Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators or SARMS for short, were invented to offer the same muscle and strength-building potency of anabolic steroids, plus the positive effects on bone, but with none of the negative properties (i.e. no hair loss, no testicular shrinkage, no acne, etc…and no bad reputation). In short, [clickToTweet tweet=”Scientists attempted to create an anabolic steroid that wasn’t an anabolic steroid.” quote=”Scientists attempted to create an anabolic steroid that wasn’t an anabolic steroid.”].
Anabolic steroids have gotten a bad rap over the years. That’s a shame, because they are wonderfully effective at adding muscle to people that need it. And I’m not just talking about guys who get sand kicked in their faces, I’m talking about AIDS and Cancer patients, who use the drugs to keep their lean body mass high enough to survive. Anabolic steroids are also the primary treatment for Andropause, the natural decline in testosterone that affects men as they age. And they don’t just help people add muscular body weight and gain strength, but they also improve bone strength, bone mineral density, and combat osteoporosis. Select types of anabolic steroids have even been used after surgery to speed recovery.
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And of course, when it comes to adding muscle and strength to bodybuilders, powerlifters, and any other type of athlete, again, they are unmatched. Nothing else even comes close: Mechano Growth Factor, Insulin-like Growth Factor, peptide hormones, and even human Growth Hormone itself – none will build more muscle and strength, or burn more fat, than anabolic steroids.
In fact…anabolic steroids work almost too well. They work so well that hardly a week passes without hearing about an athlete who has tested positive for their use – which is banned in virtually every sport, and has been for decades. With those positive tests invariably come front page articles, chastising the athlete for being a “cheater,” and hyping up a laundry list of side-effects and dangers of using anabolic steroids. Reading those articles, one would assume that they kill you within a week of your first injection.
To say that anabolic steroids have gotten a bad reputation would be a gross understatement. As a result, there aren’t many pharmaceutical companies trying to invent new ones, and most patents have already long expired.
But what if a pharmaceutical company could invent a drug that was just as effective as anabolic steroids, but side effect (and stigma) free? It’s this question that led to the creation of an entirely new class of drugs:
Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs)
I wish I could say that SARMs are a spectacular success and that we’re looking at side-effect-free drugs that build tons of muscle. But right now, (and we need to keep in mind that research and development of these drugs is still in its infancy) there are no SARMs that could entirely replace anabolic steroids. That being said, they do offer certain advantages.
Nobody is really losing hair on SARMs, or getting acne, or gynecomastia (development of female-like breast tissue in males). So while I’m not saying that it’s impossible, those side effects seem highly improbable. Women don’t seem to be suffering from virilization (developing male sexual characteristics), either. But nobody is winning the Mr. Olympia contest on SARMs either. These drugs are perfect for athletes or recreational bodybuilders who could use a slight edge, but they’re not going to add the kind of muscle as we’d see on a steroid cycle.
This is a fair trade-off for those who have chosen to use SARMs.
SARMs are also (for some unknown reason) available for sale openly online. Some companies sell them as research chemicals (with the dubious caveat that they are not intended for human consumption), and other companies actually sell them as dietary supplements (in no conceivable way are they legal for sale in either manner). However, I’ve never heard of a single user being arrested for purchasing SARMs. Again, in terms of a cost/benefit ratio, this makes SARMs highly attractive to the end user. And ss they are not hormonally based per se, the government hasn’t placed SARMs in the same legal category as anabolic steroids, although they’re still drugs and subject to the applicable laws.
Again, because they present less legal risk for their illicit use, SARMs offer a fair trade-off versus anabolic steroids.
Because they’re not hormonal, none of the laws concerning anabolic steroids would seem to apply to SARMs, despite the fact that they have a similar mechanism of action as we see with anabolic steroids, i.e. they stimulate the androgen receptor (remember, anabolic steroids are more properly known in the scientific literature as “anabolic androgenic steroids”). The anabolic component of a drug is its ability to build tissue (and here, we’re mostly talking about muscle), and the androgenic component is the drug’s ability to stimulate the development of male secondary sexual characteristics (i.e. facial hair growth, the voice getting deeper, etc…).
Testosterone (and any natural or synthetic androgen) is thought to produce much of its effects through binding to the androgen receptor. This binding could be incredibly strong (like trenbolone/Parabolan) or almost undetectable (like stanozolol/Winstrol).
Imagine an outdoor faucet with a garden hose attached. If the hose is attached tightly, with an adapter that has threads perfectly matching both the size of the hose and the faucet, then water pressure is ideal and there is no water loss. This tight bind is similar to the way an androgen would attach to the receptor, ideally. If the fit is loose, there is water spilling everywhere and pressure is lost. The idea behind SARMs is similar – they should bind tightly to the androgen receptor and minimize the side effects that spillover.
Once an androgen (any anabolic steroid) binds to the receptor, the androgen/receptor pairs with another androgen/receptor and travels to the cell’s nucleus. Upon arriving at the cell’s nucleus, they gene transcription, which is a fancy way of saying that they deliver a message to the cell to perform specific functions. Build muscle? Check. Burn fat? Check. You get the idea.
In the case of SARMs, the message is thought to be “cleaner,” because they’re not hormones (they’re not spilling over and creating unwanted effects). So the consequences of steroid use that are generally attributed to a hormonally-based message are not delivered (aggression, loss of hair on the scalp, growth of hair elsewhere, etc…).
I’m not sure how much the hormonal component of traditional steroids contributes to the overall anabolic effect, but it might be far more than previously suspected, as SARMs have failed to produce the same kind of muscle and strength gains in users. That’s not to imply that SARMs aren’t potent, only that they are similar in potency to steroids that would be considered mild by most users (ironically, these are the steroids that have few side effects anyway).
Due to the intent in their development, essentially as a more societally acceptable version of anabolic steroids, SARMs are generally consumed orally, with no injectable versions having ever made it to the legitimate market, the black market, or any other market. That’s not to say that other methods of administration (intravenous, subcutaneous, intranasal, etc…) haven’t been studied, but the legitimate market for this kind of product is the type of person who isn’t going to be keen on drugs that need to be injected or snorted.
Again, owing to their intent for long-term usage, SARMs do not have the same deleterious effect on the liver. In the case of oral steroids, they are almost always methylated, which is a chemical alteration that makes them resistant to being broken down by the liver. As you might expect, the biological cost of ingesting a compound that is difficult to break down, is the strain it puts on the liver. Therefore, most oral steroids will elevate liver enzymes, while SARMs pose little to no danger of liver toxicity.
But at the risk of redundancy, we just don’t know as much about SARMs as we do about other drugs, and this applies to both published scientific data as well as real-world use and user feedback. And while real-world feedback is important, as with any illicit substance, there are always the questions of quality control and subjectivity. Medicine-dropper bottles with labels made on a home printer don’t exactly fill me with confidence for the product inside. With the published scientific data, we don’t have the problem of quality control, but we must deal with the looming specter of publication bias; more simply put, the companies who stand to benefit financially from the results of the study, are the ones funding (and often conducting) it.
Results from SARMs – and here I’m talking across the board – are on the order of a mild steroid cycle. Muscular gains are very noticeable, but rarely over ten pounds or so. Fat loss is on the order of a few pounds at most. The differences between one SARM and another are often very minor; they have minimal impact on liver enzymes, and all of them impact the hypothalamic pituitary testicular axis (they will suppress your natural hormone levels, including testosterone). While they don’t convert to estrogen or dihydrotestosterone (as seen with testosterone), there appears to be evidence that some may have meaningful interaction with receptors or enzymes that govern those substrates.
With those facts in mind, there are a lot of SARMs that have caught my attention, for various reasons:
AC-262356 is one of isn’t one of the stronger SARMs in the pipeline, at a mere 2/3rds the anabolic potency of testosterone…but it’s rare, and as a result (relatively weak + rare) may still be undetectable. Stuff like this flies under the radar all the time. Plus, I haven’t seen anyone test positive for it, nor read any scientific articles describing the development of a blood or urine test for it. I’m fairly confident saying that this SARM is still undetectable. And let’s be honest, while a professional bodybuilder doesn’t want something weaker than testosterone, any legitimate (drug-tested) athlete would get a sizable edge from this stuff.
BMS-564929 is a SARM primarily indicated for andropause, so we could expect many of the classic testosterone-ey effects from it. It binds very tightly to the androgen receptor and has shown itself to be highly anabolic (more so than testosterone), with a significantly lower androgenic component (far less than testosterone), and very few side effects. Unfortunately, data on this stuff is all academic at the moment, and I haven’t known anyone to use it, nor seen any reliable online chatter from users. I also haven’t seen anyone test positive for it, nor read any studies on detecting its use in athletes, so again, this may also be undetectable.
Unfortunately, I’ve never known anyone to use a confirmed/legitimate version of this product, so right now, all we have are some exciting studies.
LGD-2226 is both highly anabolic in both bone as well as skeletal muscle, with minimal androgenic effects. It also has the benefit of being a libido booster (not all SARMs have this property, and some have the opposite effect). As an all-around SARM, this one shows quite a bit of potential. But right now, even though it is available from Chinese powder suppliers, I’ve seen little to no reliable user feedback on it.
LGD-3303, while being highly anabolic, also shows a lot of carryover into androgenic properties, and might have the potential to cause some of the classic anabolic steroid related side effects (maybe hair loss and acne, and potentially some kind of interaction with the prostate). At least that’s what we can infer from the studies to date. However, very few users have actually reported those types of side-effects, although suppression of natural hormone levels (testosterone, etc…) seems to be severe with LGD-3303. This SARM has a reputation of a very good bulking SARM (i.e. one that will add a lot of weight to the user), and insofar as comparing SARMs to anabolic steroids, this one might be the closest in terms of results.
LGD-4033 is a SARM that binds tightly to the androgen receptor with a high selectivity, shows a high degree of anabolic activity in both bone and muscle, and also appears to be one of the more suppressive SARMs. Users report that gains in bodyweight and strength are lower than generally experienced with LGD-3303. Although I can’t back this up with definitive science, it appears that the more aggressive the SARM is, with regards to muscle-building, the more suppressive it is, so I might speculate that suppression of natural testosterone levels to be slightly less with this compound than 3303.
(S-22, Ostarine, GTx-024, Enobosarm)
Ostarine has been used by bodybuilders and athletes since the mid-2000s, as it was one of the first SARMs to hit the market. It’s highly effective in adding both muscle and strength, and unlike LGD-3303/4033, is less of a mass/bulking drug, with gains being more of the lean tissue variety. Users report ittle to no water retention, and a noticeable loss in fat.
RAD-140 binds extremely well to the androgen receptor, and is nearly as anabolic as testosterone on a milligram for milligram basis, but considerably less androgenic. Users report solid gains in both muscle and strength with this product and very few (if any) side effects.
There is also some evidence that it can be stacked with testosterone for an additive effect, but also because (some scientific literature exists to show that) it can be protective against the prostate enlargement that sometimes effects steroid users. Based both on the available scientific data as well as user feedback, this seems to be the most popular SARM among those who have used all of them. Price, unfortunately, is higher than the rest, but whether that’s due to potency or popularity, remains to be seen, as its relatively new.
Andarine (or S-4) is another SARM that approaches the anabolic rating of testosterone, while only being 1/3rd as androgenic. It binds strongly to the androgen receptor and has generally been used to build muscle while simultaneously burning fat. Users have reported increased vascularity both fat loss as well as muscle-building. However, the half-life of S-4 is very short, on the order of 3-4 hours, so unlike most other SARMs, multiple daily doses are the norm.
S-23 can be thought of as a sort of second generation S-4. It’s manufactured by the same company, but appears to be marginally more anabolic, and this may be a result of it binding to the androgen receptor more tightly. Here, we are looking at a SARM that was developed as a potential male contraceptive, and using it for a couple of weeks will effectively reduce a sperm count to infertile levels (along with testosterone and other sex hormones). Some users (ironically) report a lowered libido with this compound…which is far from ideal in a potential male contraceptive.
Remember, this information is based on the currently available data and research. Back in 2007 when I first used SARMs, I was a lot more positive about their ability to completely replace steroids…now, after nearly a decade worth of user feedback, I’m much more inclined to think that real-world results are more in line with some of the more mild steroids, at best (and despite the studies that place their potency in the neighborhood of testosterone).
Alex Rogers is a supplement manufacturing expert. He has been formulating, consulting, & manufacturing dietary supplements since 1998. Alex invented protein customization in 1998 & was the first company to allow consumers to create their own protein blends. He helped create the first supplement to contain natural follistatin, invented whey protein with egg lecithin, & recently imported the world’s first 100% hydrolyzed whey.