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Steroids are naturally occurring organic compounds that are typified by a cyclic structure made up of rings of carbon atoms. The carbon atoms are seventeen in number and are arranged in four rings. Steroids are naturally occurring organic compounds found in plants and animals but synthetic steroids have been produced and applied for various medical and biological uses for human and animal life. Steroids perform important biological and physiological functions in living organisms and many of them have important therapeutic properties.

Historical background of Steroids Extraction and Use

The first recorded case of steroid extraction and use was by William Withering, an English medical doctor, who extracted Digitalis from the leaves of Ditalis purpurea or foxglove in the eighteenth century. He successfully used this extract to treat Edema disease. In the beginning part of the nineteenth century, cholesterol was successfully isolated along with a few bile acids in acceptable degree of purity. This work was carried out by many chemists and served as springboard for the study of the properties of steroids in general.

However, understanding of the true structure of steroids was only established in the twentieth century chiefly through research efforts by Adolf Windaus and Heinrich Wieland who were German chemists. The breakthrough came in 1932 when they succeeded in decoding the complex polycyclic make up of steroids. With this breakthrough, more of the powerful steroids of the sex organs and the adrenal gland were successfully analyzed over the next ten years. Since then, the study and production of steroids has grown to become an important branch of pharmacy and pharmacological knowledge.

Classification of steroids

Steroids may be classified according to their distribution among species and their functions. Generally, there are steroids that are found among animal species and those that are found among plant species. Steroids are commonly found among saprophytic plants such as fungi and among animals. There are steroids that are of vertebrate origin as well as those from insects. For example, ecdysterone is a type of steroid that is found among insects and it plays a major part in molting. Steroid hormones are found in human and animal bodies and they include the sex hormones such as androgens, estrogen and progestogens. Another way of classifying steroids is according to different chemical structures. This is particularly based on the structure of the carbon rings. Therefore, steroids could be classified as cleaved, contracted or expanded.