Why Are Bodybuilders Dying??

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Back in the 80s and 90s, Austrian-born pro bodybuilder Andreas Munzer, was a quite a rage, for his ultra-shredded physique, and paper-thin skin texture.

On March 12, 1996, Munzer complained of severe stomach pain, and was admitted to the hospital. He was bleeding from the stomach and was right away set for surgery. His liver & kidney had already failed.

However, the doctors couldn’t save him. On the morning of March 14, 1996, he died, with the official autopsy giving the cause of death as dystrophic multiple organ failure. He was just 31.

However, the actual reports of his autopsy shocked the bodybuilding world, and showed the real dangers which plagued the sport. The reports showed that Munzer had numerous table-tennis-ball-size tumours in the liver and a heart that had grown to weigh an abnormal 636 grams, well above the typical 300 grams.

His liver weighed 2.9 kilograms, almost a kilo heavier than a normal male’s liver weighing in at 2 kilograms. The Bile ducts in the liver had stopped functioning.

His kidneys were swollen to huge size, and the testes were virtually shrivelled. His electrolytes were also out of balance, and his potassium levels were extremely high. Traces of about 20 different drugs were found, along with acute toxicity (perhaps caused by a stimulant).

He is not alone. There is a list of top pro bodybuilders who had an untimely and tragic end:

  • Mike Matarazzo (died at age 48) – had an open heart surgery in 2004, followed by an heart attack 3 years later in 2007. Finally, He died on August 16, 2014, in a hospital while waiting for a heart transplant.
  • Dallas McCarver (died at age 26) – On August 22, 2017, Dallas was found on the floor at home with food scattered around him. He was pronounced dead at 1:03 am. Enlarged liver and kidneys, nephrosclerosis (a hardened kidney), heavy lungs, and a papillary thyroid carcinoma were noted in autopsy.
  • Nasser El Sonbaty (died at age 47) – in sleep due to kidney & heart failure.
  • Greg Kovacs (died at age 44) – due to heart failure.
  • Mohammed Benaziza (died at age 33) – was found dead in his hotel room on October 4, 1992, shortly after that competition. He died of heart failure caused by excessive consumption of diuretic products.
  • Rich Piana (died at age 46) – in 2017, Rich suffered a heart attack, fell to the ground and hit his head. With the lack of oxygen going to his brain, the doctors put Rich on a medically induced coma. But in a week, his breathing started to deteriorate and he was put back on the ventilator, until he passed away. Rich Piana’s autopsy revealed, an enlarged heart (and “significant heart disease”), fatty liver, congested thyroid, discoloured kidneys etc.

Acc. to a study, in 2021 alone, over two dozen professional competitive bodybuilders died suddenly, along with a number of retired bodybuilders under the age of 60 years.

The use of anabolic-androgenic steroids in bodybuilding is an open story. Though, use of anabolics is quite prevalent in other sports too. But, when combined with a lack of drug testing, it becomes a recipe of disaster, which fosters uncontrolled use of various cocktails/combinations of performance enhancing drugs, hormones, diuretics and various other substances.

The premier governing body for competitive bodybuilding, the IFBB, has policies regarding drug testing which conform to the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) Code. But this is nothing more than a joke.

Different studies have given different percentages in terms of steroid usage in bodybuilders, ranging from 20-60% or more. But with over 2 decades of experience in the field of sports, and competitive bodybuilding, let me give you the exact percentage. It is 100%. Yes, every single bodybuilder competing on a conventional bodybuilding stage, is under the influence of different dosages of anabolic steroids, which can range of little to supraphysiological amounts. 

If we observe closely, most of these deaths, including earlier ones, are cardiovascular in nature. Several studies have demonstrated that AAS unfavourably influences known cardiovascular disease risk factors, and have demonstrated to markedly reduce high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, increase low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, and increase homocysteine in bodybuilders.

Acc. to a study, the use of anabolic steroids for medical indications is relatively safe, but when used illicitly they can damage health and cause disorders affecting several functions (cardiovascular, reproductive, musculoskeletal, endocrine, renal, immunologic, and neuropsychiatric. These side effects include cardiac injuries such as fibrosis, cardiac hypertrophy, and dilated cardiomyopathy with an increased risk for myocardial infarction, arrhythmias, and sudden cardiac death.