The Only Gains You'll Get From SARMS are a List of Health Issues

Information about Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know.

By Avery Hurt; Medically Reviewed by Dr. Ahmad Talha Azam
Mar 14, 2024 6:00 PM
man at gym using SARMS
(Credit: New Africa/Shutterstock)


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In recent years, many people have turned to SARMs (Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators) as a safer alternative to steroids. But that’s not a good idea. Though SARMs are often marketed as “dietary supplements,” the FDA categorizes them as unregulated drugs. And they can be dangerous. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Are SARMs?

SARMs are compounds that mimic the effects of testosterone and anabolic steroids. They were developed in the early 2000s in an attempt to find an alternative to anabolic steroids in medical applications, such as treating bone loss and muscle wasting caused by osteoporosis, cancer, heart failure, and other diseases.

Jeffrey Crawford is a researcher at the Duke University Cancer Institute, and he’s done some of the research on these drugs. SARMs, he explains, are created by altering anabolic steroids so that they bind only to certain tissues and not to others in the hopes of limiting their side effects. 

Over the past decade, Crawford and others have studied these drugs in clinical trials, but none of these studies has resulted in a marketable drug. No such drug has been approved for any use at all, medical or otherwise. 

Read More: Understanding Testosterone Boosters: Are They Right for You?

Are SARMs Safe?

A study published in May 2023 in the Journal of Xenobiotics reviewed the existing scientific evidence to answer the question: Are SARMs safe for performance enhancement, particularly in athletes and military personnel? The researchers looked at studies done on these drugs during the last decade as well as case reports of people using these drugs outside of research. The results were sobering.

The review found evidence that SARMs can cause a variety of health problems, including liver and muscle damage, tendon ruptures, and cardiovascular events. The study’s authors concluded that “Recreational SARM use should be strongly discouraged.” 

In April of that year, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about the risks of using these drugs for bodybuilding or athletic enhancement. According to the FDA warning, SARMs can potentially cause, in addition to the harms listed above, sleep disturbances, sexual dysfunction, infertility, miscarriage, and testicular shrinkage, to name just a few of the negative outcomes that have been associated with SARMs.

Existing clinical studies on SARMs have focused on people with illnesses, such as cancer, and have exposed patients to the drug for only a short time. Crawford’s research has shown that SARMs have the potential to help cancer patients suffering from cachexia, a wasting syndrome that occurs in many chronic illnesses, especially cancer.

However, “Several of these investigations were stopped due to a lack of benefit, and no SARM is currently approved by the FDA,” adds Chase Hendrickson, an endocrinologist and associate professor in the Division of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Evidence for nonmedical applications is scarce. “This is not something that’s been looked at specifically for performance enhancement outside of medical conditions,” Hendrickson says. 

Read More: What Happens When Hearts Attack

In the U.S., SARMs can be sold for research purposes only, and selling them for any other purpose is illegal. The World Anti-Doping Agency has banned them. However, SARMs are easily obtained online.

According to studies, social media influencers are increasing their appeal. The important thing to know is that these drugs are not approved by the FDA and are unregulated. This means that manufacturers of SARMs are not following FDA guidelines. In fact, one study found that many drugs sold on the internet and marketed as SARMs contained other substances, including other drugs. Only 52 percent of the samples tested actually contained SARMs. 

Read More: Strange Side Effects From Supplements and What You Need to Know

Frequently Asked Questions About SARMs

Are SARMs Bad for You?

These drugs are still being tested in clinical settings. However, there has been little to no research involving their use in young people, for bodybuilding, or enhancing athletic performance. The evidence that does exist suggests that SARMs can be dangerous. 

What Are SARMs Used For?

At this point, there is no approved use of these drugs. Many people are buying them from unregulated manufacturers and using them to enhance athletic performance, to increase muscle mass or just to change the look of their bodies. According to medical experts, this is risky. 

Do SARMs Work?

Studies have suggested that SARMs can be effective in treating wasting syndromes. There is little to no credible evidence about their effectiveness in nonmedical uses.  

Do SARMs Damage Organs?

Some studies have shown that SARMs can cause liver failure and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. 

Are SARMs Hard on Your Heart?

Yes, SARMs have been shown to contribute to adverse cardiovascular events. Studies indicate that excessive use of SARMs can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease.

Do SARMs Lower Testosterone?

There are many different types of SARMs, and they work in different ways. But it’s possible that some could lower testosterone levels even as they increase the effects of testosterone by stimulating the androgen receptor in some tissues, explains Hendrickson.

This article is not offering medical advice and should be used for informational purposes only.

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Our writers at use peer-reviewed studies and high quality sources for our articles, and our editors review for scientific accuracy and editorial standards. Review the sources used below for this article:

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