical School, says that teens need to know that there are significant health risks associated with extremes such as diet pills or steroid use. “Just as example, there are many dangers with being too thin, such as amenorrhea (not getting your period), which can lead to bone density loss, and malnutrition,” says Olivardia. “Likewise, steroids can cause a host of adverse physical and psychological consequences, including high cholesterol, cardiac issues and aggression.”
When my brother was in high school, he drank protein powder drinks to build muscle. But one of his peers, who was a bodybuilder, abused steroids and tragically died of a heart attack in his early 20s. It’s a serious matter: Not only are steroids illegal without a prescription, but they pose serious health risks, such as:
- Sexual Side Effects. Male teens using steroids can develop larger breasts, smaller testicles and have lower sperm count, and girls can have smaller breasts and facial hair. Severe acne, greasy hair and hair loss are other side effects.
- Liver Damage and Cancer. Tumors and cysts can develop in the liver, some of which can be cancerous. If they rupture, they can also cause internal bleeding.
- Heart Attacks. Steroid use can cause heart attacks and strokes, even among young athletes.
- Stunted Growth. Teens using steroids before reaching puberty can stunt their growth.
- Weaker Immune System. Steroids users are more susceptible to viruses and diseases.
- HIV, Hepatitis B and C. Sharing needles puts users at a risk of contracting HIV and Hepatitis B and C, serious blood diseases.
- Mood Swings. Even mild steroid use can cause irritability and mood changes. High doses of steroids can cause serious emotional mood swings, such as mania, depression, delusions, violent rage and even death caused by overdosing.
We’ve all seen the “before” and “after” weight-loss ads that lure people to follow a diet program or take diet pills. While the ideal is to achieve a healthy weight, the obsessive desire to be thin can trigger an eating disorder. Some teens resort to taking diuretics, laxatives or diet pills to lose weight, but these can have serious health risks:
- Diuretics: Diuretics, or water pills, are not an effective or safe way to lose weight because they do not help you lose fat, but actually rob vital fluids from your body. They can also cause dizziness and elevated heart rates.
- Laxatives: Laxatives stimulate the intestines – but using laxatives over a long period of time can cause dependency on them, as well as chronic abdominal pains, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, dehydration and vomiting.
- Diet Pills: Diet pills contain stimulants that speed up the heart, putting strain on this vital organ. This is extremely dangerous for someone who may have an unknown heart condition. As for prescription diet pills, they are addictive and ineffective. Diet pills are not a replacement for a healthy diet and exercise, warns Boston-based nutritionist Hillary Wright, who adds, “There’s no evidence that diet pills help people lose weight and keep it off.
The first step in achieving an ideal body weight doesn’t come from outside factors such as pills or chemicals but having a positive body image that is based on being healthy, not thin. Not every girl can look like a supermodel and not every boy can look like an Olympic athlete. It’s important to understand what your body type is and what a healthy balanced diet is. Remember that when a person diets or starves themselves, they also starve the body of nutrients – and taking steroids and other addictive drugs is extremely detrimental to your health.
But if you feel that you will not be happy until your body is perfect – and you don’t care if you’re damaging your health – then you may be at risk for an eating disorder. “It’s not unusual for things to start out as an innocent attempt to lose weight or look better,” says nutritionist Wright. “But if a teen already has some disordered thinking about food and weight, things could spin out of control.”
There are no quick fixes or miracle cures, and if you need to talk to someone about your struggles with your body image, ask for help from your school counselor, physician, parents, coach, or other adult that you trust. You can be happy with the body you have – and not need to resort to any extreme measures.
Last reviewed Dec 1.,2014