Any of a class of natural or synthetic organic compounds with a molecular core, or nucleus, of 17 carbon atoms in a characteristic three-dimensional arrangement of four rings. The configuration of the nucleus, the nature of the groups attached to it, and their positions distinguish different steroids. Hundreds have been found in plants and animals and thousands more synthesized or made by modifying natural steroids. Steroids are important in biology, chemistry, and medicine. Examples include many hormones (including the sex hormones), bile acids, sterols (including cholesterol), and oral contraceptives (see contraception). Digitalis was the first steroid widely used in Western medicine. Corticosteroids (see cortisone) and their synthetic analogs are used to treat rheumatism and other inflammatory ailments. See also anabolic steroid.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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