Anabolic Steroids, Corticosteroids: What's the Difference?
Steroids are important compounds used in medicine, but people often misunderstand what they are.
The adrenal glands in your body make several types of steroids, each of which has a specific purpose. Steroids are also found in other animals, and in plants. For example, the drug digitalis comes from the foxglove plant and was one of the first steroids used in medicine.
These types of steroids are made by your body:
Sex hormones. These are the male hormones, including testosterone, which collectively are called androgens, and the female hormones, including estrogen. Anabolic steroids are another name for androgens.
Corticosteroids. These hormones include cortisone and cortisol. They are thought to have a role in the immune system.
Mineralocorticoids. These hormones maintain the balance of sodium and potassium in the body.
Bile salts. These steroids don't function as hormones, but are essential for digestion and absorption of fats.
Sterols. The most commonly known of these is cholesterol. These help your body to make vitamin D from sunlight and to build cell walls.
Commercially produced corticosteroids are steroids that reduce inflammation. They are used to treat diseases that cause inflammation, including multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Corticosteroids are extremely important in the treatment of asthma. They also are used to treat leukemia and other cancers.
Anabolic steroids are male hormones or commercially produced chemicals identical to male hormones. When produced naturally by the body, they increase muscle mass and direct proteins to make muscle. Anabolic steroids are commonly taken by athletes to boost athletic performance and build muscle mass. Unfortunately, they can cause lasting damage, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Taking doses of anabolic steroids beyond the level normal for the body increases the growth of skeletal muscle and enhances athletic performance. Anabolic steroids increase the risk for prostate cancer, liver cancer, stroke and heart attack. People who take excessive doses of anabolic steroids may exhibit violent behavior and drastic mood swings, and may suffer from depression.
For people with asthma, corticosteroids help decrease inflammation in the lungs' airways. They can be prescribed by a doctor in various forms, but most people use the inhaled form because it has fewer side effects. More than 100 corticosteroids have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for patient use.
Rarely, after using inhaled steroids, people experience side effects such as thrush. But, this oral yeast infection can be minimized by cleansing the mouth with water after use. When taken over a long period of time, oral corticosteroids also can have side effects, such as weight gain, ulcers, high blood glucose and cataracts. But, when taken under a doctor's supervision, using the recommended dosage, they are considered safe.