SARMs: The Ultimate Guide (Side Effects & Benefits)
Disclaimer: SARMs are only to be used for research purposes, as they are non-FDA-approved compounds and thus may cause adverse effects. If you have any questions or concerns, Dr. Touliatos is currently available for consultation.
What Are SARMs?
SARMS (selective androgen receptor modulators) are a new generation of anabolic compounds synthesized with the intention of being a superior medicine to exogenous testosterone (anabolic steroids).
Scientists’ main objective when formulating SARMs was to achieve a high binding affinity to the androgen receptor with tissue selectivity, thus mimicking the muscle-building effects of anabolic steroids but without the same degree of side effects.
- 1 What Are SARMs?
- 2 Are SARMs Safe?
- 3 Are SARMs Legal?
- 4 SARMs Benefits
- 5 SARMs Side Effects
- 6 How to Take SARMs?
- 7 FAQs
- 8 Verdict
SARMs are currently being studied as a potential treatment for cachexia (muscle wasting), osteoporosis, cancer, sexual dysfunction, Alzheimer’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.
Several anabolic-androgenic steroids (AAS) have been shown to be effective in treating the above health conditions with an acceptable level of safety, specifically being: testosterone, anavar and deca durabolin. These three compounds are FDA-approved in medicine today and are being prescribed to millions of people worldwide.
However, anabolic steroids are not the perfect medicine, with them having the potential to cause cholesterol fluctuations, benign prostate enlargement, erythrocytosis (excess of red blood cells), gynecomastia, low testosterone, virilization, and leg edema in patients.
The objective of SARMs is to inhibit the androgenic, estrogenic, and cardiovascular side effects associated with anabolic steroids through the mechanism of tissue selectivity. However, the transcriptional activation of SARMs’ tissue selectivity is not yet fully understood. Thus, in practice, we still see SARMs causing some unpleasant side effects, like anabolic steroids. Until further human trials are conducted, SARMs are only to be utilized as ‘research chemicals’.
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SARMs are very popular among the bodybuilding community due to their being perceived as a safe version of steroids. However, this hypothesis is yet to be confirmed and is somewhat dubious, based on existing research and our anecdotal evidence (presented in this article).
Are SARMs Safe?
The production of SARMs dates back to the 1940s, with these early chemicals being derivatives of testosterone, known as steroidal SARMs.
Fast forward to the late 1990s, and non-steroidal SARMs arrive on the scene (which is what bodybuilders refer to today). Due to these compounds being recent discoveries, their effects are largely unknown and consequently under investigation.
As SARMs’ safety is not yet fully understood, they are not FDA-approved for human use. In 2017, the FDA labeled SARMs as ‘potentially dangerous’ (1) and warned the public about using them.
The FDA also suggested evidence of SARMs causing liver and cardiovascular issues in users from short-term use. They further stated that the long-term side effects of SARMs remain unknown.
A limited investigation has shown that only 52% of SARM products being sold on the internet actually contained the SARM listed on the label.
It was also found that 39% of SARM products contain another unapproved substance, increasing safety concerns (2).
Dr. Thomas O’Connor has hypothesized SARMs to be more dangerous than steroids, based on 10 years worth of anecdotal evidence and an analysis of 2,000 patients’ labs (who have taken SARMs).
Are SARMs Legal?
SARMs are currently legal to buy and sell as ‘research chemicals‘. This is why they are commonly sold in liquid form, i.e., as a suitable method of administration for rodents.
However, as bodybuilders are becoming increasingly aware of their potential anabolic effects, companies have started selling SARMs in capsule form (a favourable administration method for humans).
Complications with the law can arise when manufacturers label SARMs as ‘dietary supplements‘ for humans due to a lack of FDA approval. Supplement companies are also forbidden from describing their benefits, which are yet to be medically concluded.
Muscular Size and Strength
It is already evident that SARMs can stimulate muscle hypertrophy (size) and strength.
However, early human trials suggest SARMs may only build a fraction of the muscle compared to anabolic steroids (3).
In this study, participants on SARMs gained 1–1.5 kg of fat-free mass over a 4-6-week period. In contrast, those on testosterone enanthate gained 5-7kg in fat-free mass (on 300 and 600mg doses per week).
Stimulation of the androgen receptor increases lipolysis (fat loss), enabling users to burn notable amounts of subcutaneous fat. SARMs, therefore, will not only add lean muscle tissue but simultaneously increase muscle tone and definition.
More Socially Accepted
We find there is less social stigma attached to SARMs, as they are relatively unknown and less taboo than anabolic steroids, with the latter (ironically) routinely prescribed to bodybuilders in the 1960s, before their side effects became more obvious.
SARMs, being less demonized by the public, have caused them to overtake steroids in popularity.
68,000 people in the US search for ‘steroids’ in Google, which is surpassed by 96,000 people searching for ‘sarms’.
No Injections Are Required
SARMs are predominantly administered orally as a liquid, thus eliminating the risk of contaminated needles or improper injection technique that may lead to paralysis.
Suitable for Women
We find SARMs do not typically cause virilization effects in women (in low to moderate dosages) due to weak levels of androgenicity via tissue selectivity. This makes them a more suitable option for women compared to many anabolic steroids.
However, as SARMs are currently in the ‘investigational‘ stage, it may be safer for women to opt for the few female-friendly steroids that have been thoroughly researched, such as anavar, primobolan, or deca durabolin, known to inhibit masculinization.
A Better Treatment for Osteoporosis?
Anabolic steroids increase bone mineral density (BMD). A lack of BMD significantly increases the risk of fractures and disability.
SARMs not only improve bone mineral density but also bone mechanical strength, providing a potentially better treatment for those suffering from osteoporosis.
SARMs Side Effects
Gynecomastia and Hair Loss
SARMs inhibit aromatase and 5-alpha reductase enzyme activity; thus, no direct conversion to estrogen or DHT occurs.
Therefore, in theory, bodybuilders on SARMs would experience lean muscle gains without the risk of gynecomastia or hair loss.
However, in practice, we do see cases of gyncomastia and male pattern baldness from SARMs users.
The reason these side effects occur is because normally, a person’s natural testosterone levels bind to the androgen receptor (AR); however, SARMs interfere with this process, competing with your natural testosterone for binding to the AR.
SARMs have a significantly higher binding affinity than natural testosterone and thus will win this contest, consequently leaving free testosterone more readily available for conversion to estrogen and DHT.
Thus, SARMs indirectly cause higher estrogen and DHT levels, responsible for these adverse effects.
Arimistane (Androsta-3,5-diene-7,17-dione) is a mild aromatase inhibitor that bodybuilders may utilize during SARM cycles to prevent gynecomastia and other estrogenic effects.
Other AIs, such as aromasin, letrozole, or anastrozole, are commonly used during steroid cycles. However, we find them to be excessively potent for SARMs, causing an estrogen deficiency (as opposed to preventing excessive levels).
Our test results show that SARMs lower FSH and LH via excessive binding to the AR receptor, causing a decrease in natural testosterone levels.
Different levels of suppression often depend on the SARM used, causing some users to administer a PCT (post-cycle therapy).
In our experience, here is how the most popular SARMs rank from most suppressive first to least suppressive last:
Generally, the more potent the SARM, the more suppressive it will be.
If our readers are using SARMs, we advise getting blood work performed by your doctor to assess the extent of damage to the HPT (hypothalamic-pituitary-testicular) axis, helping to determine whether a PCT is needed.
High dosages of less suppressive SARMs can still inhibit endogenous testosterone production. Stacking SARMs together may also exacerbate this hypogonadal effect.
In terms of a PCT, SARMs typically have short half-lives due to oral administration; thus, users only need to wait a few days before administering a PCT. This is drastically different from steroids, which can take a couple of weeks to clear out of the body.
Typically, we administer either Nolvadex or Clomid as a PCT for SARMs, with Nolvadex being the more potent SERM of the two.
Increased Blood Pressure
In phase I and phase II trials, SARMs have caused significant decreases in HDL cholesterol (the good type), thus increasing the risk of hypertension.
Such cardiovascular strain may be attributed to SARMs being delivered orally, with oral steroids being notorious for their negative effect on blood lipids. Additionally, a lack of aromatization may also be a culprit for deleterious cholesterol levels, with higher estrogen levels known to increase HDL.
SARMs-users may incorporate regular cardio during their cycles, in combination with fish oil supplementation, to combat reductions in HDL and prevent cardiac damage.
We have recorded mild to severe elevations in ALT and AST liver enzymes during SARM cycles, indicating strain in the liver. To protect this organ during cycles, we have seen TUDCA supplementation lower these enzymes, reducing inflammation and damage to the liver.
Dr. Thomas O’Connor, from his experience analyzing patients’ labs, believes SARMs are not safe. One man under his care experienced deteriorating liver enzymes and cholesterol levels from taking Cardarine. He likened the adverse effects to taking a megadose of anavar (50 mg/day). Interestingly, the patient did not report any noticeable positive effect on body composition from this SARM.
Further research has shown two men develop hepatocellular-cholestatic liver injuries after using SARMs (4). A previously healthy 24-year-old man had taken LGD-4033 (Ligandrol) for 9 weeks. And a 49-year-old man had taken RAD140 (Testolone) for 4 weeks, with sporadic use thereafter.
In long-term animal studies, a popular SARM, known as cardarine (GW 50156), has caused cancerous tumors (5).
However, in this study, rats were administered cardarine in high doses (3 mg/kg) for 2 years continuously, which translates to 2/3 of their lifespan.
In contrast, a shorter-duration study performed on humans administered lower doses of cardarine found no instances of tumor formation. Interestingly, researchers observed cardarine to have anti-inflammatory effects on pancreatic cancer cells (6).
Thus, the long-term effects of SARMs in relation to cancer and humans are unknown, although it is possible that SARMs, at least when abused, may lead to cancer.
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How to Take SARMs?
SARMs can be taken orally, sublingually, or intramuscularly.
SARMs generally come in liquid form; thus, users are to place the correct dosage in their mouth (measured with an eye dropper or syringe) and swallow. SARMs typically have a strong odor and taste, causing some users to pinch their noses when swallowing to eradicate the taste. Keeping mints nearby may also help to maintain fresh breath after consumption.
Some bodybuilders place the liquid in food, such as a slice of bread, to subdue the taste; however, this methodology may affect biological availability and thus is not recommended for optimal results.
MK-677 is known to be the strongest-tasting SARM that can linger for hours after administration. To counteract this unpleasant sensation, it can help to administer the liquid near the back of the throat (avoiding the tongue).
From the latin ‘sub lingua’, meaning ‘under the tongue’.
Sublingual administration is often preferred due to its faster and more direct entry into the bloodstream (7). This is due to the liquid coming into contact with the mucus membrane (situated beneath the tongue), which in turn allows for easy entry into venous circulation due to the presence of capillaries beneath the epithelium.
We find this method of administration also increases biological availability by avoiding presystemic metabolism, thus potentially increasing results.
Users may place the liquid under their tongue (using an eye dropper or syringe) and leave it to sit for 10–15 seconds before proceeding to swallow.
The disadvantage of sublingual administration is that users find it increasingly difficult to avoid the foul taste. However, this may not be an issue as a person gains more experience.
Injectable SARMs are much less common; however, there are a few advantages to such administration, including: higher biological availability compared to oral delivery, as the compound will not be broken down by the liver (8). Thus, superior results may be experienced at the same dose compared to oral delivery.
Furthermore, SARMs taken orally negatively affect HDL cholesterol (9), attributed to their passing through the liver, specifically stimulating hepatic lipase. Thus, injectable SARMs can offer better protection for cholesterol values, reducing cardiovascular strain.
Are SARMs Banned From Sports?
Yes, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) added SARMs to their prohibited list in 2008 (10). WADA tests athletes all around the world across various sports, including the Olympic Games.
Now, we even see some natural bodybuilding federations testing for SARMs, including the WNBF (11).
Will SARMs Cause a Failed Drug Test?
General drug tests, i.e., for the police or military, will not test for SARMs. However, they can utilize specific tests that detect SARMs; however, these are rare occurrences and generally only performed when there is a strong suspicion of foul play.
The recent emergence of non-steroidal SARMs presents great promise for the medical and bodybuilding communities.
With a successful outcome, significantly more people would be healed from cachexia and osteoporosis without toxic side effects. Equally, we would see fewer bodybuilders experience downturns in health, improving harm reduction and effectively steering people away from anabolic steroid use.
However, initial research combined with our anecdotal evidence suggests SARMs are not safer than anabolic steroids and may only produce a fraction of the positive effects (in terms of muscle hypertrophy). Thus, at this time, we consider the risk-to-reward ratio of SARMs to be even less optimal than steroids.