Steroids and their unwanted side effects
Corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications that mimic the natural anti-inflammatory hormones in our body. They are used to control an overactive immune reaction in multiple conditions like rashes, allergies, asthma, and autoimmune disorders. They are potent and highly effective, but have significant unwanted effects, the degree of which is usually dose-dependent ie: the higher the daily dose and the longer the period of time you take the drug, the greater your risk of side effects. Many people taking steroids are often unaware of these effects or how to deal with them if they arise and do not realize how they can have life long consequences.
The following is a review of steroid side effects you may expect, how to take care of yourself if you experience them and when to consult your healthcare practitioner.
Taking steroids for more than two weeks? You may not have the same ability to respond to stress because of the steroids effect on your adrenal glands. This effect can last up to a year after you stop the steroid, and generally no more than a year afterwards. If traumatized or experience serious stress your blood pressure could drop significantly. To prevent this an adrenal supplement can be taken for up to one year after stopping the steroid to make sure they are well supported. A qualified healthcare practitioner can help you decide which are the more appropriate and effective supplements to use.
Steroids are immune suppressants increasing the likelihood of infection. It is important to discuss helpful strategies to boost your immune system during and after taking steroids. These include nutritional advice on the best foods to consume and foods to avoid as well as the best nutrients to supplement for optimal immunity. Acupuncture is also a great modality to keep your immune system as healthy and strong as it can be despite taking steroids.
Steroids may result in stomach or intestinal ulcers and/or bleeding. Do not take with ibuprofen, aspirin or aleve as there is a four-fold increase when combined. Taking the medication with meals can help, but there are more ways to stop them from irritating the digestive system. Demulcent herbs and mucilaginous foods can be very healing to the digestive lining.
Steroids increase fracture risk by thinning the bones. You may have a bone scan done prior to and after treatment. You can lose between 10-20% of your bone mass in the first six months of therapy. Take calcium and vitamin D throughout therapy, dosage of which is determined by your healthcare practitioner who may add weight-bearing exercises to even further offset bone loss. Bone pain can also occur and is a serious symptom to bring up with your doctor.
Steroids slow metabolism and deposit fat around your abdomen called a cortisol belly. They increase the appetite as well. We find a 4 to 8% increase in body weight with even lower doses. After you stop the steroid the weight will reduce within one year of discontinuing the medication. Be conscious of how much and what you are eating during the therapy. A professionally guided diet plan can really help keep the weight off.
Steroids can cause insomnia. Sometimes taking your dosage in the morning and practice good sleep hygiene helps, but herbal medicines and acupuncture can be great adjuncts to relax a nervous system excited by steroids.
At higher dosages steroids can cause euphoria and/or depression, irritability, and great anxiety. Depression is most common with longer duration while euphoria is most common with shorter durations. Being aware helps. Tell your family and friends this is an effect too. There are some very effective herbal treatments that can save people from mood changes.
Blood pressure and blood sugar
Steroids cause fluid retention by unbalancing sodium and other electrolytes levels. Altering your diet to avoid this is key as well as checking your blood pressure regularly. They also cause increased blood sugar levels. Monitoring blood sugars is very important to keep a watchful eye on the potential development of diabetes. If taken for more than a year and if taken as a higher dose, steroids increase rate of heart attacks too. Get regular cholesterol checks. Talk to your healthcare professional about heart healthy diets and possible supplements to help.
There are ways to prevent the damaging effects of steroids. If you are taking or about to start steroid therapy discuss with a qualified healthcare practitioner at evolve Nurturing Vitality all the possible effects and what you can do to minimize or avoid them altogether.
Dr. Bobby Parmar ND
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