Oral corticosteroids reduce absorption of calcium3 and interfere with the activation and metabolism of the vitamin,4 [REF] 5 , 6 increasing the risk of bone loss. Doctors can measure levels of activated vitamin D (called 1,25 dihydroxycholecalciferol) to determine whether a deficiency exists; if so, activated vitamin D is only available by prescription. A study of rheumatoid arthritis patients treated with low amounts of prednisone found that those who received 1,000 mg of calcium per day plus 500 IU of vitamin D per day for two years experienced no bone loss during that time period.7 An analysis of properly conducted trials concluded that supplementation with vitamin D and calcium was more effective than placebo or calcium alone in protecting against corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis.8 Most doctors recommend 1,000 mg of calcium and 400–800 IU vitamin D per day for the prevention of osteoporosis.
Preliminary data suggest that corticosteroid treatment increases chromium loss and that supplementation with chromium (600 mcg per day in the form of chromium picolinate) can prevent corticosteroid-induced diabetes.9 Double-blind trials are needed to confirm these observations.
A controlled trial found that a single dose of the synthetic corticosteroid dexamethasone suppressed production of melatonin in nine of 11 healthy volunteers.10 Further research is needed to determine if long-term use of corticosteroids interferes in a meaningful way with melatonin production, and whether supplemental melatonin would be advisable for people taking corticosteroids.
Oral corticosteroids increase the urinary loss of potassium.11 This may not cause a significant problem for most people. Individuals who wish to increase potassium intake should eat more fruits, vegetables, and juices rather than taking over-the-counter potassium supplements, which do not contain significant amounts of potassium.
Corticosteroids may increase the loss of vitamin B6.14 One double-blind study of people with asthma failed to show any added benefit from taking 300 mg per day of vitamin B6 along with inhaled steroids.15 Therefore, while small amounts of vitamin B6 may be needed to prevent deficiency, large amounts may not provide added benefit. Some doctors recommend that people taking corticosteroids for longer than two weeks supplement with at least 2 mg of vitamin B6 per day.
Preliminary data suggest that corticosteroid treatment increases chromium loss and that supplementation with chromium (600 mcg per day in the form of chromium picolinate) can prevent corticosteroid-induced diabetes.16 Double-blind trials are needed to confirm these observations.
According to preliminary human studies, horny goat weed offset some of the side effects of corticosteroids.17
When applied to the skin, glycyrrhetinic acid (a chemical found in licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra)) increases the activity of hydrocortisone.18 This effect might allow for less hydrocortisone to be used when combined with glycyrrhetinic acid, but further study is needed to test this possibility.19
One preliminary study found that in people with fibrosing alveolitis (a rare lung disease), supplementation with 600 mg N-acetyl cysteine three times per day increased the effectiveness of prednisone therapy.20
Children with alopecia areata who supplemented 100 mg of zinc and 20 mg biotin each day, combined with topical clobetasol, showed more improvement compared to children who took oral corticosteroid drugs.21 Controlled research is needed to determine whether adding oral zinc and biotin to topical clobetasol therapy is more effective than clobetasol alone. However, until more information is available, caregivers should consider that children with alopecia who are currently taking oral corticosteroids might benefit from switching to supplements of zinc and biotin along with topical clobetasol.
Oral corticosteroids cause both sodium and water retention.22 People taking corticosteroids should talk with their doctor about whether they should restrict salt intake.
Use of buckthorn (Rhamnus catartica, Rhamnus frangula, Frangula alnus) or alder buckthorn (Rhamnus catartica, Rhamnus frangula), for more than ten days consecutively may cause a loss of electrolytes (especially the mineral potassium). Because corticosteroids also cause potassium loss, buckthorn or alder buckthorn should be used with caution if corticosteroids are being taken.23
In animal research, applying aloe (Aloe vera) gel topically along with a topical corticosteroid enhanced the hormone’s anti-inflammatory activity in the skin.24 No human research has investigated this effect.
Use of buckthorn (Rhamnus catartica, Rhamnus frangula, Frangula alnus) or alder buckthorn (Rhamnus catartica, Rhamnus frangula), for more than ten days consecutively may cause a loss of electrolytes (especially the mineral potassium). Because corticosteroids also cause potassium loss, buckthorn or alder buckthorn should be used with caution if corticosteroids are being taken.25
Taking the oral corticosteroid methylprednisolone with grapefruit juice has been shown to delay the absorption and increase the blood concentration of the drug.26 The mechanism by which grapefruit juice increases the concentration of methylpredniolone in the blood is not known, but it is suspected that it may interfere with enzymes in the liver responsible for clearing the drug from the body. In certain people, grapefruit juice may, therefore, enhance the effects of methylprednisolone. The combination should be avoided unless approved by the prescribing doctor.
Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) extract was shown to decrease the elimination of prednisone in test tube studies.27 If this action happens in people, it might prolong prednisone activity and possibly increase prednisone-related side effects. A small, controlled study found that intravenous (iv) glycyrrhizin (an active constituent in licorice) given with iv prednisolone prolonged prednisolone action in healthy men.28 Whether this effect would occur with oral corticosteroids and licorice supplements is unknown.
An animal study has shown that glycyrrhizin prevents the immune-suppressing actions of cortisone—the natural corticosteroid hormone produced by the body.29 More research is necessary to determine if this action is significant in humans taking oral corticosteroids. Until more is known, people should not take licorice with corticosteroids without first consulting a doctor.
Corticosteroids may increase the body’s loss of magnesium.30 Some doctors recommend that people taking corticosteroids for more than two weeks supplement with 300–400 mg of magnesium per day. Magnesium has also been reported to interfere with the absorption of dexamethasone.31
Pomegranate juice has been shown to inhibit the same enzyme that is inhibited by grapefruit juice.32 [REF] The degree of inhibition is about the same for each of these juices. Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that pomegranate juice might interact with oral corticosteroids in the same way that grapefruit juice does.
In some people, treatment with corticosteroids can impair wound healing. In one study, topical or internal vitamin A improved wound healing in eight of ten patients on corticosteroid therapy.33 In theory, vitamin A might also reverse some of the beneficial effects of corticosteroids, but this idea has not been investigated and no reports exist of such an interaction in people taking both vitamin A and corticosteroids. People using oral corticosteroids should consult with a doctor to determine whether improved wound healing might outweigh the theoretical risk associated with concomitant vitamin A use.
Although blood levels of vitamin A appear to increase during dexamethasone therapy34—most likely due to mobilization of the vitamin from its stores in the liver—evidence from animal studies has also indicated that corticosteroids can deplete vitamin A from tissues.35
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7. Buckley LM, Leib ES, Cartularo KS, et al. Calcium and vitamin D3 supplementation prevents bone loss in the spine secondary to low-dose corticosteroids in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 1996;125:961–8.
8. Amin S, LaValley PM, Simms RW, Felson DT. The role of vitamin D in corticosteroid-induced osteoporosis. Arthritis Rheum 1999;42:1740–51.
9. Ravina A, Slezak L, Mirsky N, et al. Reversal of corticosteroid-induced diabetes mellitus with supplemental chromium. Diabet Med 1999;16:164 7.
10. Demisch L, Demisch K, Nickelsen T. Influence of dexamethasone on nocturnal melatonin production in healthy adult subjects. J Pineal Res 1987;5:317–22.
11. Thelkeld DS, ed. Hormones, Adrenal Cortical Steroids, Glucocorticoids. In Facts and comparisons Drug Information. St. Louis, MO: Facts and Comparisons, Apr 1991, 128b.
12. Buist RA. Drug-nutrient interactions—an overview. Int Clin Nutr Rev 1984;4:114 [review].
13. Peretz AM, Neve JD, Famaey JP. Selenium in rheumatic diseases. Semin Arthritis Rheum 1991;20:305–16 [review].
14. Holt GA. Food & Drug Interactions. Chicago: Precept Press, 1998, 83.
15. Sur S, Camara M, Buchmeier A, et al. Double-blind trial of pyridoxine (vitamin B6) in the treatment of steroid-dependent asthma. Ann Allergy 1993;70:147–52.
16. Ravina A, Slezak L, Mirsky N, et al. Reversal of corticosteroid-induced diabetes mellitus with supplemental chromium. Diabet Med 1999;16:164 7.
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19. Chen MF, Shimada F, Kato H, et al. Effect of glycyrrhizin on the pharmacokinetics of prednisolone following low dosage of prednisolone hemisuccinate. Endocrinol Japon 1990;37:331–41.
20. Behr J, Maier K, Degenkolb B, et al. Antioxidative and clinical effects of high-dose N-acetylcysteine in fibrosing alveolitis. Adjunctive therapy to maintenance immunosuppression. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 1997;156:1897–901.
21. Camacho FM, Garcia-Hernandez MJ. Zinc aspartate, biotin, and clobetasol propionate in the treatment of alopecia areata in childhood. Pediatr Dermatol 1999;16:336–8 [letter].
22. Sifton DW, ed. Physicians Desk Reference, Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, Inc., 2000, 1765–6.
23. European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP). Frangulae cortex, frangula bark. Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter, Centre for Complementary Health Studies, 1997.
24. Davis RH, Parker WL, Murdoch DP. Aloe vera as a biologically active vehicle for hydrocortisone acetate. J Am Podiatric Med Assoc 1991;81:1–9.
25. European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (ESCOP). Frangulae cortex, frangula bark. Monographs on the Medicinal Uses of Plant Drugs. Exeter, UK: University of Exeter, Centre for Complementary Health Studies, 1997.
26. Varis T, Kivisto KT, Neuvonen PJ. Grapefruit juice can increase the plasma concentrations of oral methylprednisolone. Eur J Clin Pharmacol 2000;56:489–93.
27. Tamura Y, Nishikawa T, Yamada K, et al. Effects of glycyrrhetinic acid and its derivatives on delta-4–5-alpha- and 5-beta reductase in rat liver. Arzneimittelforschung 1979;29:647–9.
28. Chen MF, Shimada F, Kato H, et al. Effect of glycyrrhizin on the pharmacokinetics of prednisolone following low dosage of prednisolone hemisuccinate. Endocrinol Jpn 1990;37:331–41.
29. Kumagai A, Nanaboshi M, Asanuma Y, et al. Effects of glycyrrhizin on thymolytic and immunosuppressive action of cortisone. Endocrinol Jpn 1967;14:39–42.
30. Holt GA. Food & Drug Interactions. Chicago: Precept Press, 1998, 83.
31. Naggar VF, Khalil SA, Gouda MW. Effect of concomitant administration of magnesium trisilicate on GI absorption of dexamethasone in humans. J Pharm Sci 1978;67:1029–30.
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33. Hunt TK, Ehrlich HP, Garcia JA, Dunphy JE. Effect of vitamin A on reversing the inhibitory effect of cortisone on healing of open wounds in animals and man. Ann Surg1969;170:633–40.
34. Shenai JP, Mellen BG, Chytil F. Vitamin A status and postnatal dexamethasone treatment in bronchopulmonary dysplasia. Pediatrics 2000;106:547–53.
35. Georgieff MK, Radmer WJ, Sowell AL. The effect of glucocorticosteroids on serum, liver, and lung vitamin A and retinyl ester concentrations. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1991;13:376–82.
36. Buist RA. Drug-nutrient interactions—an overview. Int Clin Nutr Rev 1984;4:114 [review].
37. Peretz AM, Neve JD, Famaey JP. Selenium in rheumatic diseases. Semin Arthritis Rheum 1991;20:305–16 [review].
38. Buist RA. Drug-nutrient interactions—an overview. Int Clin Nutr Rev 1984;4:114 [review].
39. Peretz AM, Neve JD, Famaey JP. Selenium in rheumatic diseases. Semin Arthritis Rheum 1991;20:305–16 [review].
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Last Review: 05-01-2013
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