Steroids are so routinely prescribed that odds are you’ve used an oral or topical steroid— a corticosteroid such as prednisone, cortisone and dexamethasone—at some point…or even several points… in your life. And that could have put you at risk! While most doctors think short-term treatment with steroids is safe, recent research indicates that may not be the case.
These powerful, fast-acting drugs are prescribed for bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) and other respiratory conditions…musculoskeletal aches and back pain…flare-ups of rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and other autoimmune diseases… and topical versions for rashes and other problems.
Most doctors avoid long-term treatment with corticosteroids because these drugs can cause high blood pressure, diabetes and osteoporosis as well as negatively affect digestion, the eyes, skin and the nervous system. But new research indicates that even short-term bouts of steroids could be dangerous. Bottom Line Personal asked naturopathic physician Joshua Levitt, ND, about the dangers of steroid use and how to avoid taking them in the future.
THE TROUBLE WITH STEROIDS
In a three-year study published in The BMJ, University of Michigan Medical School researchers analyzed data from more than 1.5 million Americans. They found that 21.5% had been prescribed a short-term dose of oral steroids during the study period. The most common reasons for a steroid prescription were upper and lower respiratory tract infections, allergies and back pain. Participants taking steroids—even at low doses for less than 30 days—were 5.3 times more likely to develop life-threatening sepsis…3.3 times more likely to develop a life-threatening blood clot… and 1.9 times more likely to break a bone up to 90 days after they started taking the steroid.
Researchers now urge doctors to be cautious about prescribing steroids. But prescription of short-term steroids still is common. In a study published in The BMJ Open, steroid use had increased by 14% over a recent eight-year period.
I see patients suffering from the side effects of steroids in my pracrice every day. Here are the natural ways I help them avoid steroids altogether…
Practice an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Many of us have chronic, lowgrade inflammation that makes acute inflammation from an infection or back pain even worse. By using the following lifestyle methods to control chronic inflammation, you’re less likely to need an anti-inflammatory steroid.
Eat minimally processed foods. Increase consumption of plant-based, minimally processed foods (which are anti-inflammatory), and decrease consumption of factory-farmed meats, trans fats and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (which promote inflammation). Also helpful: Good oils rich in monounsaturated fats including olive oil, avocado oil and macadamia nut oil.
Move more. A minimum of 20 to 30 minutes a day of movement—whether it’s a brisk walk or a stint of gardening— reduces inflammation.
Get enough deep sleep. Insomnia increases inflammation. Sleeping seven to eight hours a night reduces inflammation. Best: Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Over time, your wake-sleep cycle will match this habit, and you’ll start to sleep well.
Look on the bright side. A positive mindset is anti-inflammatory. New research shows that awe—a feeling of wonder—reduces an inflammatory biomarker. Other research shows that gratitude reduces inflammation. Smart idea: Keep a daily gratitude journal.
Minimize toxin exposure. Use allnatural products, including personal- care products such as soap and shampoo… laundry and dish soap…and cleaning products (an alternative is white vinegar).
Ingest anti-inflammatory nutrients and herbs regularly—increasing amounts when you’re experiencing a condition caused by inflammation. They include…
Omega-3 fatty acids. Corticosteroids decrease the cascade of biochemical events that leads to inflammation. The omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA)—primarily found in fatty fish such as salmon and sardines—do the same without side effects. Eat a serving of fatty fish such as wild-caught salmon two or three times a week. During an acute inflammatory attack, consider taking a high-potency fish oil supplement at a dose of three to five grams daily.*
Turmeric and curcumin. The goldenyellow spice turmeric and its active ingredient curcumin are powerful antiinflammatories. Add turmeric to soups, stews and other recipes—a teaspoon or so per day. Dose: For acute inflammation, a curcumin supplement at a dose of 100 milligrams (mg) to 500 mg two or three times per day.
Boswellia (frankincense). Look for a product that supplies 65% boswellic acid. Dose: 250 mg to 500 mg two or three times per day for chronic inflammation… and just until symptoms subside for acute attacks.
SAMe. This anti-inflammatory amino acid is useful for ongoing joint and muscle pain and depression. Dose: 400 mg to 1,200 mg per day, divided into two doses.