The chemical compounds known as steroids are widely distributed in nature and have widely varying functions essential to life. In humans, the two main types of steroids are anabolic and cortical.
The anabolic ones promote tissue growth by creating protein and other new substances. The main anabolic steroid is testosterone, the chief male sex hormone. Chemists have identified natural derivatives of testosterone and have synthesized others that are derived from testosterone.
It is believed that, in addition to attempting to enhance muscle growth, athletes use steroids because the drugs give them a sense of well-being, enabling them to train harder and recuperate more quickly.
The International Olympic Committee bans 16 anabolic steroids that it can identify in laboratory tests. Among the legitimate uses of anabolic steroids are the treatment of a hereditary skin disorder that produces hives and rare types of anemia.
Cortical steroids include several hormones formed in the outside, or cortex, of the adrenal gland. (There are two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney.) Such drugs are often used to suppress inflammation, as in severe cases of arthritis. Among the other uses are these: countering serious attacks of asthma and as replacement therapy for people with adrenal insufficiency.