Due to an unfortunate aligning of circumstances, SARMs have essentially become synonymous with shady black-market supplements that come with a looming danger of side effects and contamination.
While this sullied reputation is fundamentally misplaced, it is likely appropriate considering that SARMs have been recklessly misused by bodybuilders, everyday lifters, other athletes since the day they became available on the internet.
Withdrawing any judgement of the recreational and irresponsible misapplication of SARMs will allow you to see that this class of compounds, designed to provide similar benefits to anabolic steroids (without the rampant side effects), may actually hold promise to improve the quality of life experienced by people suffering from many debilitating degenerative diseases.
Once you dig into the research regarding this class of compounds, you realize that, although they certainly look promising, there is a current lack of research investigating their efficacy and safety in humans. Further confusion develops when you realize that SARMs is really a catch-all term for many different compounds that selectively act upon androgen receptors, and together they are an incredibly diverse and varied group. SARMs are designed to target individual tissues, so by their very nature they can have extremely varied and unique effects (and side effects) throughout the body. There is only one way to begin developing a fully informed opinion on SARMs and their potential benefits, and that is to start at the mechanistic level.
SARMs are a class of therapeutic compounds with similar properties as anabolic agents, but with reduced androgenic (masculinizing) properties.
Developed primarily for the treatment of many conditions including hypogonadism, cancer, sarcopenia, and other muscle-wasting diseases, some SARMs (but not all) can be an incredibly effective tool for restoring function and improving quality of life for individuals suffering from these issues. Their “selective” title illustrates their ability to target extremely specific androgen receptors in particular tissues – hopefully turning those switches on, while leaving others turned off. By turning on androgen receptors in specific tissues, SARMs are able to exert similar effects to testosterone and other anabolic agents in that particular tissue, but (hopefully) not others.
This capacity is particularly useful when seeking to avoid the wide array of potential side effects experienced from anabolic steroids. Instead of turning every single androgen receptor in the body to the “on” position like steroids would, only the targeted ones are flipped. With this precision, individuals utilizing SARMs can avoid the potential for developing acne, liver damage, gynecomastia, shrunken testes, hair growth, abnormal menstrual cycles, and the host of other side effects that come with prolonged anabolic steroid use. This misconception of SARMs as an allegedly safer alternative to the illegal use of steroids has led to their misuse and has allowed for a large black market to develop.
Due to their functions within the body being quite analogous to anabolic steroids, SARMs have become incredibly popular amongst athletes, especially those in the bodybuilding community.
Although they are prohibited by most athletic associations, no one is testing recreational lifters, bodybuilders or others who may be purchasing their SARMs online in the hopes of adding a couple pounds of muscle or improving their bench press by a few pounds. These individuals are precisely those who are willing to take the risk of buying an unknown product from an unknown company over the internet, and this demographic is exactly where the danger of using SARMs has been most obvious.
It is pretty clear why people are willing to use themselves as a test subject for SARMs – because they are marketed as a safe alternative to illegal steroids. Although this may be largely true for actual SARMs that are free of contaminants, other compounds, and in actually effective dosages, this isn’t what people are receiving from sources off of the internet – not even close. In 2018, the FDA released a public advisory letter cautioning that SARMs were unapproved and linked to “serious safety concerns.” While the FDA, or any other single authority should never be considered to be the final word on anything to do with your own personal health, the research clearly supports the need for profound caution when dealing with SARMs.
Although SARMs are currently enough of a health wildcard by themselves, there is another major factor to consider when looking at the overall safety profile of SARMs usage – most of what people are buying off the internet are not actually what they claim to be. One extremely fascinating study presented in the well respected publication JAMA, investigated the quality of 44 separate SARMs purchased off of the internet. What the authors of the study found is really at the core of what currently makes the usage of SARMs dangerous. Of the 44 products tested they found:
So not only are individuals taking a profound health risk with trying SARMs, there likely isn’t even an effective dose in what they are getting off the internet.
It is also important to remember that SARMs have not currently been approved by the FDA. Some, like Enobosarm/Ostarine, LGD-4033, and BMS-564,929 have passed Phase II clinical trials and have proven track records to back up their safety and efficacy – when used appropriately. Another SARM working its way through the rigorous testing required for approval is S-23, a male contraceptive. These, and many other SARMs are proving to be both incredibly effective and safe – issues often only arise when individuals take extraordinary doses for prolonged periods of time. As of now, there simply isn’t enough long-term data to determine whether or not SARMs are a safe and viable option for most people – and that is based off of clinical data utilizing actual SARMs, not questionable products off of the internet.
Although there is a seemingly unacceptably high level of risk involved with using SARMs purchased off of the internet, to call SARMs entirely useless would be disingenuous.
We have to be careful not to condemn a class of compounds which may provide benefits for many people, even though the current (grey) market for SARMs is rife with controversy. There are absolutely some SARMs that have incredible potential for helping debilitating conditions like sarcopenia due to old age, bone loss from osteoporosis, and other muscle wasting diseases. For treating these conditions, SARMs may prove to be an excellent tool – especially if you’re worried about the potential side effects of some other more anabolic compounds. For now however, it is best to take a stance of a late-adopter. We suggest waiting until more clinical data and practical application helps to identify both the benefits and the potential detriments of using SARMs.