Preceding chapters in this volume describe relatively rare conditions associated with qualitative rather than quantitative changes in enzymes involved in steroid synthesis and metabolism. In this chapter, several examples show how more subtle variations in activities of the same enzymes may be important in the pathophysiology of common diseases of complex aetiology. This chapter reviews evidence for deranged steroid metabolism in patients with the 'insulin resistance syndrome'. In summary, patients with essential hypertension may have subtle 11beta-hydroxylase or 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 2 deficiency resulting in mild mineralocorticoid excess. Patients with obesity, and/or associated hirsutism or hyperglycaemia, have evidence of altered peripheral metabolism of androgens (increased 5alpha-reductase) and glucocorticoids (altered 11beta-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase type 1, resulting in enhanced cortisol levels in adipose tissue). Some of these changes in steroid metabolism lend themselves to therapeutic manipulation which may provide novel strategies to reduce cardiovascular risk.