Steroids are organic compounds that happen naturally in plants and animals. All steroids share the same basic ring structure. This is a chain of seventeen carbon atoms, looped around, and linked together by chemical bonds to form a four-ring structure. Steroids are very diverse and include bile ac-ids from the liver, toad poisons, all sex hormones, and adrenal steroids. The two main types of steroids are adrenal steroids and sex steroids. Due to the great therapeutic value of adrenal steroids, many synthetic steroids have been produced, some more potent than the natural hormones. Synthetic steroids include anti-inflammatory drugs, oral contraceptives, and a synthetic adrenal steroid used to treat adrenal insufficiency. Anabolic steroids are also synthetic and they mimic the male hormone tes-tosterone. Anabolic steroids are most often abused by athletes and can have serious side effects when taken improperly (Silver-stein, 1992, p.14). This is what will be covered in the follow-ing pages.
Adrenal steroids or corticosteroids are one of the two main types of naturally occurring steroids. Corticosteroids are released by the adrenal glands, Two walnut-sized organs located on top of the kidneys(Rogak, 1992, p.10). Adrenal steroids in-clude cortisol, corticosterone, and cortisone that help regulate protein and carbohydrate metabolism in the body. Another adre-nal steroid is aldosterone and it is involved in maintaining the mineral and water balance in the bodies of both males and fe-males. Adrenal steroids like cortisone, prednisone, and hydro-cortisone help reduce inflammation. They are also used to treat arthritis, allergies, asthma, certain types of cancer, adrenal deficiencies, and inflammation from injury. In some experimen-tal studies researchers have been able to delay some of the ef-fects of muscular dystrophy found in children using prednisone. Researchers have also found that immediate injections of an anti-inflammatory steroid known as methylprednisolone, after a spinal cord injury can help prevent paralysis (Silverstein, 1992, p.16).
Other steroids come from plants a good example is digi-talis that comes from the fox glove plant. It is prescribed for patients with heart failure or irregular heartbeats. Some ster-oids found in plants have been found to be good insect repel-lents. Steroids occurring naturally in the body are essential for maintaining good health and a strong body (Lukas, 1994, p.7). Steroids are used legally and routinely in veterinary medicine. Steroids are given to cattle to increase their muscle and thereby producing extra- lean beef. They are also given to show horses, racehorses, and race dogs to increase their muscle mass and muscle strength (Rogak, 1992, p.11).
Sex steroids are also produced by the adrenal glands, but in small quantities. They are present in the bodies of both men and woman. In women the ovaries produce additional steroids: progesterone and estrogens. Progesterone and estrogens are called female sex steroids or hormones. In men the testes pro-duce testosterone. Testosterone is the male sex steroid or hor-mone (Rogak, 1992, p.10). The steroid secretions from the adre-nal glands, ovaries, and the testes are controlled by a part of the brain known as the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus works by regulating the amount of hormones released from the pituitary gland. The sex steroids help to stimulate and maintain the sex organs and the secondary sex characteristics that distinguish male from female (Silverstein, 1992, p.17).
The sex steroids are produced in different amounts accord-ing to a person’s primary sexual characteristics. This along with the amount of each sex steroid in a person’s body help de-termine the secondary sexual characteristics: breast develop-ment, high voice, and smooth skin in females and in males large muscles, deep voice, and facial hair in males. Estrogen and progesterone can also be made in a lab and are the key ingredi-ents in birth control pills. Usually when steroids are being spoken about anabolic steroids come to mind (Stevens, 1991, p.7).
Anabolic steroids are man-made forms of the male hormone testosterone. These steroids are said to emphasize promote mus-cle growth but, without the masculinizing the user as much as testosterone does (Silverstein, 1992, p.18). Anabolic steroids were first used to help World War II victims put on weight at the end of the war. Anabolic steroids were intended for sick people but, they are often abused by healthy people to promote muscle growth (Morris, 1984, p.230).
Anabolic steroids are made in pill form or in a liquid form that can be injected. Steroids are usually taken in a cy-cle. A cycle is usually between four to eight weeks. After the end of a cycle a user will stop for a few weeks or months before they start a new cycle. The reason for the break is so the steroids have time to chemically change the body and to produce more muscle. Another reason is that the user may be competing in an event and they do not want the steroids to appear in their urine (Longenecker, 1994, p.122). Some users also practice “stacking” this is when more than one type of steroid is taken at a time. Some users claim that certain mixes give them the right balance of desired effects. At the moment there is no proof that “stacking” is more effective than just taking one steroid at a time (Lukas, 1994, p.20).
Anabolic steroids work by traveling into the bloodstream and then into the body’s cells. If the steroids then go to mus-cle cells they may promote muscle tissue growth. Normally mus-cles grow larger when exercise breaks down proteins in the mus-cle cells and the body rebuilds the muscle tissue. If a steroid user engages in strenuous muscle building activity, the steroids will increase the amount of protein that is sent to the muscle cells for the rebuilding process. Steroids can actually help build muscles. It is not certain if steroids increase a user’s strength because, bigger muscles do not necessarily mean stronger muscles. However without strenuous exercise steroids are useless in a healthy body. Also users may think they are stronger but this could actually be caused by the placebo ef-fect. This is when the user’s performance gets better because they believe it will (Longenecker, 1994, p.123).
The use of anabolic steroids has been banned by Federal Law except when given by a doctor to treat diseases. Other groups including the International Olympic Committee have pro-hibited the use of anabolic steroids by competitors. Still many athletes still use steroids knowing the penalty is being banned from international competition for life (Stevens, 1991, p.39).
Anabolic steroids have many side effects. Some short term side effects include high blood pressure, acne, nosebleeds, hair loss, and water retention. Other serious side effects are in-somnia, increased appetite, and sterility. Users that inject steroids are at a higher risk of getting AIDS or hepatitis from using needles that are not sterilized properly (Rogak, 1992, p.22).
Furthermore anabolic steroids have certain and different effects on males and females. Males can suffer from temporary impotence, they can develop large breast, and their sperm count will go down. Female users can get facial hair, experience deepening of the voice, may develop male pattern baldness, and suffer menstrual irregularities. Also in women some side ef-fects are permanent. Steroids can also effect adolescents by stunting their growth and cause the same side effects listed above (Morris, 1984, p.230). Steroids can also damage the liver and the kidneys. High doses of steroids can cause cysts and tu-mors to develop on these two organs. Another problem is that blood-filled sacs can develop on the liver and if one bursts open severe internal bleeding can be cause (Silverstein, 1992, p.42).
In conclusion steroids are very helpful if used properly. When taken properly they can help cure diseases and quicken re-covery time from an injury. They can also slow the effects of some incurable diseases, giving patients more time to wait for a cure. The downfall is that some people abuse steroids, this only hurts them and the others around them. This abuse also gives steroids a bad name.
LONGENECKER, G.L. 1994. How Drugs Work. Ziff-Davis Press. Emeryville, California.
LUKAS, S.E. 1994. Steroids. Enslow Publishers, Inc. Hillside, New Jersey.
MORRIS, A.F. 1984. Sports Medicine. Wm. C. Brown Publishers. Dubuque, Iowa.
ROGAK, L.A. 1992. Steroids: Dangerous Game. Lerner Publications Company. Minneapolis.
SILVERSTEIN, R. 1992. Enslow Publishers, Inc. Hillside, New Jersey.
STEVENS, S. 1991. Steroids. Macmillan Publishing Company. New York, New York.
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