Arlindo de Souza may like the real life Popeye on the outside, but his biceps tell a different story.
The 43-year-old Brazilian man has 29-inch biceps that were not grown from being a gym rat, but from potentially lethal injections of mineral oil and alcohol. The concoction allows de Souza to look like Popeye the Sailor, but he has no added strength.
Member of the bodybuilding world fear the injections could lead to infections that can result in amputations or death. De Souza says he became addicted to taking the injections, which can be bought online or under-the-counter at rogue pharmacies.
“Each time I took it I wanted more. For me there wasn’t a limit,” De Souza told Barcroft TV.
De Souza says he stopped injecting himself after a friend died from doing the same thing.
"My friend Paulinho, he passed away from doing these things. I felt his death a lot,” De Souza said. “I’ve stopped taking it, and other things as well, but there is always that will to start again. But I'm managing to control myself, to this day."
Nicknamed “The Mountain” in his hometown Olinda, Brazil, de Souza used to inject himself with the mineral oil three times a week for two months.
“The guy gave it to me. He said, 'take this, it will make you grow in days'," he said. "I loaded the syringe, put it in my arm, injected it and it swelled me up right there and then. To tell you the truth, I didn't feel a thing. There was sometimes a bit of dizziness but nothing apart from that.”
De Souza isn’t the only bodybuilder known to inject synthetic material into his arms to bulk up. A 2012 study revealed that intramuscular oil injections can lead to long-term, irreversible damage including muscle degeneration and chronic pain. Doctors have also attributed the injections to causing abscesses that can result in amputations.
The concoction, sometimes known as Synthol, was invented in the mid 1990’s by a German bodybuilder named Chris Clark. The thick oil is injected into the “belly” of a muscle to pump it up usually to even out minor asymmetries in muscle size and shape. But for bodybuilders like de Souza inject large quantities into their arms colloquially known as “fluffing.”
"It makes the muscle appear larger, but it actually weakens it," Dr. Mauro DiPasquale, a former bodybuilder and physician in Ontario, Canada, told ABC News.
De Souza says if he becomes seriously ill, he will seek medical attention.
"If I get ill, if my arms burst, that's when I can go and see the doctor. But for me that's normal and something I've accepted," he said.