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The rise of steroids: 'Natty or not?'

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  • The 'natty or not' debate has brought steroid use in bodybuilding into mainstream conversation, raising ethical and health concerns.
  • Fitness influencers play a significant role in shaping public perceptions and must strive for honesty to set realistic expectations.
  • The health risks of steroid use are severe, necessitating more research and education to inform the public and healthcare providers.

The fitness world is buzzing with the 'natty or not' debate, a term that questions whether bodybuilders and fitness influencers are natural or using anabolic steroids. This discussion has gained significant traction on platforms like YouTube, TikTok, and Reddit, where millions of viewers engage in speculations and debates. The once-taboo topic of steroid use is now a mainstream conversation, raising questions about the ethics, health risks, and societal impacts of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).

The Evolution of Steroid Use in Bodybuilding

Steroids have been a part of the bodybuilding culture for decades. Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of the most iconic figures in bodybuilding, admitted to using steroids during his career. His influence not only popularized bodybuilding but also introduced a more extreme, steroid-fueled aesthetic to mainstream culture. According to a 2018 review, steroid users experience, on average, 52% greater strength gains than non-users, highlighting the significant impact of these substances on physical performance.

The Role of Fitness Influencers

In today's digital age, fitness influencers play a crucial role in shaping public perceptions of bodybuilding and fitness. Influencers like Greg Doucette and Jesse James West have openly discussed the prevalence of steroid use in the industry. Doucette, a powerlifting world champion turned fitness influencer, has been candid about his own steroid use, aiming to demystify the unrealistic expectations set by 'fake nattys'—those who use steroids but claim to be natural.

West, with his 4 million YouTube subscribers, frequently addresses the 'steroid epidemic' in the fitness industry. He emphasizes the importance of honesty among influencers, stating, "We can say 'don't blast tren!', but it would be even better to be honest about the fact people use, and not present a false image". This transparency is crucial in helping young, impressionable followers set realistic fitness goals and avoid the pitfalls of comparing themselves to enhanced physiques.

The Impact on Body Image and Mental Health

The rise of social media has exacerbated body image issues, particularly among young people. Platforms like TikTok and Instagram are flooded with images of bodybuilders who appear to be on steroids but claim to be natural. This creates a distorted view of what is achievable through natural means, leading to frustration and disappointment among aspiring fitness enthusiasts. As one young fitness influencer noted, "My social media homepages are filled with bodybuilders who look like they are on steroids but claim to be natural, which makes it really difficult for me to know what is realistically achievable".

Health Risks and Ethical Considerations

The health risks associated with steroid use are well-documented. Long-term use of anabolic steroids can lead to severe health issues, including liver and kidney damage, mental health problems, and an increased risk of death. A study in Denmark revealed that over a decade, the overall chance of death for steroid users triples compared to non-users, a risk comparable to cocaine use but less than heroin.

Despite these risks, the use of steroids in bodybuilding shows no signs of waning. The fitness community remains divided on whether the open discussion of steroid use helps reduce stigma or inadvertently normalizes dangerous behavior. As M.K. Angeletti of Revival Fitness pointed out, "The baseline intention is good, but then you open a door that spirals out of control".

Moving Forward: A Call for Honesty and Education

The 'natty or not' debate underscores the need for greater honesty and education within the fitness community. Influencers must recognize their impact and strive to present a realistic picture of what can be achieved naturally. Additionally, there is an urgent need for more research into the long-term effects of steroid use to better inform the public and healthcare providers.

While the 'natty or not' phenomenon has brought much-needed attention to the issue of steroid use in bodybuilding, it also highlights the complexities and challenges of navigating this controversial topic. By fostering open, honest discussions and prioritizing education, the fitness community can work towards a healthier, more realistic approach to achieving fitness goals.

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