A 25-year-old man admitted to hospital with a loss of function in his arm was found to have injected himself with coconut oil – as well as virtually everything else he could get his hands on – resulting in muscle loss and permanent damage.
The man had been body-building for four years when he was first admitted with pain in his right arm, according to a study published in BMJ Case Reports.
"He can't straighten his arm because the triceps muscle helps extension of the arm," his doctor Ajay Sahu of Ealing Hospital in London told IBTimes UK.
"If you look at him, you would think he has a good body and very good muscle bulk. Why would someone like him inject coconut oil? It didn't immediately click to us what it was."
The body builder, who had been reticent to share his medical history with the doctors at Ealing Hospital, had been injecting his muscles with coconut oil, anabolic steroids, unprescribed insulin, Vitamin B12 and was orally taking unprescribed thyroid hormones. Each of these had led to complications and medical interventions.
"The case is unusual because not much history of injecting history of coconut oil in body building," says Sahu.
It was only after an MRI scan that Sahu and his colleagues discovered lesions in the muscle where scar tissue had formed around droplets of coconut oil that had not been absorbed by the tissue. The triceps of his right arm had torn at the elbow, leaving him in a lot of pain.
Injecting the coconut oil was one of the most damaging practices that the man had been doing, Sahu says. While long-term unprescribed use of insulin, anabolic steroids and thyroid hormones are also dangerous, there is no mechanism for the body to absorb coconut oil injected directly into the muscle. The oil remained there in droplets until scar tissue formed around them.
"There's no evidence that coconut oil will work at all in building your muscles," says Sahu. "People use all sorts of things and they all end up having problems."
The practice of injecting coconut oil into muscles has been used since the 19th century. It is more common in Middle Eastern countries than in western Europe.
"In the western world there's not much literature on people injecting these natural oils," Sahu says. "They go unreported. People often don't come forward, so they are under-diagnosed."
Sahu and his colleagues aim to draw doctors' attention to such practices among body builders, as they say there is not enough awareness about the measures some men take to try to make their muscles larger. The doctors say that the few cases that are reported may be the tip of the iceberg.
Some men who feel anxiety about not being muscular enough and feel the need to increase their body size have body dysmorphic disorders, for which information and support and a number of possible treatments are available.