Members of the biohacking community often embrace tools and techniques that haven’t been rigorously tested within mainstream science. While many of these biohacks are perfectly safe and provide valuable benefits, there are cases where such tools can pose serious risks to health and wellbeing. One such example is selective androgen receptor modulators (SARMs).
These drugs were originally developed to replace anabolic steroids, in treatment of people suffering from disease or age-related muscle loss. Anabolic and androgenic steroids are useful to help patients regain muscle mass and physical strength, particularly when muscle loss due to age or diseases such as cancer, kidney disease, or heart failure is increasing the patients’ risk of falls and other injuries. But steroids have a host of dangerous side effects, and have a wide range of effects throughout the body beyond simply increasing the desired muscle mass. SARMs were intended to provide the same benefits of increasing muscle mass to improve strength and mobility, but avoid many of the side effects by targeting only skeletal muscle.
As public awareness of SARMs has grown, athletes, weight-lifters, biohackers, and other people looking to maximize the potential of their bodies have started embracing the drugs, believing them to be an alternative to steroids that carry many of the benefits and none of the risks. The drugs are widely marketed on the internet as a legal alternative to steroids. Though they are currently legal, they are also unregulated and may unfortunately have some serious side effects. They have not been approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, and clinical trials are ongoing.
Last October, the FDA released apublic advisory regarding SARMs, warning that they are unapproved drugs with potentially dangerous side effects. “We are extremely concerned about unscrupulous companies marketing body-building products with potentially dangerous ingredients. Body-building products that contain selective androgen receptor modulators, or SARMs, have not been approved by the FDA and are associated with serious safety concerns, including potential to increase the risk of heart attack or stroke and life threatening reactions like liver damage,” said Donald D. Ashley, J.D., director of the Office of Compliance in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. The FDA issued warning letters to three companies that distribute SARMs as nutritional supplements.
Astudy published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in November looked at 44 products sold online, marketed as SARMs. It found just over half (52%) contained SARMs, while 48 percent did not. Of the products analyzed, 39 percent contained an unapproved drug other than a SARM, 25 percent contained substances not listed on the label, 9 percent contained no active substance at all, and 59 percent had inaccurate labeling of the amounts of substances they contained.
An author of the study, Dr. Shalender Bhasin, the director of research programs in men’s health, aging and metabolism at Brigham and Women’s Hospital,spoke to the New York Times about the results of the study, highlighting the lack of research on the long term effect of SARMS, and the risks users take when purchasing such unapproved, unregulated products. “We don’t know whether these compounds are safe,” he said, “but we do know that some of them have side effects.”
The ease of purchasing SARMs products on the internet, combined with the mistaken perception that they are safe, has lead to more and more athletes using the drugs. The United States Anti-Doping has been aware of SARMs for years, and has tracked an increase in the number of athletes using them. Numerous weight lifters, runners, cyclists, mixed martial artists, and basketball players have been penalized after testing positive for SARMs.
The Times spoke with Dr. Thomas O’Connor, author of “America on Steroids,” about SARMs. A longtime powerlifter himself, he indicated that many of his patients are former anabolic steroid users, who had switched to SARMs believing they were a safe alternative. Since 2010 he has seen possibly over a thousand men that use the drugs. He acknowledged the difficulty involved in assessing the exact impact of the SARMs, because people often combine them with other drugs and supplements, but noted common side effects such as worsening cholesterol profiles and elevated liver enzymes. He has also seen hair loss, acne, diminished sex drive, and irritability.
While the appeal of a drug that boosts strength and muscle gain is undeniable, it’s obvious that the potential risks of SARMs are simply not worth it. There are plenty of safe, drug-free biohacks to maximize the potential of your body – that will improve your overall health, rather than damage it.