A lot of people are prepared to go to extreme lengths to build muscle, get stronger, get leaner, or boost their athletic performance. Intense workouts and obsessive dieting are just two examples of what it takes to become physically extraordinary.
Sports supplements can also help, providing an edge that can mean the difference between winning or losing and success or failure.
A small but growing number of exercisers are turning to gray-market supplements, which are substances not yet approved for human use. These include SARMs.
But what are SARMs, are they safe, and are they legal to use?
In this article, we’re going to explore what SARMS are, how they work, and what the risks of using them may be. By the end, you’ll know if they are the right supplement for you and whether they will help you achieve your muscle-building and body composition goals more quickly or more easily.
What Are SARMs?
SARMs stands for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators. SARMs are a type of drug with similarities to anabolic steroids. They were initially created in the early 1990s by Professor James Dalton, who was working on treatments for prostate cancer. SARMs did nothing for prostate health but did show promise for increasing muscle size and strength.
SARMs have also been considered as treatments for osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, benign prostatic hyperplasia, muscular dystrophy, breast cancer, and HIV. However, it has yet to be approved for any of these uses.
Sports supplement companies have since taken professor Dalton’s formula and refined it to create the SARMs that are so popular today. SARMs are administered in pills and capsules rather than by injection, which helps give them broader appeal.
SARMs have yet to be approved by the FDA for human use, which means they are a “gray-market” supplement. They are not illegal, but their legal status is still up in the air. Because of their potent effect and potential side effects, they will likely become illegal or, at the very least, more controlled sometime in the future.
There are several different SARMs, including:
Taking SARMs can help you build muscle faster, burn fat, and get stronger. They increase protein synthesis, which means, after your workouts, you recover quicker and more completely.
Are SARMs the Same as Steroids?
Steroids are mostly types of synthetic testosterone. Men produce testosterone in abundance, while women make about one-tenth the amount of men. Testosterone is both anabolic AND androgenic.
The term anabolic means that testosterone is responsible for building muscle, where an androgen is a substance responsible for the development of male sexual characteristics, such as facial hair and a deep voice.
Steroids are a class of drug that increases muscle development but are typically associated with a whole host of unwanted and even potentially life-shortening side effects, including liver damage and an increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Steroids can also cause premature baldness, testicle shrinkage, water retention, acne, and sterility. Women who use steroids also risk masculinization, the effects of which can be permanent.
SARMs mimic the effects of testosterone and work in a similar way to steroids, but they are tissue-specific. This means that they mostly affect the muscle cells and have a much smaller effect on things like liver cells, bones, or the reproductive organs.
Using steroids tends to increase estrogen production, which means users have to take anti-estrogen medication to avoid the side effects that are associated with steroid use. SARMs are not converted to estrogen, which eliminates many of the unwanted side effects of steroid use.
This means, potentially at least, SARMs are safer than steroids.
SARMs are generally less potent than steroids, which helps keep their side effects low. According to SARMs manufacturers, this means you can enjoy all the perks of steroid use without any dangerous and unpleasant side effects.
However, that doesn’t mean that SARMs are 100% safe to use, which is part of the reason they are yet to be approved for human use.
What Do You Use SARMs for?
SARMs were developed for use by people with muscle wasting diseases and to prevent muscle loss in cancer patients and other medical groups. They were meant to be a safer alternative to testosterone-based anabolic steroids, which can cause unwanted side effects even in therapeutic doses. Despite these side effects, the medicinal use of steroids can help increase the quality of life by preserving strength, functionality, and sex drive.
Now, like steroids, SARMs are used by bodybuilders, weightlifters, athletes, and exercisers to boost performance.
Users of SARMs take them for a range of reasons:
- Instead of harsh testosterone-based anabolic steroids
- To maintain muscle mass between steroid cycles
- To increase the effectiveness of steroid cycles
- To enhance performance in drug-tested sports and events
- The preservation of muscle mass during strict diets
In general, SARMs are mostly viewed as weak steroids. They provide some of the benefits and less of the drawbacks. Because of this, they are usually marketed as a safe alternative to “real” steroids, which is what gives them their broad and growing appeal.
Are SARMs Safe?
Research suggests that SARMs do precisely what they’re supposed to do. Like testosterone, they can help you build muscle, get stronger, and burn fat faster than usual. But, unlike testosterone, they don’t affect your entire endocrine (hormonal) system. Instead, they mostly affect your muscle cells. Think of SARMs as a sniper rifle, whereas steroids are more like a hand grenade.
However, while SARMs have a milder effect than steroids, it’s still unclear whether they are safe. They’ve only been around for a decade or two, and studies have yet to establish their long-term effects.
The studies that have been done on SARMs indicate that they can reduce natural testosterone production. When you take an exogenous androgen, like SARMs, your body responds by turning down its own production of similar hormones.
When you stop taking SARMs, it can take several weeks or even months for your own testosterone production to return to normal. During this time, you will probably lose your gains and experience symptoms of low testosterone and andropause. If you are unlucky, your testosterone levels may never bounce back, which means you may need testosterone replacement therapy.
That said, SARMs are probably easier to recover from than steroids, but that doesn’t mean you won’t experience unwanted side effects during or after a cycle of SARMs use. There are also some reports that SARMs use could increase the risk of certain cancers.
Also, because SARMs are a gray-market supplement, they’re usually made in underground labs with no FDA oversight. Remember, SARMs are drugs and not herbal or natural supplements. That means there is no guarantee that the product you buy is pure or that it’s even SARMs. You could very well be purchasing an inert or fake supplement or anabolic steroids labeled as SARMs; outside of chemical testing, you have no way of knowing.
Side Effects of Using SARMs
The side effects of SARMs are generally proportional to how much you take and for how long. The side effects associated with SARMs include:
- Lower levels of good HDL cholesterol
- Increased liver stress
- Increased blood pressure
- Diminished sex drive
The main side effects of SARMs are very similar to those associated with steroid use, only milder. That’s because most SARMs users stick to quite conservative doses, while steroids are often taken in larger amounts.
In 2017, the FDA released a statement regarding SARMs use, basically stating that they deemed this substance unsafe and that it should not be used without medical supervision. Several manufacturers have been “warned off” making SARMs supplements. It seems that the legal net on SARMs is closing, and the FDA is taking steps to regulate its production and use.
Are They Legal to Use?
SARMs ARE legal to use, but manufacturing and selling them is illegal. SARMs are a drug, and as such, should only be manufactured and sold by real pharmaceutical companies and not supplement companies or underground labs.
Just because they can’t be made legally doesn’t mean you can’t buy them, and some products come from countries where SARMs manufacture is not regulated, such as India and China. The purity of such products is always questionable.
And while they are not as easy to detect as anabolic steroids, athletes who compete in drug-tested sports should not use SARMs, as they are banned performance-enhancing substances. Drug tests are always evolving and improving, and it won’t be long before they can be detected more readily.
So, while SARMs ARE legal to use, they are typically sold as “research laboratory chemicals” and not for human consumption. That disclaimer alone should tell you all you need to know about the safety and ethics of using SARMs.
At first look, SARMs look like the Holy Grail of performance-enhancing supplements. They work like steroids but without many of the harsh side effects associated with steroid use. SARMs, unlike many steroids, do not need to be injected and are currently legal-ish, whereas steroids are out and out illegal.
You can buy SARMs online, although there is no guarantee that you’ll actually get real SARMs, and not some impure product, actual anabolic steroids, or something that’s entirely inert. After all, the sale and production of SARMs are entirely unregulated.
Because of this, the potential risks of SARMs use currently outweigh any potential benefits. Forget the legalities for a moment and focus on the fact that you have no way of knowing what you are buying and putting into your body. Even though the side effects should be milder than for anabolic steroids, and contrary to the marketing hype, SARMs are not a risk-free alternative to steroids.
If you want to take something that is both effective and safe to use, stick to supplements like creatine. Creatine is non-steroidal, has been studied for over 40 years, has no serious side effects, and it’s easy to buy at your local supplement store.
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