Peter Hibberd, M.D., is a doctor whose advice is based on more than 28 years of hospital outpatient and inpatient experience. He is an experienced emergency medicine physician, surgeon, and consultant. Dr. Hibberd is certified by the American Board of Emergency Medicine. He is also a fellow and active member of the American Academy of Family Physicians, an active member of the American College of Emergency Physicians, and a member and fellow of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine. Dr. Hibberd has earned numerous national and international professional certifications, memberships, and awards.

Can I Increase Steroid Levels Safely?

Wednesday, 09 June 2010 11:38 AM

Question: I recently received a six-day prescription of methylprednisolone to treat an ear inflammation. During that time, I felt 10 years younger and woke up each morning without the usual aches and pains.

I realize steroid use for non-medical reasons is a bad idea, but is there some other, safer way, perhaps through supplements or HGH, to achieve some of the benefits of an increased hormone level?

Dr. Hibberd's Answer:

You are quite right. Corticosteroid use does engender a sense of well-being in many patients. The cortisone doses we use in medical treatment are exponentially higher than the doses secreted by our adrenal glands. Unfortunately, they are associated with many side effects at these higher doses when used long-term.

Do not confuse these steroids with anabolic steroids so often referred to in regard to athletes (commonly used on the black market for improved athletic performance and muscle-bulking) or the sexual steroids (testosterone, estrogen, etc.).

The most problematic effect with corticosteroids (cortisone-like steroids) is related to the suppression of adrenal function. This may last for up to 12 months or longer in patients who receive repeated oral or injected cortisone, or in those who receive more than two weeks of uninterrupted untapered cortisone treatment. This suppression is the most common reason steroid therapy is usually prescribed in short-term or pulsed doses. It is also the reason it is by prescription only.

For example, inappropriate unsupervised use of these medications in children will cause growth failure and premature closure of growth plates, hence affecting stature.

Despite these problems, cortisone can be a very helpful agent in resolving inflammatory states especially asthma, malignant disease, rheumatic, and autoimmune disorders, with the added benefit of elevated sense of well-being.

On the other hand, some suffer tremendous mood changes — severe depression, blues, psychosis with its loss of reasoning — on the same doses that others sense well-being. Long-term osteoporosis, diabetes, and adrenal suppression are associated with chronic cortisone use, which can be minimized or avoided by following treatment guidelines.

Randomly increasing our hormones is generally not beneficial, and may even be dangerous (female hormone use can elevate cancer risk). It is important for you to realize that ingestion of agents that our body converts into anabolic steroids is a very common reason athletes lose their right to compete. Often these precursor agents are contained in various muscle-building formulas available by Internet, and can ruin an otherwise stellar athlete’s bid for the gold.

Growth hormone or HGH is a hormone secreted in small amounts by the pituitary gland in our brain. Higher doses provided by supplemental use are associated with increased cell turnover and hence its appearance as an anti-aging agent. Beware, though, that you are enhancing growth non-selectively, and if you are harboring a malignancy, HGH will enhance its growth, also. Growth hormone use for cosmetic reasons is very popular and not risk-free.

In my opinion, most people would be far more effective in their efforts to improve their health by focusing on a well-rounded diet with a daily multivitamin and regular daily aerobic exercise than increasing their daily consumption of multiple supplements. Pregnancy and documented deficiency states are the only exception to this statement.

Be aware that some of these supplements will also affect the availability, absorption, duration, and toxicity of many prescription agents, so be careful to inform your doctor about all the supplements you use.

Growth hormone is not the answer, either. Try focusing on the basics — diet and exercise with proper weight-control measures. You will be both happier and healthier.

If you believe you may be "hormone-deficient" or vitamin deficient, see your doctor; there may be a very simple solution you have not considered. Tap the resource and experience of your professional medical doctor when in doubt about your health.

© HealthDay

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