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What Are Steroid Hormones?

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  • Written By: Christina Hall
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 18 March 2014
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Steroid hormones are molecules produced and then secreted by the glands of the endocrine system. These lipid-soluble hormones cause physiological changes within a target cell by passing through the cell’s primary lipid membrane. Steroid hormones are unique in that they are produced from the body’s stores of cholesterol, which imbue them with their lipid-soluble status. Molecules with this status tend to be more physiologically active within the cell because the phospholipid nature of the membrane keeps out molecules that are not lipid-soluble. As steroid hormones are released into the body’s bloodstream, they seek out cells that have associated receptors and attach to them to initiate a specific response within the target cell.

Once a steroid hormone attaches to its associated receptor site on the cell membrane, it travels into the nucleus of the cell, where it binds to another specialized receptor on its nucleic chromatin. Next, the steroid hormone initiates a cellular process called transcription. During transcription, the hormone essentially orders the cell to produce another molecule, messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA). After the mRNA molecules are transported, they go through one last process, translation, after which they are able to produce the basic building blocks of the human body, proteins.

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Each steroid hormone contributes in a different way to ensure the smooth functioning of a variety of different physiologic functions within the body. Some common steroid hormones are testosterone, progesterone, and cortisol. Progesterone is the catalyst for many of the changes that happen in a woman’s body during pregnancy. It helps to thicken the endometrium inside the uterus, ensuring that that a fertilized egg will be able to implant and that the mother will be able to nourish a fetus adequately during pregnancy. Progesterone is also implicated during breast feeding, as it initiates milk production in the mammary glands.

Testosterone is responsible for many actions related to the reproductive system, as well. It is the hormone that is chiefly implicated in determining what sex a fetus will become in the womb. After birth, testosterone directs the development of sexual characteristics during adolescence. Bodybuilders, who often use anabolic steroids, rely on the synthetic steroid’s molecular similarity to testosterone to build muscle mass. Steroid hormones are also used in medical applications to treat hormonal disorders and deficiencies. The hormones have been proven to be relatively safe in these medical applications, but overuse has been linked to baldness, certain types of cancer, and liver disease.

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Discuss this Article

SarahSon
Post 4

@myharley - I find it interesting the role these steroid hormones can play in getting sleep. I think stress is the biggest reason I can't sleep at night.

When I am running around all day trying to get everything done, you would think I would sleep like a baby at night. That doesn't happen very often, and I have a hard time winding down and relaxing.

I think some of this is related to the cortisol hormone which is also known as the stress hormone. This is good to have in small amounts, but when I constantly push myself to get things done, I know this wreaks havoc on my hormones.

Testosterone is the hormone that I usually think of for men, but I know that women have small amounts of this hormone too.

All of them are needed in some way, but when they get out of balance, I can sure feel it, and my family knows it too!

myharley
Post 3

I know that when a woman is pregnant is when she has very high levels of progesterone. It can also help with sleep. I find this interesting because when my cousin was pregnant with twins, she said all she wanted to do was sleep all the time.

Progesterone is one the those hormones that women have lower amounts as we age. Some think that low progesterone levels are a reason for many of the symptoms you go through when you are nearing menopause.

Some common symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, trouble sleeping and headaches can be helped by using a natural steroid in the form of a progesterone cream.

I have been trying to gain a better understanding of these hormones and how they work. I am beginning to realize what an important role they play and how everything works better when they are balanced.

MrsWinslow
Post 2

@dfoster85 - My interest in steroidal hormones is more on the other side; I have PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), which can cause infertility. It also causes high levels of testosterone - you should see my waxing bill! (No, you shouldn't.)

So I've been learning a lot more about the menstrual cycle and how it works. My understanding is that progesterone isn't so much involved in *getting* pregnant as it is in *staying* pregnant. The follicle that produced the ripe egg that month is then supposed to produce progesterone for two weeks. If you got pregnant, after two weeks the placenta (I think) takes over progesterone production. If you don't get pregnant, after two weeks progesterone levels plummet and you get your period.

But some women don't produce enough progesterone to maintain a pregnancy for the two weeks it takes. The way to tell is to track your luteal phase. If your friend's trying to get pregnant, she already may be trying this. You use your basal body temperature to find out when you ovulate. If you get your period too soon after ovulation (I think it's anything under 12 days, but I'm not sure) it means low progesterone. Some women are able to carry a baby if they receive supplemental progesterone for a period during early pregnancy.

dfoster85
Post 1

I see progesterone on the list of steroid hormones, which is interesting - I didn't realize that there were female steroid hormones!

A dear friend of mine was told that she has low progesterone and that that could be the reason why she isn't getting pregnant. But I thought progesterone was the one that took over in the second half of the menstrual cycle, which is why some women feel crappy then. So wouldn't she already have gotten or not gotten pregnant then?

What's the role of progesterone in getting pregnant?

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