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Will Inhaled Steroids Make You Vulnerable to Metabolic Syndrome?

Women using inhaled steroids for asthma or COPD breathing problems were 40 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome.
Will Inhaled Steroids Make You Vulnerable to Metabolic Syndr...
Woman looking away while using asthma inhaler against white background

Inhaled corticosteroid medications such as beclomethasone or fluticasone are prescribed to calm lung inflammation. Such drugs make it easier for people with asthma or COPD to breathe. Doctors have felt more comfortable prescribing inhaled steroids rather than pills like prednisone. Presumably, they believe that inhaled drugs produce fewer systemic side effects.

Do Inhaled Steroids Have Long-Term Consequences?

A large Dutch study now throws that assumption into question. The investigators reviewed the records of 140,879 people participating in the Lifelines Study Cohort.

Approximately 10 percent of this group held a prescription for a corticosteroid drug in some form-topical, inhaled or systemic. Further analysis showed that women using inhaled steroids were 40 percent more likely to have metabolic syndrome. People with high body mass index (BMI), blood pressure and sugar and fats in the bloodstream have metabolic syndrome, or MetS.

What Is the Problem with Metabolic Syndrome?

MetS is a risk factor for a number of other chronic diseases. Obesity, fatty liver disease and even neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer disease or Parkinsonism have all been linked to metabolic syndrome (Motamedi et al, Metabolic Brain Disease, March 30, 2017).

This is an association. As such, it does not prove that inhaled corticosteroids cause MetS. But since this cluster of risk factors increases the danger of diabetes and heart disease, doctors and patients may want to monitor inhaled corticosteroid use more closely.

Endocrine Society annual meeting, Orlando, FL, April 3, 2017

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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