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Steroids: The Great Pretender

Like antibiotics, steroids are one of the most abused classes of drugs in the orthodox veterinarian field of medicine. At one time, they were reserved for the extreme emergency cases. Today, they are being used on the most trivial of conditions. Why? They give the appearance of an "instant" miracle cure, which matches the ‘expectation’ level of the client. So, many vets turn to steroids as the first, rather than the last, line of attack for their anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic effects.

Steroids mimic the action of the adrenal glands, the body’s most powerful regulator of general metabolism. Far from being a wonder drug "cure all" steroids cannot cure one single condition. All they do is suppress the body’s ability to express a normal response. Occasionally this type of suppression will give the body a chance to heal itself. But more often, the effect is immediate, devastating and can cause permanent damage.

The medical community seems to have a particular blind spot about these drugs, refusing to believe that steroids can cause the terrible carnage that the manufacturers have long admitted to.

For over 30 years we’ve known that steroids can routinely cause over-activity of adrenal hormones, which produces Cushing’s disease. They can also cause muscle wasting, hyperglycemia, water retention, bruising, insomnia, serious mood changes, menstrual problems, impotence, loss of libido, or even allergic shock and diabetes. (Source: Physicians Desk Reference).

Steroids are all broad-spectrum—that is, they don’t specify simply the area of the body you wish to treat, but scatter through every cell including the central nervous system, cells in bone, smooth muscle, blood, liver, etc.

The sad thing is that these drugs are considered so safe that they are used in many ‘over the counter’ medications for everything from skin problems to hemorrhoids! They are considered the drug of choice for asthma, eczema, arthritis, back problems, bowel problems, and for any and all inflammations or allergic reactions—and new uses are still being invented.

The "Empire" boys will tell you that steroids only cause side effects after many years of usage. Here’s a little bomb shell for you: studies show that steroids can cause permanent, debilitating side effects after a single dosage!!

There is no such thing as a "safe" dose. They have not been subjected to long-term scientific study to find out how or whether they work for specific conditions. Septic shock and adult respiratory distress syndrome are two conditions where steroids were widely used as treatment—until scientific trials demonstrated that they were not only of no benefit, but may actually have been doing harm.

The major concern with using steroids is the possibility that the pituitary gland will stop producing ACTH, a hormone that regulates the adrenal glands, needed by the body during stress and to fight infection. When the body is flooded with extra cortisone the adrenal glands decrease their own production. They seem to say, "O.K. if you’re going to do the work I might as well shut down". Extended use of steroids can effectively turn your dog into a "steroid junkie" hooked for life on these drugs. What is really needed is to ‘stimulate’ the adrenals to get back to a healthy normal state, rather than trying to artificially replace their function.

Caution: If your animal is already on steroids, never never abruptly halt their medication. Any weaning off of steroids must be done on a gradual basis, preferably with close monitoring by your holistic vet, after you’ve had a correct diagnosis of the source of the problem.

In some ways I wish the overuse of steroids were only to be found in the veterinarian field. Unfortunately our children are also at serious risk. Take the case of nine-year-old Lexie McConnell. She was diagnosed as having ‘toxoplasmosis’ (an eye infection). The consultant put her on 80 mg per day of prednisone. Immediately, she suffered sever side effects—huge weight gain, terrible pain, holes in her tongue and black stools. After nearly a month, at her parents pleading, the doctors lowered the dosage to 60 mg, 40 mg, 20 mg. In excruciating pain, Lexie was taken to a hospital, where it was discovered she’d contracted chicken pox. (Remember that steroids suppress the immune system, leaving the body susceptible to infection). Four days later, she died! In this case steroids killed a young child after only five and a half weeks!! It’s ironic that later, another eye specialist declared that a simple course of antibiotics could have cleared up her infection.

Her parents are now on a crusade, demanding that a warning card be given out by doctors on a mandatory basis, signed by the doctor, for every prescription of steroids. They are asking people to write their congressperson today, demanding that the card be made law and that studies be funded into the safety of steroids. I sincerely hope they are successful in their efforts.

How many vets have provided their clients with any indication of the possible dangers of steroids, prior to administering the drug?? How many vets are even aware that even short course application can present permanent damage??

Because there are so many, many natural methods of dealing with problems where steroids would be prescribed, it is up to each of us to be aware that the best rule of thumb is—don’t start them. There are many holistic vet practices that are totally void of any steroid usage--a valid testimony that other methods are just as effective, without the risks.