Androgenic hormones, also referred to as androgens or testoids, are a family of sex hormones that promote male attributes. Most androgenic hormones are steroid hormones that are naturally produced by the human body, but they can also be synthetically created. These hormones stimulate the formation of the male testes and the production of sperm. They also promote greater muscle mass and reduced body fat, and influence certain areas of human behavior, such as sex drive and aggression. Women also produce androgenic hormones, but most of these are converted to estrogens by the body.
One of the predominant male sex hormones, testosterone, is an androgenic hormone. Testosterone is secreted by the testes and is derived from the steroid cholesterol. It has anabolic effects, causing muscle and bone growth and maturation. The hormone also causes the penis and scrotum of a male fetus to develop and mature, and leads to the voice changes and hair growth that occur at puberty. In women, lower levels of testosterone are secreted by the ovaries, which contribute to female sex drive and support bone density, slowing the potential onset of osteoporosis.
About 95% of the androgenic hormones in the human male body are in the form of testosterone. However, there are other, lesser androgenic hormones, called adrenal androgens, that are produced by the adrenal cortex, a part of the adrenal gland. Adrenal androgens act as precursors to other hormones, such as estrogen or testosterone itself. A chemical reaction called biosynthesis converts the adrenal androgen androstenedione to testosterone. Adrenal androgens also perform similar functions to testosterone, promoting muscle mass and sex drive.
Synthetically produced androgenic hormones can be used to treat certain medical conditions in both men and women. In men, hormone therapies may be administered if natural testosterone levels are low. The onset of puberty can be stimulated by androgenic hormone injections if it is otherwise delayed. Androgenic hormones can also be used to increase sex drive and reduce depression and anxiety in adult men. In women, these hormone therapies can be used to treat anemia and certain types of breast cancer.
Androgenic hormones can also be used for their anabolic properties by athletes who wish to increase muscle mass and enhance exercise performance. Testosterone can help an athlete to gain muscle and strength by increasing the synthesis of muscle proteins, a process that helps muscles to grow and repair themselves. Many sports organizations ban the use of these performance-enhancing drugs and severely penalize athletes who are found to be using them.