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Nutrition And Chronic Corticosteroid Therapy



The first thing that comes to mind for many when they think of steroids is the huge bodybuilder guy at the gym. In reality, steroids are used widely for various uses and are implemented for many health treatments. Corticosteroids have been prescribed to treat everything from severe rashes to asthma. Some of the different forms of these medications are popularly known as prednisone, cortisone, or hydrocortisone. Although there are some side effects to many of these medications, they can be extremely effective when it comes to medical treatment. Today, we will be focusing on one effect of corticosteroids in particular, and that happens to be how they impact your nutrition. Learn about some of the ways that you can effectively treat with corticosteroid therapy while maintaining proper nutrition.

What Are Corticosteroids?

This form of steroids is actually able to mimic naturally occurring hormones in the body, which is useful when this process is altered by a health condition or illness. This is especially helpful for reducing inflammation with conditions such as asthma and arthritis. Another function of the corticosteroid is to suppress your immune system, which is necessary for people with autoimmune diseases where your body (immune system) attacks itself.

Besides there being various conditions for which this medication is used, there are also many ways to take it. It is available by pill form, injection, inhaler, or topical cream. Although corticosteroids are very effective for most when taken, there are also a number of side effects which include water retention, weight gain, mood swings, glaucoma, increased blood pressure, and hormone production. Because of this list of side effects, it is important to be mindful of what else we are putting into our bodies, namely the essential nutrients to combat the depletion of our nutrition when taking steroids.

The Effect of Steroids on our Nutrition and How to Compensate

Numerous previous articles have emphasized the importance of particular nutrients and how to increase the sources in our daily lives. If someone is on steroid therapy, it is even more important for them to understand the effects of these steroids on their nutrition and learn ways to avert them. Here are a few common nutrients that can be depleted during corticosteroid therapy and how to replace them.

Protein: Contrary to popular belief, possibly due to the muscle-head steroid connotation, corticosteroids actually break down protein in the body and thus, muscle tissue. Some of the results of this protein breakdown are weak muscles and inability to heal wounds properly.

Protein Fix: In order to fight against this result, eat a protein-rich diet (5-7 servings per day) where proteins are present at each meal. Also, get in your daily requirements of dairy (3-5 servings).

Calcium: We know that this mineral is extremely important for our teeth and general bone health. When taking corticosteroids, our levels of calcium can be depleted as extra calcium can be secreted into our urine and therefore, moved out of the body. This calcium loss can eventually lead to brittle and weak bones, which leaves us prone to injury.

Calcium Fix: In order to replace this source, we want to increase the number of dairy products (3-5 servings), such as milk in our diet. There is also the option of taking a calcium supplement and many other vegan-friendly calcium sources available, as discussed in a previous article.

Potassium: This is another mineral that can be lost through an excess amount found in the urine. The function of potassium is to regulate muscle contractions; therefore, low levels of it may cause irregular contractions of both muscles and the heart. An impact of this can be feelings of fatigue.

Potassium Fix: The best solution to this issue is to make sure you get in two natural daily sources of potassium. You should avoid potassium supplements unless recommended by a physician, but some natural sources are oranges, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe, baked potatoes, and tomatoes.

Sodium: This mineral is important for nerve conduction and for keeping our fluids balanced properly. With the enormous amount of processed foods on the market, most of us already have too much sodium content in our bodies. When on corticosteroids, this is worsened as they allow your body to further retain high levels of sodium, which can lead to high blood pressure.

Sodium Fix: As recommended for those with high blood pressure or sodium intake, even without corticosteroids, make sure to stay away from highly processed foods and refrain from putting extra salt on your foods.

Appetite Control and Water Retention

Although this effect does not necessarily deal with the nutrients, water retention and weight gain are serious concerns for those who are thinking of taking corticosteroids. In order to avoid this and control your appetite, you will want to include calcium supplements and lower your sodium content as mentioned before. Some other supplements to include are Vitamin D (works with Calcium) and a multivitamin for the various nutrients that may be lost during steroid therapy. In terms of particular foods that you will want to include, complex carbohydrates are a great way to keep your blood sugar levels steady and keep you feeling full longer. Sometimes it is also helpful to just be mindful of the fact that it is the steroids that are making you feel increased hunger and that you don’t actually need larger amounts of food.

Even though there may seem to be many side effects to corticosteroid use, there are also many benefits, especially for those who have serious health conditions and rely on this form of treatment. Educating yourself on some of the effects and how to compensate for them is a great way to ensure that you get the most out of your treatment and maintain your health all the while