The term ‘steroid‘ refers to a group of naturally occurring or synthetic fat-soluble organic compounds commonly known as lipids. Their chemical structure consists of a steroid nucleus which forms a hydrogenated cyclopentanoperhydrophenanthrene ring system having seventeen carbon atoms arranged in four rings. Many hormones, body constituents and drugs are also commonly termed as steroids. These include the corticosteroid hormones of the adrenal cortex called the glucocorticoids or mineralocorticoids, the sex hormones (the androgens in males which includes testosterone and estrogens and progesterone in females), the entire Vitamin D group (calciferol), bile acids (ursodeoxycholic acid and analogues), cardiac aglycones, sterols namely cholesterol, toad poison, saponins, carcinogenic hydrocarbons and corticosteroid drugs like prednisone. Also synthetic chemical analogues of many naturally occurring steroids are used to treat many disorders and play an essential role in normal functioning of the body.

Steroids are of three basic types – anabolic, cortico and androgenic steroids. Anabolic steroids are chemically derived from the male hormone, testosterone. Though numerous attempts have been made to separate the anabolic effects of these hormones from their androgenic properties, it has not been met with much success. Thus we see anabolic steroidal drugs causing androgenic side effects, especially when consumed for long period of time.

Cortico Steroids
Cortico steroid‘ is a generic name given for a group of hormones having Cortisone-like properties. They are man-made steroids that mimic the chemical properties of cortisone. However, cortisone is also naturally produced in the body and is primarily involved in regulation of body inflammation while dealing with injuries. They are also employed in the treatment of diseases like asthma, eczema, arthritis, colitis, allergies and kidney dysfunctions.

Androgenic Steroids
The large muscle mass in males is a result of the nitrogen-retaining effects of androgen. Their basic function is to accentuate protein building in order to increase muscle bulk and strength when administered in one’s body. The most prominent effects of androgenic steroids are primarily seen in the form of growth of the male reproductive tract and the development of male secondary sexual characteristics. Androgenic steroids also have great medical significance and are used to treat vascular manifestations of Behçet’s disease, hereditary angioedema, aplastic anemia and for the reducing the itching caused by chronic biliary obstruction.

The term ‘anabolic’ has been derived from a Greek word meaning ‘to build up’. Scientifically they are termed as ‘anabolic-androgenic’ steroids, but are most commonly familiar to people as anabolic steroids. Some of their colloquial or street names include weight trainers, gym candy, pumpers, roids, juice, Arnolds and hype.

Anabolic steroids were manually or chemically cultured in the late 1930s for treating hypogonadism. Hypogonadism is a disorder prevalent among males in which the testes stop producing sufficient testosterone required for a balanced growth and proper sexual functioning. Medically anabolic steroids were employed to treat dysfunctions like delayed puberty, impotence and wasting of the body caused by HIV-infection. During the same time, scientists also discovered that these steroidal drugs could also facilitate the growth of skeletal muscles in laboratory animals, which eventually led bodybuilders and weightlifters andathletes to use them for the first time.

While anabolic steroids are prescribed drugs, steroidal supplements can be easily bought over-the-counter legally. They are commonly called dietary supplements, though they should not be consumed as ordinary food products. It is imperative to know that these steroidal supplements contain dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) and/or androstenedione. Hence if huge quantities of steroidal supplements are taken in, they can substantially increase testosterone levels causing side effects such as thickening of body’s non-reproductive tract tissues such as skeletal muscles, bones, larynx and vocal chords along with a decrease in body fat. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not responsible for regulating these substances and hence they should not be viewed as drugs such as cocaine and others.

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