Steroid drugs risky even after a few weeks

More than 2.5 million adults in the U.S. take steroids like prednisone for problems like joint pain, arthritis and inflammation.

That’s because steroids actually do work. They are good at reducing inflammation. But they’re not safe.

We’ve known for a while that long-term steroid use was dangerous. They turn off your body’s repair and rejuvenation function. They cause you to age more quickly.

But most people in the medical community believed short-term use was OK. So for decades, doctors have been handing out one-week packs of these pills for everything from backaches to coughs. And steroid inhalers are common for COPD, asthma and allergies.

Doctors don’t think twice about writing these prescriptions. It’s typical of mainstream medicine’s overall philosophy. See a symptom, give a pill…

Prescribing drugs is not something anyone should take lightly. I only write prescriptions for steroids as a last resort. Mother Nature has so many other effective inflammation reducers that I don’t find them necessary for most people.

And I don’t like the idea of putting alien chemicals in my patients’ bodies when there are natural solutions available.

I’m glad I’ve always taken that approach. Especially now that new research shows that even short-term steroid use poses a serious risk to your health.

A big study from the University of Michigan looked at medical records for 1.5 million Americans.1 Over three years, 20% of them took steroids for less than 30 days. Half of the scripts were for back pain, allergies, upper respiratory tract infections and bronchitis. 

The results were striking…

Compared to people who did not take steroids, those who took the drugs for less than 30 days had:

  • five times the rate of sepsis.
  • three times the rate of serious blood clots called venous thromboembolisms (VTE).
  • twice the rate of fractures.

The risks were highest in the first 30 days after taking steroids. But they stayed high even three months later.

These drugs are grossly overused. In one study, researchers found 38% of patients with COPD were over-treated with steroid inhalers.2 Another showed that for the past 30 years doctors have been over-prescribing steroids for young children with asthma.3

I prefer to get to the root of the problem when it comes to things like inflammation, backache, joint pain, allergies and asthma.

For joint pain, I offer my patients platelet-rich plasma (PRP) therapy. PRP involves drawing a bit of your own blood. We spin it through a machine called a centrifuge to separate out your platelets. The platelet-rich plasma is then injected into damaged tendons or cartilage.

Platelets don’t just treat symptoms. They contain hundreds of proteins called “growth factors.” These factors help injured tissues regenerate. Lots of studies show PRP injections improve function and decrease pain. PRP is effective for arthritis, torn muscles and ligaments, knee osteoarthritis, and damaged cartilage.

If you’re interested in learning more about PRP, please call 561-784-7852.  My staff at the Sears Institute for Anti-Aging Medicine will be happy to answer all your questions. 

I also help my patients avoid steroids and fight inflammation with natural herbs.

3 Herbs That Fight Inflammation

1. Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). This powerful medicinal plant has been known to healers and herbalists for millennia. They use it to treat inflammation as well as rheumatism. 

You can find Lonicera japonica remedies online, as well as at Asian apothecaries and food stores. Also, look for the tea online. You may see it sold under its Chinese name “Jin Yin Hua,” which means “gold silver flower.” You can flavor it with mint, vanilla, cocoa or fruit juices like lime, orange or pomegranate. Drink one to three cups a day.

2. Guggul. This ancient Indian herb comes from the resin of the guggul tree. Ayurvedic healers have used it for thousands of years to cool inflammation. It is proven to reduce symptoms of osteoarthritis.4  

Look for guggul extract standardized to 6% guggulsterones. I recommend 500 mg daily for joint pain and inflammation. Take it with food to avoid any stomach irritation.

3. Holy Basil. This herb is so important that I devoted an entire chapter to it in my book Healing Herbs of Paradise. It contains dozens of inflammation-reducing nutrients and has a long history in treating arthritis. You can find it as a tea online. It’s also called “tulsi.” 

You can also find holy basil capsules online. Make sure the product you’re buying has at least 2.5% ursolic acid to get the anti-inflammatory effect. I suggest 150 mg three times a day.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS

1. Waljee Akbar K., et al. “Short term use of oral corticosteroids and related harms among adults in the United States: population based cohort study.” BMJ 2017; 357 :j1415
2 White P, Thornton H, Pinnock H, Georgopoulou S, Booth HP. “Overtreatment of COPD with Inhaled Corticosteroids – Implications for Safety and Costs: Cross-Sectional Observational Study.” de Torres JP, ed. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(10):e75221.
3 Harold J. Farber, Edwin A. Silveira, Douglas R. Vicere, Viral D. Kothari, Angelo P. Giardino. “Oral Corticosteroid Prescribing for Children With Asthma in a Medicaid Managed Care Program Pediatrics.” AAP News & Journals Gateway. Apr 2017, e20164146; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-4146.
4 Singh B. et al., “The effectiveness of Commiphora mukul for the osteoarthritis of the knee: an outcomes study.” Alternative Therapies 2003 May/Jun; 9(3): 74-79.