Not everyone can get six-pack abs, and that’s completely okay.

How steroids are a dark dangerous path to the elusive six-pack dream
news Health Friday, March 10, 2017 - 17:08

Kiran, a 26-year-old resident of Bengaluru, thought that this new year he was going to get fitter. In January, he went to a gym in Kumaraswamy Layout and told the instructor there that he wanted six-pack abs. The instructor asked him to cough up Rs 25,000 – a price which Kiran was willing to pay to achieve his idea of an ideal body.

In February, Kiran was asked by the instructor to take steroids – an injection, and a powder to be mixed with milk. By March, the 26-year-old became unwell. His health steadily declining, Kiran was admitted to a private hospital after being refused treatment by two others. He succumbed to health complications on Tuesday.

Kiran’s mother Chandramma filed an FIR against the gym instructor – she suspects that the steroids he started taking are responsible for his death. The complaint has been registered at Ulsoor Gate police station. The police are awaiting forensic results to decide the next course of action.

Post-mortem reports have revealed that Kiran died due to blood thickening, but the cause for the blood thickening is yet to be determined, said police.

While it hasn’t been established exactly what ailed Kiran, there are several youngsters in India who believe that it is possible to get star-like bodies within a few months. But that’s far from the reality.

Steroids and their use

Dr Vinodh Thomas, chief cardiologist at Renai Medicity, Kochi, says there are two kinds of steroids – anabolic and cortico. Both have medicinal purposes – they are used for patients of arthritis, cancer, HIV and so on to help improve their muscle mass against the illness.

But it is the anabolic kind, majorly derived from testosterone, which is generally used and misused by people to achieve a buffed body speedily.

While cases of death are rare, Dr Vinodh says that people can pay a heavy price for using steroids unsupervised. “Some of the most common side effects are increased risk of premature heart attack and stroke as well as abnormalities in blood pressure and cholesterol,” he says.

The ‘six pack’ and its practicality

Dr Gladson Johnson, a sports physiotherapist in Bengaluru says everyone has a six-pack. Or an eight-pack. Or a seven-pack. The logic: “The so-called six pack abs are nothing but the shape of your abdominal muscles coming to the fore once the fat on top of it is burnt,” he explains.

Steroids are prescribed for people who are in show business, too - for instance,  professional bodybuilders - to help burn fat at a faster rate. Dr Johnson says that if at all, these are to be given under strict medical supervision (they can't and shouldn't be prescribed by trainers) based on an individual’s body chemistry and metabolism rate.

And even if they’re on steroids, achieving the six-pack body easily takes up to a year, he adds.

“If given without proper medical guidance, diet and dosage, the steroids can cause serious damage to one’s liver, kidneys and metabolism,” he warns.  

Jyotsna John is a fitness trainer and founder of Chennai based The Unit, which provides strength training services. She says that it takes a minimum of two years to achieve the so-called “six-pack” naturally and in a healthy way. And while they can try, not everyone can succeed.

She explains that professional bodybuilders also take steroids at the fag-end of their training, a few months before competitions. They have to be on a strict diet and exercise regime. “And if you see them just 2-3 days after the competition, they might not even have the six-pack anymore!” Jyotsna says.

This is because the body needs to recover after such a strenuous routine. “It’s very difficult to maintain that sort of physique and you need to let the body recover after the strain. "They go back to a regular diet for some time, wean off of the steroids, and then start training again,” Jyotsna adds.

Weaning off steroids is important, says Dr Gladson, which is another reason why they should always be taken under medical supervision. “People’s kidneys and livers are the first to take a hit when they’re consuming steroids unsupervised. And when they abruptly stop, their metabolism goes for a toss. They will suddenly put on a lot of weight,” he warns.

Many people come to Jyotsna with the desire of sporting sculpted abs and muscles. However, when she tells them that it will require rigorous training spanning years, they are quick to take the exit. If others agree and they start the training, sometimes they have to stop midway and tone down the routine because it takes a toll on their body.

“You just have to accept that this is your body. Not everyone can maintain having such a low body fat level without it affecting their health. People equate fitness with having chiseled abs but that’s hardly true,” Jyotsna argues.

One of the biggest issues that needs to be addressed is the over the counter sales of steroids.

Jyotsna says that while most steroids require a medical prescription, many are sold over the counter. "It's definitely dangerous. But what with people buying into this six-pack fad, there's money to be made. If there's money to be made, there's someone willing to do it," she says.

Experts insist that steroid sale and consumption needs to be regulated with stringent laws.

Celebrity transformations – inspiration or fantasy?

When Aamir Khan posted a video of his transformation for the film Dangal, it showed him from going from pot-belly to a hard, sculpted and muscular body. Soon after, a video of a body builder breaking down his routine and claiming that he took steroids, also went viral.

Dr Digpal Singh Ranawat, Performance Director at Abhinav Bindra – Targeting Performance, says that Indians are not very well educated when it comes to fitness.

“Youth icons like actors have so much impact. Apart from showcasing their “transformations” they need to come out and speak about fitness and the importance of doing it naturally,” he asserts.

Fitness is of utmost importance to athletes, but steroids are a complete no-go. “This is why athletes are tested before competitions and the ones found consuming steroids aren’t allowed to compete. We need such stringent measures outside competitive sports too,” Dr Ranawat says.

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