Steroids are naturally occurring substances, though they are often created in the lab for mass distribution. Organic compounds that follow the same molecular pattern belong to this class: 17 carbon atoms in 4 closely linked rings. The characteristics of each will vary depending on the attached functional groups to this set of rings. Sometimes they are modified by changing the structure which results in interesting effects within the body. Natural sources of steroids among eukaryotes include several species of fungi, animals, and plants.
Every single mushroom contains a large amount of ergosterol, the most common fungal steroid. It is vital in the maintenance of the cell membrane. It is similar in function to cholesterol in animals. Thanks to this compound, mushrooms can create a substantial quantity of Vitamin D. All it takes is for mushrooms to be exposed to ultraviolet light from the sun and it will turn into Provitamin D2. This, in turn, becomes Vitamin D2 in a spontaneous manner. Other major fungal steroids include dihydroergosterol, lanosterol, and zymosterol.
There are three main types of steroid hormones in animals. These are sex hormones which determine the differences between males and females of the species. They also support reproduction such as testosterone, estrogen, and progestogens. Testosterone is often synthesized in the labs and included in supplements to help those who are suffering from deficiencies. Some steroids mimic testosterone with an altered structure to minimize the side effects.
Corticosteroids, on the other hand, is often used as treatment of various medical conditions. They are able to regulate immune function and metabolism. For these reasons, they can be helpful in the treatment of allergies and viral infections. They can also help in boosting appetite for those who are underweight, though they must only be used for a short time.
Anabolic steroids are usually what pops in people’s heads when they hear the term “steroids”. They are able to attach themselves to androgen receptors in the cells to promote bone synthesis and increase muscle mass. Bodybuilders like to take them to hasten their physical development.
Last but not the least are the plant steroids like phytosterols, brassinosteroids, and steroidal alkaloids. Phytosterols are often used as dietary supplements. They are known to reduce LDL cholesterol but has no other scientifically proven health benefits. Brassinosteroids, on the other hand, promote cell elongation, expansion, and vascular differentiation. They can also protect plants from the stress induced by extreme temperatures.