Bodybuilders buying drugs online to boost performance in the gym are being warned they could be risking their lives.
The Ministry of Health and Prevention has stepped in to issue the guidance, as some illegally marketed products on sale contain toxic substances that could be fatal if ingested.
All hospitals and directors of medical zones have been issued circulars warning about the issue following a recent alert from the US Food and Drug Administration.
Drugs tests on steroid-like substances were found to contain artificial male hormones that could seriously harm health.
"The US Food and Drug Administration has warned that many of these products are promoted for bodybuilding, and muscle development, whereas they contain synthetic steroids or hormones related to testosterone," said Dr Amin Hussain Al Amiri, assistant undersecretary of public health policy and licensing at the ministry.
Apart from liver injury, absorption of steroids can cause severe acne, hair loss, increased aggression and depression.
Doctors should always be consulted before taking such medication, as steroid use can also cause life-threatening reactions such as kidney damage, heart attacks, stroke and pulmonary embolism, a blockage of a major blood vessel in the lungs.
Most rogue products enter the country illegally, coming from companies that have not been licensed to sell in the UAE, and are not in compliance with international standards.
The ministry is increasing random inspections on pharmacies to check they are complying with the law on the sale of medication.
Any found operating illegally will first be warned before a violation is issued. If banned or unlicensed hormone products are found to be sold, action could lead to the closure of the facility and revocation of licence.
“The absence of parental control and the lack of awareness among family members regarding the risks of hormones and sports steroids contributes to the increase of young people buying them in gyms and other bodybuilding clubs,” Dr Al Amiri said.
“Most young people may not be aware of the health hazards of these hormones, [as they don’t talk about it] for fear of being ridiculed for using them instead of exerting physical efforts to develop.”
Products are usually sold online in the form of food supplements, yet most are not nutritional supplements and are marketed illegally. Some are also promoted as new medicines not yet approved globally.
Doctors and physiotherapists have warned of more teenage boys asking for help to treat muscle-related injuries, due to a rising trend of body-conscious males going to the gym at too young an age.
While doctors welcome the push towards more exercise in young people, they stressed it should be fitness-related, rather than dedicated to improving a perceived body image and packing on muscle.
Aditya Ghai, a physiotherapist at Zulekha Hospital, said children are more susceptible to injuries.
“Young patients come to me with lower back problems, and they are doing weight training unsupervised,” he said. “This can also damage their confidence, as their mentality shifts from being healthy to looking good.”