What is PCT?
When fed exogenous substances intended to increase or decrease the production of organic material (such as prohormones), the human body puts in motion, a series of processes designed to adapt itself to the situation.
This is what happens, for instance, when an athlete consumes anabolic steroids —also known as "synthetic testosterone"—: to prevent from overloading, the body either reduces or completely shuts down its production of the masculine hormone.
The latter can be particularly dangerous, since an athlete can’t stay forever on steroids, given its well-known, terrible side effects —impotence, shrunken testicles, painful erections and the like.
Furthermore, when endogenous production of testosterone decreases, levels of estrogen and progesterone (feminine hormones, which men have in a 1:100 proportion compared to testosterone) skyrocket.
The effects of such an increase are lousy to a bodybuilder: muscle formation decreases and the waist starts to put up some fat; energy levels plummet and there can be signs of depression.
There have even been accounts of men growing breasts.
Also, with diminished production of testosterone, two other elements come into play: cortisol, and a protein called ‘sex hormone-binding globulin’ (SHBG).
Cortisol, apart from being dubbed 'the stress hormone' for a reason, is harmful to muscles. In the presence of testosterone is pretty much kept at bay, but with the masculine hormone at a low point, cortisol is free to do what it loves most: destroy muscle tissue.
SHBG, on the other hand, binds to testosterone and holds it down. There will be too much SHBG after a steroid cycle, and it will run the show until testosterone production surpasses its limits once again.
So, to sum up: as a way to prevent the body from completely shutting down its testosterone production and producing instead higher levels of feminine hormones, cortisol, and SHBG, in the late 1980s the bodybuilding industry came up with the concept of post cycle therapy or PCT.
Rather than letting the body correct by itself the havocs wreaked by anabolic steroids consumption —which can take up to four months—, athletes now use PCT supplements that reduce the timespan to an average of six weeks.
What PCT does is bring hormone production back to its original levels, as well as checking that every internal organ is in good shape and health.
Thanks to PCT, athletes can come up from an anabolic steroid cycle and keep their muscles gains, restore testosterone production, and keep cortisol and other annoying elements at bay.
Why do some SARMs need it?
As a way to provide fitness enthusiasts with something to help them get the results they are looking for, without the dangerous side effects of anabolic steroids, the pharmaceutical industry has developed selective androgen receptor modulators —also known as SARMs.
Anabolic steroids, as mentioned earlier, produce undesirable side effects that can range from simple acne to an enlarged prostate and a heightened possibility of blood clots, which in turn increase the risk of having a heart attack.
On the other hand, SARMs, while not yet approved by any regulatory body in the United States nor Europe, has tested well on clinical trials as a safer way to increase testosterone levels, with the desired consequences of muscle growth, heightened stamina, and faster recovery periods, among others.
Besides, athletes can find a specific SARM to match their needs, whether they are looking forward to building muscle, improving performance, or increasing endurance.
Rather than synthetically replacing testosterone, as anabolic steroids do, SARMs mimic the effects of the masculine hormone; that is, they open the floodgates and let out the body components that help out with protein synthesis, muscle growth, and bone wasting prevention.
The beauty of it is that, in the process of doing so, they don’t mess with the endocrine system, which is the reason that most SARMs, when taken in the prescribed dosages, do not need a PCT.
However, despite SARMs not being nearly as harmful and aggressive as anabolic steroids, some of them may still need a PCT.
To begin with, there are two major kinds of SARMs: steroidal and non-steroidal. Remember about SARMs opening the floodgates of some bodily components?
That’s what non-steroidal, protein-based SARMs do: they differentiate, they can tell which cells to stimulate and which to leave untouched.
Steroidal SARMs don’t, and because they don’t, they may stimulate parts of your DNA unrelated to muscle building or bone enhancement.
Furthermore, SARMs are most likely used in sets of two or three.
For example, if you are an advanced SARMs user wanting to bulk, experts recommend that you take 10 milligrams of LGD 4033 (Ligandrol) stacked with 25 milligrams of MK 677 (Ibutamoren) and 10 milligrams of YK 11.
Only in such cases, it could be helpful to implement a short PCT just to return the body's hormone production levels to normal on its own.
How does PCT work?
As it has been said, a PCT can be very helpful at restoring the body’s ability to produce the most important hormones on its own.
It is mandatory for those athletes cruising on anabolic steroids since endogenous testosterone production is decreased or completely shut down after a synthetic substitute has taken over.
On a more detailed level, what happens is that steroid consumption can throw away the balance in your hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a name given to a set of interactions between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal (or suprarenal) glands.
Among many homeostatic systems throughout the body, the HPA axis regulates the reproductive system, which contains the testicles which, in turn, produce the highly sought-after testosterone.
That being said, a PCT will want to stimulate the pituitary gland to produce luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which will later promote the production of testosterone by the testicles.
The best way to achieve this is by using a selective estrogen receptor modulator (also known as SERM).
Apart from helping the body produce testosterone, these substances will antagonize and deactivate estrogen, so that men don’t suffer from hypogonadism (small testicles) and infertility.
Options include Nolvadex, Clomid, Raloxifene, and Fareston. Experts advise that SERMs should not, under any circumstance, be left out of a PCT.
Other compounds that can be helpful for a PCT are aromatase inhibitors (AIs). They work slightly differently than SERMs, though with similar results.
What they do, as its name explains, is inhibit the aromatase enzyme, responsible for converting androgens into estrogen.
Some AI options are Aromasin, Arimidex, and Letrozole.
The last substance one can use when facing a PCT is human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), a name for synthetic LH.
As has been said, LH stimulates the creation of testosterone, which is good. However, HCG has a downside: it also promotes aromatase activity in men’s testicles, which in turn promotes higher levels of estrogen in the body.
For that reason, experts recommend that HCG should be taken with aromatase inhibitors.
Last but not least, large doses of vitamin D (Cholecalciferol) has been proven effective at both increasing testosterone and suppressing SHBG levels in the body.
Good news: vitamin D is very easy to find —look up! It comes naturally with sunlight, and you can also find it in egg yolks, some fish and mushrooms.
If that is not enough, though, you can always resort to supplements.