Despite their growing popularity as performance-enhancing supplements, it is not rare to see some confusion surrounding SARMs, both from a legal and a medical standpoint.
One common misconception is that SARMs are a class of steroids, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Despite achieving similar results, they work in fundamentally different ways – with SARMs causing far fewer side effects, leading to their reputation as the safest option.
The SARMs vs Steroids debate has been going on for decades, adding to the confusion. So, what are the differences between the two?
What are anabolic steroids?
Anabolic–androgenic steroids (AAS) are steroidal androgens, which include natural androgens, such as testosterone, as well as synthetic androgens which are structurally similar.
By increasing proteins within the cells, AAS help build muscle tissue and increase body mass – but that’s not all they do. AAS also have the effect of increasing the development of masculine secondary sexual characteristics, such as the growth of body hair.
The use of AAS has a variety of side effects, which can range from mild to harmful – and, in some cases, can be life-threatening. These include cardiovascular problems, such as damage to arteries, high blood pressure, strokes and heart attacks; hormonal issues, such as a decreased sperm production, testicular cancer, and the shrinking of testicles; liver conditions such as peliosis hepatis and liver cancer; as well as possible tendon injuries, severe acne and oily scalp.
“Anabolic steroids can be used as performance-enhancing drugs that increase muscle mass and decrease fat, as well as causing many undesirable effects. Some people take them regularly to improve their physical performance and build up their bodies,” the NHS explains.
“However, people of all ages have been known to misuse these drugs, including adolescent boys who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. This is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance. These flaws are often unnoticeable to others.
“People who have body dysmorphic disorder may take anabolic steroids because they don’t see themselves as being physically big enough or strong enough. Some people believe taking anabolic steroids will help them become fit and healthy. This isn’t true: taking anabolic steroids is a dangerous drug habit.”
Are SARMs steroids?
Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs) were discovered quite by accident, over the course of cancer research carried out by Dr. James Dalton in the 1990s. Dalton was the first to identify the molecule andarine(S-4), the first-ever SARM. While andarine did not show notable effects as a cancer treatment, James Dalton noticed it had an influence on muscle growth and research into SARMs potential as performance-enhancing supplements began.
The short answer to the question ‘is SARMs a steroid?’ is no. SARMs are not steroids: they are a class of androgen receptor ligands which bind to androgen receptors. They work in a completely different way, achieving similar results as AAS without the same side effects.
With AAS, the body converts testosterone to estrogen, and the elevated estrogen that follows the testosterone boost is what causes most known AAS side effects. By targeting androgen receptors, SARMs accelerate muscle and tissue growth by using all available proteins, without overloading the body with testosterone – and therefore without a corresponding increase in estrogen.
SARMs allow the user to avoid the damage to organs and hormones which may occur through the use of AAS; this is the main reason why SARMs are considered safer than steroids, and are growing in popularity worldwide. Research confirms that SARMs have fewer side effects compared to AAS – but that doesn’t mean there is none.
The vast majority of side effects reported are minor, such as mood swings and acne, or a decrease in high-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Reports of major side effects are less common, and are being investigated through ongoing research.