There are three different types of steroids that are used in medicine: corticosteroids, estrogens and progestogens, and androgens. Each specific type is generally used for slightly different purpose, including increasing growth in a particular part of the body or curing certain conditions. Although when most people think of steroids they picture large body builders and athletes, steroids have many practical purposes and life-saving properties.
Corticosteroids are one of the different types of steroids, and they are made from both natural and synthetic hormones involving the adrenal cortex. This part of the body is responsible for maintaining several systems of the body, including metabolism, many organ systems, and skeletal system. Although there may be many uses for this type of steroid, the most commonly known is in the production of hydro-cortisone creams. These are generally sold over the counter and are used for treating itches and rashes on the skin.
Unborn infants can also benefit from their use because steroids can be injected directly into the fetal lungs to promote more rapid growth. This allows babies who must be delivered early to have a better chance of survival outside the womb. They may also have fewer complications, such as infection.
Both estrogen and progesterone are two different types of steroids made from female hormones that are naturally produced in the reproductive system. They are responsible for most female characteristics, such as wide hips and breasts. Synthetically derived versions of these hormones are used in prescription birth control pills, as well as in some forms of hormone replacement therapy for post menopausal women. Their use in women over 45 is heavily debated, due to the increased risk of developing breast and other female cancers. There are some natural sources of plant-based estrogen that can be used in place of synthetic varieties with less risk to the body.
Testosterone is another of the many different types of steroids, and is the primary androgen that is used for medicinal purposes. Although synthetically made for most uses, testosterone is also the dominant male hormone and it is responsible for the characteristic deep voice, facial hair, and increased drive of the male species. Steroids derived from androgens are commonly called anabolic steroids. Testosterone is also able to stimulate growth of muscle tissues, which is beneficial to patients who have suffered muscular damage during surgery.
Androgens are used in life-saving techniques, including helping patients produce more red blood cells and in the treatment of female breast cancer. All types of steroids should only be used under the supervision of a doctor. Using anabolic steroids for enhanced muscle growth and physical endurance is not only unsafe, but also illegal in many locations. Although most types of steroid are beneficial when used properly, they can cause damage to the body when taken for non-medical purposes.