If you’re into bodybuilding, chances are you’ve heard a lot of rumors about the mysterious SARMs or selective androgen receptor modulators.
People are saying these compounds are packed with the benefits of steroids without the nasty side effects.
Is that too good to be true?
Can you really take SARMs without worrying about your natural testosterone synthesis, or about testicle shrinking, or about the dreadful ”man boobs”—gynecomastia?
Today, you’ll learn everything you need to know about SARMs to decide for yourself if you need them in your life.
Grab yourself a cup of coffee and let’s roll!
Endocrine system 101: how your androgens work
Your endocrine system is made of messenger chemicals (hormones) and their respective receptors. There are specific receptors for every hormone.
When a hormone finds its receptor and binds to it, their combination activates a cascade of processes specific to said hormone and to the tissue where this happens.
In the case of androgens, these effects include:
- The building of muscle and bone (anabolic effect)
- Decreased storage of fat (and the fat that IS stored goes in the abdominal area)
- Development of secondary sexual traits (facial hair, deeper voice, etc.)
- Regulation of sperm production (and fertility, as a result)
As you see, the action is different in every tissue—but the trigger is the same: a specific hormone.
So, for example, you can’t take testosterone and expect it will affect ONLY your muscles.
This universal action is precisely what makes anabolic steroids so dangerous.
The dangers of using steroids: here’s how they mess you up
Athletes and bodybuilders succumb to the temptation of using steroids to boost their gains—and that’s understandable. Testosterone injections are like a magic elixir of guaranteed muscle building.
Now, here’s the thing: this would all be fun and games if steroids worked only on the muscles.
But muscle tissue isn’t the only one that answers the call.
Depending on the tissue or organ in question, this steroid storm has different effects. For example, the most well-known danger of steroid usage is hypogonadism (low production of own androgens), which is often accompanied by testicular atrophy (shrinking of the nuts) and infertility. This effect is usually reversible, but still utterly unpleasant—and may persist for several years after you stop taking steroids.
In most cases, your healthy level of hormones is controlled through a mechanism known as the negative feedback loop, which is basically doing the reverse of what’s happening:
- High levels of a particular hormone inhibit its production
- Low levels of a certain hormone boost its production
Together, these two processes help to keep everything neat and well-balanced, but this mechanism wasn’t designed to deal with external hormone injections.
When you take steroids, the negative feedback loop on your androgens gets crazy and sets off the alarm: ”WARNING, androgen levels TOO HIGH: shut off production immediately!”
Other dangerous consequences of steroid usage include:
- Addiction (seen in about 30% of anabolic steroid users)
- Acne, male-pattern baldness
- An increase in ”bad” cholesterol levels (low-density lipoprotein)
- Liver damage and a higher risk of liver tumors
- Heart dysfunction, possibly severe enough to boost the risk of heart failure
- Depression, anxiety, aggression, psychotic behavior
- Probably increased mortality rates in cases of steroid abuse (mainly from heart issues)
- Prostate growth in men and virilization in women (development of masculine physical traits)
So… Using steroids basically means building muscle at the cost of general health.
Sounds awful, right?
That’s why scientists have been working on a healthier alternative for decades, and they hoped that SARMS would be just that.
How are SARMs better than usual steroids?
The idea behind SARMs (selective androgen receptor modulators, in case you forgot) is elegant and straightforward: to produce androgen-like molecules that would affect only a particular tissue, not all of them.
Theoretically, this would allow bodybuilders to grow muscle without worrying for their own testosterone production or fertility.
Or strengthening the bones of elderly people without fearing liver damage and depression.
In short, SARMs were initially developed and synthesized as a healthier and safer alternative to anabolic steroids. In many senses, this worked out just fine, and here’s why some people take SARMs:
- They are more powerful than any natural testosterone-boosting approach (herbs, micronutrients, etc.), although still gentler than real steroids
- They are harder to detect in doping testing before competitions and sports events. (But yes, SARMs are still prohibited at all times according to the World Anti-Doping Agency)
- Some men reported that SARMs are easier to recover from than traditional anabolic steroids
- In general, SARMs really are MUCH more selective than anabolic steroids and come with less of some side effects (some, but not all)
- They’re more convenient to use: SARMs are taken orally while traditional steroids have to be injected in most cases
So what’s the catch, you ask?
Why isn’t every athlete taking SARMs to become a lean, mean muscle machine?
Glad you asked!
The dangers of SARMs
Let me show you something real quick.
Here’s a short list of the most popular SARMs at the moment:
- MK-2866 (Ostarine)
- S-4 (Andarine)
- GW 501516 (Cardarine)
Notice how most of them are just a bunch of letters and numbers?
That’s because SARMs are still considered something like an experimental drug. None of them have been officially approved for medical use, so right now they are pretty much an over-the-counter doping.
What’s good about this: anyone can try them out and reap those gains. With milder side effects than if they’d go for real steroids, and without a prescription
What’s terrible about this: the research is still MINIMAL, and it could take decades to form a solid safety profile for each SARM
So, SARMS aren’t 100% safe to take, and they come with most of the usual side effects too—just in a somewhat milder form.
- They can reduce your own production of testosterone in a dose-dependent fashion (the more you take, the less testosterone you produce)
- One Animal studies reported that some SARMs (like GW501516, Cardarine) can seriously boost the growth of tumors.
When boiled down, it seems like SARMs are the lesser of two evils, but only time will tell if that’s really so.
To summarize, right now SARMs are in a gray zone—both in terms of legality, safety, and potential health benefits or harms. While they are currently available to purchase over the counter, this may change anytime soon.
Today? Tomorrow? Who knows.
Should you try them out while they’re still available?
That’s up for you to choose. Our goal was to provide you with a comprehensive review of all the pros and cons.
But then again… The side effects. They may be worth dealing with in cases of devastating diseases like cancer and sarcopenia—but that’s a bit different from gains at the gym.
In any case, no matter if you choose to try out SARMs while you can or pass on this opportunity altogether, just make sure to approach your health with care, wisdom, and the gentleness it deserves.
If you have any questions stop in and see us, one of our friendly team members will be happy to help!
-The Cost Plus Nutrition Team