Steroid Side Effects And Use

Learn about steroids, natural and otherwise, their side effect and uses.

Steroids are lipids, which means they are natural products from living organisms which are insoluble in water yet soluble in organic solvents. In humans, steroids are hormones secreted chiefly by the adrenal glands but also by the testicles and ovaries. These hormones help to control metabolism, development of sexual characteristics, immune function, fluid balance within the body and stress tolerance.

Under the class of steroids are the corticosteroids and the sex hormones (testosterone, estrogen and progesterone), adrenal cortical hormones, bile acids, sterols, anabolic agents and oral contraceptives. The sex hormones and corticosteroids are derived from one of the most common steroids, cholesterol. Cholesterol makes up an important part of cell membrane. However, an excess of serum cholesterol is a contributor to harmful deposits within the arteries. Bile acids, a steroid found in mammals, emulsifies fat during digestion, while the corticosteroids maintain fluid balance within the body. Sterols are the most abundant steroids and are treated with organic solvents to isolate them from their natural sources.

Synthetic steroids are often used in the medical field, although anabolic steroid abuse in sports is common. Anabolic steroids, which mimic the effects of the male hormones, are used illegally by some athletes to obtain greater muscle mass and to increase strength. Derived from the hormone testosterone, anabolic steroids induce the body to gain weight and muscle mass but carry serious side effects if overly used. The use of anabolic steroids has been linked to extremely aggressive behavior as well as liver cancer.

Men taking anabolic steroids run the risk of changes in sexual characteristics as well as changes in reproductive functioning. The following may also be experienced:

a. baldness

b. difficulty urinating

c. enlarged prostate

d. breast development

e. reduced sperm count

f. impotence

g. testicular shrinkage

Women who abuse anabolic steroids may also experience negative effects which can include:

a. facial hair growth

b. changes in or absence of menstrual periods

c. breast reduction

d. deepened tone of voice

e. clitoral enlargement

Side effects which may be common in both sexes include:

a. swollen feet and ankles

b. acne

c. jaundice

d. trembling

e. liver damage

f. halitosis

g. high blood pressure

h. various cancers

i. aching joints and increased joint injuries

j. reduction in HDL cholesterol

Adolescents may experience a permanent halt to the growth cycle and also a dependency upon the drug.

Cortisone is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and is essential to properly metabolize fat, protein and carbohydrates. It is also instrumental in kidney function and resistance to disease. Synthetic forms of cortisone can be used to treat adrenal insufficiency, rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatic fever and other inflammatory diseases.

Cortisone was the first hormone to be isolated from adrenal gland secretions. A decade later, cortisone was being used with great success to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Today, corticosteroid drugs are used to treat a multitude of ailments such as asthma, inflammatory diseases,(rheumatism and arthritis, in particular), allergies and lupus. In instances where the adrenal glands fail to produce sufficient amounts of steroids, these drugs are used as well. Physicians have found them to be an excellent anti-rejection agent for transplant patients.

However, with all the positive results that corticosteroids bring, come a downside. Prolonged use may cause the following:

a. blood pressure elevation

b. psychological disorders such as insomnia and agitation

c. increased susceptibility to infection as the body produces fewer antibodies to fight disease

d. easy bruising and slow healing of wounds

e. increased weight gain

f. osteoporosis and joint damage

g. blood sugar elevation which can lead to or worsen diabetes

h. increased incidence of cataracts

i. muscular weakness

Although birth control and estrogen medicines fall into the above category, the side effects are absent with use.

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