Types of Steroids

Introduction & Overview

As with any general subject, especially a scientific one such as anabolic steroids, the particular topic of focus can be categorized and subdivided. Where anabolic steroids are concerned, there are many different types of steroids. Although all anabolic steroids possess the same general function, structure, and activity, there are subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) differences between them that necessitate the need to subcategorize the subject into families, types, or subcategories.

The first thing to understand and grasp is actually the origin of the word “steroid”. It finds its origins in the Greek language. The prefix of the word (the ‘ster’ in ‘steroid’) originates from the Greek word “stere”, meaning a solid. The suffix of the word (the ‘oid’ in ‘steroid’) originates from the Greek word “eidos”, which translates to mean something with a three-dimensional structure or shape. The Greek etymology of the word would be the completed word “stereoiedes”. However, in today’s English language, it is condensed into the word “steroid” / “steroids”. 

It might occur to the reader that such an origin of the word “steroid” seems to be extremely vague and have almost nothing to do with our current understanding of steroids, which is true. After all, pretty much everything has a three-dimensional structure. It is entirely possible that the scientists and chemists that originally discovered and named steroids as such did not yet fully understand what they were dealing with, as the science of steroids were in such an infancy that all they knew was that they had isolated an as-of-yet known chemical compound.

By their definition in chemistry, steroids are carbon-based organic compounds that are characterized by a chemical structure that consists of four cycloalkane rings. The total number of carbon atoms that forms these rings are usually in the number of at least 20. These four cycloalkane rings are chemically bound with each other to form a particular unique shape, which defines a steroid. Three of these four rings (known as the A, B, and C rings) are comprised of six carbon atoms, making them known as cyclohexane rings. The fourth ring (D ring) contains one less carbon than the others (it has five instead of 6), and thus it is a cyclopentane ring. These four ring structures are central to a steroid, and as mentioned previously, are what define a steroid. It could be referred to as the nucleus of the steroid chemical. Any slight modifications to this steroid structure are what results in different types of steroids, or a whole sub-family or sub-category of steroids. Changes can include the subtraction or addition of functional groups to the four rings, or other small changes and alterations like changing or substituting an oxygen or hydrogen atom that is a part of the four-ring steroid structure.

The overwhelming majority of steroids actually do not pertain what so ever to muscle building, athletics, or anabolism of muscle tissue. There are actually steroids that catabolize (break down) muscle tissue, which is the exact opposite effect of anabolic steroids. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of different types of steroids in the whole of nature itself. Animal species manufacture different types steroids in their bodies naturally, humans manufacture different types of steroids, and so do many other organisms in nature, such as plants, fungi, and even insects, such as ants. An example of some of the steroids that the human body endogenously creates are: Testosterone, Estrogen, different Cholesterols, Cholecalciferol (more commonly known as Vitamin D), and many more. For the most part, within the human body, cholesterol is what is used as the molding block to form other steroids through a series of steps of chemical reactions, usually performed by enzymes. This occurs in different tissues and different cells of the body (i.e. the liver, testes, ovaries, adrenal glands, etc.).

The types of steroids that we are most interested in in particular are anabolic steroids (AS). They can also be referred to as androgenic anabolic steroids (AAS). They are called anabolic steroids because the term “anabolic” comes from Greek, which translates roughly as “to build up”. So essentially, the word “anabolic steroid” means “tissue building steroid”. In this particular case, the word “anabolic” almost always refers to the buildup of muscle tissue in particular. They are also called androgenic steroids because the word “androgenic” refers to the masculinizing properties of the steroids, best known for their role in the transition during puberty where a boy becomes a man.

Ultimately, there are three basic types of anabolic steroids: Testosterone derivatives, Dihydrotestosterone (DHT) derivatives, and Nandrolone derivatives. This is because the three basic anabolic steroids that can be naturally found made by the human body are: Testosterone, Dihydrotestosterone, and Nandrolone. Ultimately, Testosterone is really the original father of all anabolic steroids, as it is converted by the body into Dihydrotestosterone by one pathway, and also converted into Nandrolone via a different pathway. Testosterone is reduced to DHT via an enzyme known as 5-alpha reductase. Nandrolone is derived as an offshoot byproduct of the conversion of Testosterone into Estrogen by the aromatase enzyme[1].

Being that these three ‘father’ anabolic steroids are modified into further derivatives, the derivatives themselves often possess the same properties and features as the anabolic steroid they are derived from. There are some exceptions to the rule, however, but these are, as mentioned, exceptions to the rule. A prime example is when we look at Dihydroteststerone (DHT), we see that it is unable to aromatize into Estrogen. It is therefore not much of a surprise to see that most DHT derivatives inherit the same quality.

Why Are Anabolic Steroids Modified to Create Different Types of Steroids?

The original idea behind the modification of the chemical structure of Testosterone was, and still is, to discover a type of steroid that would be able to express all of the benefits of Testosterone in the body while ideally expressing none or very few of the negative or undesired effects. The other concept behind the modification of Testosterone to generate analogues is to be able to augment the hormone such that the new compound might be able to exert the desired effects to a much better or stronger degree than Testosterone itself, whilst maintaining a low or non-existent side effect ratio. This is also of extreme benefit where medicine is concerned, as different types of steroids and steroid analogues can be augmented to better suit treatment of different diseases and disorders. These modifications might also be able to result in an anabolic steroid derivative that would be able to be utilized for medical patients where Testosterone use might not be suitable, such as female patients, children, or geriatric and elderly patients.

Where athletes and bodybuilders are concerned, the different types of steroids that result from modifications to their chemical structures can provide a selection of different types of steroids that are suited to different applications within athletics and bodybuilding. For example, some anabolic steroids do not exhibit rapid mass and weight gains as a result of water weight or estrogenic fat gain (i.e. Stanozolol, also known as Winstrol, and Oxandrolone, also known as Anavar). Winstrol and Anavar are therefore typically better suited for athletes and bodybuilders that require speed and strength gains without the hinderance of rapid mass and bulk, though these types of steroids do not typically generate dramatic gains in strength. In the areas of rapid mass, bulk, and strength gains, we observe anabolic steroids such as Methandrostenolone (Dianabol), Oxymetholone (Anadrol), or even Testosterone itself. These compounds tend to provide rapid gains in mass, weight, and strength, which tend to attract bodybuilders in their off-season bulking phases, powerlifters, strongmen, etc.

Which Anabolic Steroid Sets the Standard and How to Understand Anabolic and Androgenic Ratings?

Because there are so many different types of steroids, we must ask ourselves, then, what is the anabolic steroid standard by which all other types of anabolic steroids are measured? The answer is the original father of them all: Testosterone. Much like how the Celsius temperature scale bases its baseline reference point on the boiling and freezing point of water (100 and 0 Celsius respectively), the anabolic steroid baseline reference point is Testosterone, which has been recorded as having an anabolic rating of 100, and an androgenic rating of 100. By comparison, for example, Trenbolone – a Nandrolone derivative – has been recorded as possessing an anabolic and androgenic rating of 500. This means that Trenbolone is five times the strength of Testosterone both in its anabolic capabilities as well as its androgenic effects.

Testosterone Derivatives and Analogues

No anabolic steroid would exist today if it were not for the existence and discovery of Testosterone. Therefore, the most basic of types of steroids are those that are derived directly from Testosterone. Most of these compounds generally withhold the same properties and qualities of Testosterone itself, but as mentioned earlier, because of their modifications, they will differ somewhat. These include Methandrostenolone (Dianabol), which was actually the very first derivative of Testosterone, developed in the mid-1950s. Boldenone (Equipoise) is another direct descendant of Testosterone. These compounds, like Testosterone itself, can all be reduced into DHT by way of the 5AR enzyme, and thus generate stronger androgenic activity once they are converted. The only difference is that these compounds may convert into DHT (or a similar androgen, such as Dianabol converting into Dihydromethandrostenolone) at a slower rate than does Testosterone. Of course, the most obvious difference between Dianabol, for example, and Testosterone, is that Dianabol is a C17 alpha alkylated anabolic steroid, and this modification allows it to survive liver metabolism when ingested, and thus it is administered orally. This C-17 alpha alkylation also results in it exhibiting a stronger anabolic effect than Testosterone (Dianabol’s anabolic rating is 210). Dianabol, like Testosterone, is susceptible to aromatization into Estrogen in the body. The same property is true for Equipoise, though it has been shown to aromatize into Estrogen at a lower rate than Testosterone.

Dihydrotestosterone Derivatives and Analogues

Dihydrotestosterone derivatives are types of steroids that are modified descendants of DHT in origin. What is interesting to note here is that when we look at the vast list of types of steroids in existence, the majority of them are DHT derivatives. This is likely due to the fact that Dihydrotestosterone tends to express some of the most desired benefits to side effects ratio, and some of the most promising anabolic steroids used in both medicine and athletics are DHT derivatives as a result. These include anabolic steroids such as: Masteron (Drostanolone), Primobolan (Methenolone), Anavar (Oxandrolone), Winstrol (Stanozolol), and a number of others.

Peculiarly, DHT itself actually expresses no anabolic properties in muscle, and this is because there is an enzyme in muscle tissue that is very quick to act on DHT as soon as DHT enters muscle tissue, and it renders DHT ineffective by metabolizing it into a non-anabolic metabolite. The structural changes that have been made to DHT-derivatives have resulted in compounds that survive this fate, and are therefore free to exert their anabolic effects once inside muscle tissue. The modifications to these DHT derivatives also result in stronger anabolic strengths than Testosterone itself, while retaining DHT’s property of being unable to aromatize into Estrogen. Thus, unwanted Estrogenic side effects are generally not a concern with DHT derivatives. This is why these types of steroids are often used by athletes and bodybuilders for fat loss, cutting phases, and for applications where lean muscle is desired without rapid weight gain in the form of water weight and/or estrogenic fat gain, and the muscle gained is generally not as rapid (depending on the user’s diet as well, of course). As a result, they generally provide the user with the noted lean, ‘chiseled’, and ‘hard’ look.

Lastly, DHT derivatives such as Winstrol, for example, do not convert into a stronger androgen the same way Testosterone converts into DHT. This is because DHT derivatives are already DHT-based, and therefore do not undergo such a reduction a second time, as it is impossible for such a reaction to occur with the 5AR enzyme. However, be advised that because they are already DHT by nature, they may already exhibit strong androgenic effects alone.

Nandrolone Derivatives

Nandrolone derivatives are a slight grey area, and that is because Nandrolone (Deca Durabolin) itself is essentially derived from Testosterone, and there is really only one commercially available Nandrolone derivative – Trenbolone. Nandrolone derivatives (as well as Nandrolone itself) are known also as 19-nor compounds. This refers to the fact that Nandrolone (and by extension, all of its derivatives) lack the 19th carbon in its steroid structure, which Testosterone still has by comparison. Hence, they are referred to as 19-nortestosterone. 

Other Nandrolone derivatives have been created in the past, but due to various reasons, they either never made it beyond initial tests into clinical trials, or they were deemed too unviable and/or unsuitable for use, medical or otherwise. In fact, Trenbolone itself almost suffered this fate too. Trenbolone was originally utilized very briefly as a human-grade medicine in the early 1980s, but after a small period, it was deemed unsuitable for use as a human-grade drug and the FDA effectively removed it from the prescription market. Ever since then, it exists officially only as a veterinary product intended for animal and farm/cattle use only.

Nandrolone is barely susceptible to aromatization into Estrogen, but Trenbolone’s modifications grant it the complete inability to convert into Estrogen. Similarly, Nandrolone does not reduce into DHT (though it does reduce into a stronger androgen of its own, known as Dihydronandrolone, but it does so at a fraction of the rate that Testosterone reduces into DHT). Trenbolone, however, does not reduce at all into any DHT or stronger androgen. It should be noted, however, that Trenbolone itself is extremely androgenic by its own right (its androgenic rating is 500 compared to Testosterone’s androgenic rating of 100). This results in Trenbolone being a compound that is extremely powerful, without any estrogenic side effects, that, much like DHT derivatives, provide lean muscle gains without added bloat, puffiness, or water weight.

Nandrolone is a progestin, and thus it follows that its derivatives also possess the same characteristic. Being a progestin means that it has an affinity to bind to the progestin receptors throughout the body[1], and Trenbolone has a much stronger affinity for the progesterone receptor than even Nandrolone does[2][3]. This results in 19-nor compounds like Nandrolone and Trenbolone having some effects and side effects that are unique among all types of steroids. Being a progestin makes Nandrolone and Trenbolone doubly suppressive to endogenous Testosterone production. Through a complex series of pathways relating to estrogen levels, progestins can also contribute to the development of gynecomastia despite not being aromatizable. Nandrolone also expresses a small degree of water retention as a side effect, though Trenbolone does not. Many of the progestin-related side effects are complex and whether or not one experiences any of them depends largely on genetics, and other hormonal factors that must essentially fall into place at the appropriate ratios, such as Estrogen levels (typically as a result of another compound that one might be using alongside Trenbolone or Nandrolone that might be susceptible to aromatization into Estrogen).

References & Medical Data:

  1. Endogenous nandrolone production: studies in granulosa cells from patients with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). W. Schanzer, H. Geyer, A. Gotzmann, U. Mareck (eds.). Sport und Buch Strauss. Koln (2005) 483-486.
  2. Studies of biological activity of certain 19-nor steroids in female animals. Pincus G, Chang M, Zarrow M, Hafez E, Merril A. December 1956. https://academic.oup.com/endo/article-abstract/59/6/695/2736549?redirectedFrom=fulltext
  3. Characterisation of the affinity of different anabolics and synthetic hormones to the human androgen receptor, human sex hormone binding globulin and to the bovine progestin receptor. Bauer, Meyer et al. Acta Pathol Microbiol Imunol Scand Suppl 108 (2000):838-46. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11252818