SARMs: The Danger of “Safe Steroids”

SARMs: The Danger of “Safe Steroids” - FormTheory Athletics

People are calling them “safe steroids” or “legal steroids,” but are they really what sellers advertise? According to health authorities, SARMs should not be classified as dietary supplements. Still, they are often sold to fitness enthusiasts using names such as andarine and ostarine.

 Why would marketers try to hide them behind names similar to leucine or taurine? Are they safer alternatives to traditional steroids? How do they work, and what is the danger?

What you need to know about SARMs

SARMs stands for Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators. They are not amino acids and can’t be marketed as dietary supplements. It is only legal to sell SARMs when labeled as research chemicals. They are synthetic drugs designed with testosterone and other steroids as an outline.

The initial purpose was to provide a type of steroid that only works in muscle tissue. This would theoretically limit potential side effects common with traditional steroids. They are designed for patients with muscle wasting problems as an alternative that does not interact with other tissues. Bodybuilders saw this as an opportunity and started abusing SARMs without a prescription (1).

There’s currently an FDA warning against selling SARMs as dietary supplements. Similarly, there is a prohibition of these drugs by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Still, the online marketplace is full of illegitimate supplements, which only increases the danger (2).

Negative effects and potential dangers of SARMs

Why are the FDA and the WADA warning against these drugs?

  • Recent studies show that SARMs can trigger blood lipid abnormalities (3).
  • They increase liver enzyme levels, and there are recorded cases of liver toxicity (4).
  • SARMS changes blood parameters, but the danger behind these changes is not yet understood. According to the FDA, they increase the danger of cardiovascular disease (5, 2).
  • Similar to anabolic steroids, SARMs affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis and other hormones. It is an outsider altering the balance of the body (6, 7)

Despite knowing the danger, SARMs are being sold by several online providers. Recent studies about the purity of such products are alarming. Out of 44 products studied, less than half contained what was advertised in the correct dose. Close to 10% had unlisted substances, and others had no active compound (8).

The studies about SARMs are not enough to use them in large populations, and researchers are cautious to administer a controlled dose. Meanwhile, illegal products have been found with higher doses for which no studies have been published. This increases the danger of unexpected side effects. The doses are arbitrary, with no previous safety evaluations (9).

Are they dangerous in the long term?

There’s not enough scientific data to evaluate the long-term consumption of SARMs. However, some authors have mentioned the danger of testosterone reductions in the long term. SARMs may also lead to impairments in the aromatization of estradiol. If so, it will have consequences in bone homeostasis, insulin expression, and much more (10).

SARMs are not amino acids or simple dietary supplements. They are banned by health authorities and anti-doping agencies. Their clinical trials are still insufficient, and online providers are often unreliable and utterly irresponsible. The danger of using them for athletic training and bodybuilding makes SARMs a severe threat in our community, especially among users who do not understand much about human physiology and are easily carried out by promises and bold statements by illegal supplement providers.


(1) Christiansen, A. R., Lipshultz, L. I., Hotaling, J. M., & Pastuszak, A. W. (2020, March 9). Selective androgen receptor modulators: the future of androgen therapy? Translational andrology and urology.

(2) FDA. (2017, October 31). FDA In Brief: FDA warns against using SARMs in body-building products. U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

(3) Miklos, A., Tero-Vescan, A., Vari, C.-E., Osz, B.-E., Filip, C., Rusz, C.-M., & Muntean, D.-L. (2018, February). SELECTIVE ANDROGEN RECEPTOR MODULATORS (SARMs) IN THE CONTEXT OF DOPING. FARMACIA.

(4) Barbara, M., Dhingra, S., & Mindikoglu, A. L. (2020, June 11). Ligandrol (LGD-4033)-Induced Liver Injury. ACG case reports journal.

(5) Dalton, J. T., Barnette, K. G., Bohl, C. E., Hancock, M. L., Rodriguez, D., Dodson, S. T., Morton, R. A., & Steiner, M. S. (2011, August 2). The selective androgen receptor modulator GTx-024 (enobosarm) improves lean body mass and physical function in healthy elderly men and postmenopausal women: results of a double-blind, placebo-controlled phase II trial. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle.

(6) Gao, W., & Dalton, J. T. (2007, February). Ockham’s razor and selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs): are we overlooking the role of 5alpha-reductase? Molecular interventions.

(7) Clark, R. V., Walker, A. C., Andrews, S., Turnbull, P., Wald, J. A., & Magee, M. H. (2017, April 4). Safety, pharmacokinetics and pharmacological effects of the selective androgen receptor modulator, GSK2881078, in healthy men and postmenopausal women. Clinical Trials.

(8) Van Wagoner, R. M., Eichner, A., & Bhasin, S. (2017, November 28). Chemical Composition and Labeling of Substances Marketed as Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators and Sold via the Internet. JAMA.

(9) Piper, T., Dib, J., Putz, M., Fusshöller, G., Pop, V., Lagojda, A., Kuehne, D., Geyer, H., Schänzer, W., & Thevis, M. (2018, November 18). Studies on the in vivo metabolism of the SARM YK11: Identification and characterization of metabolites potentially useful for doping controls. Analytical Science Journals.

(10) Machek, S. B., Cardaci, T. D., Wilburn, D. T., & Willoughby, D. S. (2020, October 24). Considerations, possible contraindications, and potential mechanisms for deleterious effect in recreational and athletic use of selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs) in lieu of anabolic androgenic steroids: A narrative review. Steroids.


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