The Human Body


Steroids, large group of naturally occurring and synthetic lipids, or fat-soluble chemicals, with a great diversity of physiological activity. Included among the steroids are certain alcohols (sterols), bile acids, many important hormones, some natural drugs, and the poisons found in the skin of some toads (see Digitalis; Hormone). Various sterols found in the skin of human beings are transformed into vitamin D when they are exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the sun (see Vitamin: Vitamin D). Cholesterol, a major contributor to arteriosclerosis, is a sterol. Steroid hormones, which are similar to but not identical with sterols, include the adrenal cortical steroids hydrocortisone, cortisone, aldosterone, and progesterone; and the female and male sex hormones (see Estrogen; Testosterone). Most oral contraceptives are synthetic steroids consisting of female sex hormones that inhibit ovulation (see Birth Control). Perhaps the most widely used steroids in medicine are cortisone and various synthetic derivatives of this substance. Such steroids are prescription drugs used for a variety of skin ailments, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and allergies, and various eye diseases, and in cases of adrenal insufficiency, or the malfunctioning of the adrenal cortex (see Adrenal Gland; Endocrine System).