Steroid synthesis defines a complicated process in the human body via cholesterol to release hormones into the bloodstream. Hormones produced by endocrine glands through steroid synthesis regulate many bodily functions and determine sex characteristics of each person. Four main classes of hormones are produced through steroid synthesis, a complex chemical process that binds steroids to cells for activation.
Steroids represent lipids, or fats, from plants and animals that are not water soluble. Cholesterol is a form of lipid used in steroid synthesis to enable conversion of these fats into usable hormone molecules for secretion by the endocrine glands. These glands include the ovaries, testes, thyroid, pituitary, and adrenal glands. Steroid hormones use specific genetic pathways during steroid synthesis to become activated.
Aldosterone hormones produced in the adrenal glands determine how the kidneys balance salt and water content, which affects blood pressure. Cortisol regulates metabolism of carbohydrates, protein, and fats. This steroid hormone also controls inflammation and how the body handles stress through immune system functions.
Steroid synthesis in the ovaries plays a vital role in secretion of estrogen, the primary female hormone responsible for feminine traits. It regulates menstruation and pregnancy and other reproductive actions. Hormone replacement therapy via synthetic drugs might ease the symptoms of menopause in older women.
The male sex hormone testosterone gives men a deep voice, facial hair, and bulkier musculature. Steroid synthesis in the testes and adrenal glands releases this hormone for use by cells. Some body builders use a man-made form of these hormones to increase muscle mass, but these substances might produce dangerous side effects.
Steroid drugs made from cortisol might reduce inflammation caused by arthritis, lupus, and asthma. They might also treat multiple sclerosis. Some steroidal medications might be used to treat cancer by blocking androgen production, especially when used for prostate cancer. Breast cancer drugs might prevent the production of estrogen.