Forget steroids. Bodybuilders and fitness junkies looking to increase their muscle mass have now turned to selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMS) as a safer and more effective way to build muscle.

Now with steroids causing so many side effects and with the concerns around their health risks, it’s understandable to why people would turn to SARMS. However, we really have to ask ourselves if these products can really help build muscle without causing any side effects or risking our health. In fact, it sounds a little too good to be true, so, is it?

What are SARMS?

SARMs are a class of compounds that were initially created to be used as part of osteoporosis treatment, testosterone replacement therapy, and muscle wasting treatment. This is because of their ability to build muscle and increase bone density.

Androgen receptors are found in various parts of the body and SARMs connect to receptors found in bone cells and muscle tissue, helping to build muscle and increase bone density.

Steroids vs. SARMS

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Yes. SARMs are similar to steroids, however, their appeal is rooted in the fact that they seemingly do not cause the same side effects associated with steroids.

For one, steroids are often converted by the enzyme 5-a reductase into DHT, which we know is one of the main hormones that trigger many unwanted side effects associated with steroid use such as prostate issues, hair loss, and acne as well as more serious health concerns that include liver damage and an increased risk of a heart attack. It’s been found that SARMs do not undergo this change, and thus do not trigger any side effects in the body.

Having said that, the use of steroids over SARMS may still be more appealing. A study published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, SARMs aren’t actually as effective for muscle building as traditional steroids. However, they’re more popular because they have fewer side effects, and they’re also harder to detect in drug testing.

So, are SARMs Safe?

The truth is there is not enough research on SARMS, so we don’t know how safe these drugs actually are. What’s more, the FDA isn’t their biggest fan.

In fact, the regulatory body issued warning letters in 2017 to three supplement companies in the United States that were offering the drugs for sale. Donald D Ashley, director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research said the following:

“We are extremely concerned about unscrupulous companies marketing body-building products with potentially dangerous ingredients…Life-threatening reactions, including liver toxicity, have occurred in people taking products containing SARMs. SARMs also have the potential to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and the long-term effects on the body are unknown.”

Safety Concern #1: SARMs suppress your natural testosterone production

A study from Boston University found that 76 men aged 21 to 50 experienced a massive 55% drop in total testosterone levels after taking 1 mg of the SARM ligandrol per day for just 3 weeks. According to the researchers, it took around 5 weeks for their natural testosterone production to recover.

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Why does this matter?

Well, because a decrease in testosterone production can increase the risk of osteoporosis. Additionally, a study in the Heart linked low testosterone to a heightened risk of premature death from heart disease and all causes.

Safety Concern #2: There may be a cancer risk

There’s some evidence that SARMs may increase your risk of cancer, but not enough to list it as a potential carcinogenic.

In 2004, several large trials on the SARM cardarine had to be canceled because the drug was causing cancerous growth in the intestines of mice.

Now, while human beings share around 98% of their DNA with rodents, it’s not fair to automatically assume that SARMS can cause cancer. However, it is something to be aware of.

So, are SARMs legal to buy?

Yes, but not to fulfill your bodybuilding dreams. Currently, it is only is legal to sell and buy SARMs that are marketed simply as research chemicals. This means that the only people who are allowed to buy SARMs are scientists looking to understand the drugs better.

The fact is, it is illegal to sell and buy those that are packaged in capsules for human consumption and/or labeled as dietary supplements.

As a result of this, for those looking to purchase SARMs to use as a fitness supplement, they are more likely to find many low-quality and fake products, both of which can be extremely harmful.

In 2017, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) conducted a study that involved buying 44 SARM products from 21 different online suppliers. The results revealed that:

  • 52% of the products contained any traces of SARMs at all.
  • 25% of the products contained doses significantly lower than what was on the label.
  • 25% of the products contained no or just trace amounts of the SARM on the label. The products contained unlabeled substances such as other SARMs and estrogen blockers.
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The bottom line

Yes, they may be touted as a safer alternative to traditional steroids, but we cannot recommend the use of SARMS. There has to be a reason as to why the FDA does not approve their use. What’s more, the last thing you should be doing is buying a product from an unregulated industry.

The risks do not outweigh the potential benefits and you should look at more natural ways of building a fit and strong body that you can be proud of.

References

Basaria, S., Collins, L., Dillon, E. L., Orwoll, K., et al (2013). The safety, pharmacokinetics, and effects of LGD-4033, a novel nonsteroidal oral, selective androgen receptor modulator, in healthy young men. The journals of gerontology. Series A, Biological sciences and medical sciences68(1), 87–95. https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/gls078

Bhasin S, Jasuja R. (2009). Selective androgen receptor modulators as function promoting therapies. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 12(3):232-240. DOI: 10.1097/mco.0b013e32832a3d79.

Fitch K. D. (2008). Androgenic-anabolic steroids and the Olympic Games. Asian journal of andrology10(3), 384–390. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1745-7262.2008.00377.x

Gao, W., & Dalton, J. T. (2007). Ockham’s razor and selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs): are we overlooking the role of 5alpha-reductase?. Molecular interventions7(1), 10–13. https://doi.org/10.1124/mi.7.1.3

Gupta, R. A., Wang, D., Katkuri, S., Wang, H., Dey, S. K., et al. (2004). Activation of nuclear hormone receptor peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-delta accelerates intestinal adenoma growth. Nature medicine10(3), 245–247. https://doi.org/10.1038/nm993

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba

Pie Mulumba is a beauty and wellness writer, who has a passion for poetry, natural hair, and skin-care. With a journalism degree from Pearson's Institute of Higher Education, and identifiable by either her large afro or colorful locks, Pie aspires to continuously provide the latest information, be it beauty or wellness, on how one can adopt a healthy lifestyle on a day to day basis.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

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