SARMs, or Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators, are a type of androgen receptor ligands. They have been often compared to anabolic compounds due to similar functions. However, make no mistake, SARMs are not steroids. When SARMs were first used by the scientific community in the 1940s they came in a steroidal form. SARMs were first used in treating diseases that involved bone and muscle atrophy, such as osteoporosis.
Like the use of any steroid this came with a number heavy side effects like renal damage, breast tenderness, decreased libido, and testicle shrinkage, to name a few. In the 1990s, Ligand Pharmaceuticals and the University of Tennessee developed the first non-steroidal SARMs. The non-steroidal version has so far reduced number the steroid like side effects of SARMs.
SARMs as compared to anabolic agents are, as their name suggests, more selective. SARMs only target specific androgenic receptors that relate to muscle and bone growth.
How do Anabolic Agents Work?
Anabolic agents such as steroids or testosterone are similar to SARMs in their intended outcome, the growth of muscle and bone. However, these compounds are still quite different from SARMs. Testosterone is an androgen hormone that the human body naturally produces which is responsible for primary male sex characteristics. Testosterone is also key to building body mass and muscle. As such, medical treatments for bone and muscle wastage have used testosterone.
However, testosterone as an androgenic hormone binds to every androgen receptor. This means that as the body produces or takes in testosterone muscle and bone mass will increase, but so will male sex characteristics. This leads to hair loss, abnormal hair growth on the body, deepening of the voice, aggression, disrupted menstrual cycles, decreased sex drive, testicle shrinkage, and so on. In addition, if the body takes in higher levels of testosterone the body will shut down its natural production of testosterone. Thus the intake of excessive amounts of anabolic agents can doubly impact your body.
While testosterone and anabolic steroids bind to every androgen receptor to trigger anabolic reactions, SARMs bind only to those receptors which they are built to adhere to.
How do SARMs Work?
SARMs are a synthetic hormone designed to selectively target androgen receptors involved in bone and muscle growth. There is no one single kind of SARMs compound that exists for every possible disease or medical need. The potential advantage of SARMs is that a specific formula can be developed that targets only androgenic receptors related to the desired effect. This eliminates anabolic reactions in undesired places like the liver or breasts. When the desired effect is say bone growth SARMs can selectively target only those androgen receptors.
SARMs themselves work by adhering to the androgen receptor they are designed for and activating tissue growth. In contrast, testosterone seeks out every androgen receptor and triggers tissue growth across the board. SARMs are intended to eliminate this side effect. In addition, SARMs are designed to be ingested or injected. Making them still more versatile in their use.
Continued Research on SARMs
Global pharmaceutical companies have subjected non-steroidal SARMs to a wide variety of clinical tests. These tests have found that therapeutic doses of SARMs can help in the treatment of bone and muscle diseases. That said, the use of SARMs is currently banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency. Non-steroidal SARMs have eliminated many of the steroid like side effects, but not all of them. Prolonged use of SARMs still causes steroid like side effects albeit at a lower rate.
So while adverse side effects have been largely improved, they are not eradicated. Further research and testing is needed in order to fully eliminate adverse side effects and get SARMs approved. SARMs have the potential to improve the treatment of bone and muscle wastage, but it will take time.