Types of Steroids and Their Functions

Depending upon their functions, steroids are classified into various types. For instance, adrenal steroids, secreted by the adrenal glands, carry out various metabolic functions. Whereas, anabolic steroids, secreted in the testicles, are primarily involved in muscle growth.
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Types of steroids
Did You Know?
The adrenal glands are often referred to as the factory of hormones, producing at least two dozen steroid hormones.
Think about steroids, and the first thing that comes to our mind is performance enhancing drugs, often used by athletes. However, did you know that steroids are naturally produced in our body and involved in various metabolic processes. Steroids in our body refers to a group of compounds that have a similar chemical structure. Some of these steroids act as a hormone, chemicals that signal how cells or a group of cells should work at a given time.

However, not all steroids in our body are hormones, meaning, they have a direct impact on the target cells. In this Buzzle article, we shall take a closer look at the steroids present in the human body, and the functions they carry out.

Types of Steroids in the Human Body

Adrenal Steroids
Adrenal steroids are hormones that are secreted by the adrenal glands. These glandular organs lie in proximity to the kidneys. To be more specific, the adrenal cortex, the outer region of the adrenal gland is involved in the production of hormones. Corticosteroid is an important hormone secreted by the adrenal gland that directly enters the bloodstream. Following are the main types of corticosteroid hormones, released by the adrenal glands:
  • Hydrocortisone (Cortisol): Cortisol, also known as glucocorticoid, plays a key role in maintaining blood pressure and regulating metabolism of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It is also referred to as the stress hormone because it is released in higher amounts when confronted with physical or psychological stress. It plays an important role to cope up with stress. Cortisol is also involved in the conversion of protein into glucose, which helps to boost dipping blood sugar levels. However, excess cortisol production can actually impair the immune system.
  • Corticosterone: Yet another glucocorticoid, this hormone is important for synthesis of carbohydrates and protein degradation. It contributes in conversion of amino acids into carbohydrates, which act as the body's main source of fuel. It also helps the liver to secrete glycogen that is stored in muscles and used for energy.
  • Aldosterone: This adrenal steroid belonging to the class of mineralocorticoids, helps in maintaining blood pressure. This hormone assists in controlling sodium and potassium levels in the body. It prompts the kidneys to reabsorb sodium, and eliminate potassium as needed from the urine, which helps in regulating blood pressure. This effect of aldosterone on the kidneys also helps in maintaining proper electrolyte levels and proper fluid distribution in the body.

Sex Steroids
Androgens (male sex hormones) and estrogens (female sex hormones) are the two main types of sex steroids. Among the male sex hormones, the testosterone is the chief androgen. Testosterone (mainly secreted by the testes) is critical for male reproductive functioning such as sex drive and fertility. The typical male characteristics, such as muscular build, deep voice, hair on the chest, face, and underarms, is due to the presence of androgens. Among the estrogens, estradiol is the principal female sex hormone produced by the ovaries. Estrogens have a function similar to androgens, and give women their 'female' characteristics. Progestogens are another type of sex steroid, different from androgens and estrogens. Progesterone is the principal progestogen and is often referred to as female sex hormone.

Anabolic Steroids
Anabolic steroids are hormones that display androgenic activity, and function very similar to testosterone. Synthesized in the testicles and ovaries, they stimulate synthesis of proteins within the cells of skeletal muscles. Simply put, anabolic steroids, such as the growth hormone, promote muscle growth and help to get stronger muscles. They also assist in development and maintenance of masculine characteristics.
  • Bile Salts: Bile salts are steroid acids that are synthesized in the liver. They are not hormones but help to facilitate digestion. They assist the small intestine in absorbing dietary fat.
  • Sterols: Sterols are a subgroup of steroids, and cholesterol is the most well-known steroid synthesized in our body. Quite a few steroid hormones naturally produced by the body are derived from cholesterol. When exposed to sunlight, cholesterol in the skin is vital in the synthesis of vitamin D.

Synthetic Steroids
When we hear the word steroids, we normally associate it with performance-enhancing drugs. Quite a few people take synthetically-prepared steroids for various reasons, and they are available as pills, ointment, inhalers, powder, and in injectable form. But synthetic steroids are used for medical purposes also, and the most familiar type of synthetic steroids are corticosteroids. Corticosteroids such as prednisone, dexamethasone, and prednisolone are commonly prescribed to decrease inflammation. Their ability to suppress inflammation has been helpful in the treatment of wide range of inflammatory conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, COPD, and asthma. On the other hand, commercially sold anabolic steroids such as HGH, Winstrol, THG, Genabol, Deca-Durabolin, Androstenedione, and Anabol are used to enhance performance and build muscles.

Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.
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Published: May 29, 2014
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