Oral Steroids and Vitamin D Deficiency

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Is your dog on steroids? I don’t mean the kind that body builders use, but I’m talking about corticosteroids such as prednisone. These steroids are used regularly by veterinarians to treat the all-too-common problem of allergies in dogs. If your dog is undergoing steroid therapy for his allergies, new research might interest you.

Oral Steroids and Vitamin D

Amy Skversky, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Einstein, led a research team to assess the effects of oral steroids on Vitamin D levels. They found that people taking oral steroids were twice as likely as the general population to suffer severe Vitamin D deficiency.

Smaller studies involving people often prescribed steroids have found significantly reduced vitamin D levels in these patients. To further assess this association between steroid use and vitamin D levels, the Einstein researchers carried out the first-ever study of a large, nationally representative sample of people.

Eleven percent of the self-reported steroid users had severely low vitamin D levels compared with a severe vitamin D deficiency of 5 percent for people not taking steroids—a two-fold increased risk for severe vitamin D deficiency. The risk was particularly pronounced for steroid users under 18, who were 14 times more likely to have a severe vitamin D deficiency compared with young non-steroid users.

Vitamin D and the Immune System

Vitamin D is not only important for maintaining strong bones; it is a key element of the immune system. In particular, it triggers and arms the body’s T cells, the cells in the body that seek out and destroy any invading bacteria and viruses.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that Vitamin D is crucial to activating immune defences and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin, the killer cells of the immune system – T cells – will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body.

For T cells to detect and kill foreign pathogens such as clumps of bacteria or viruses, the cells must first be ‘triggered’ into action and “transform” from inactive and harmless immune cells into killer cells that are primed to seek out and destroy all traces of invaders.

The researchers found that the T cells rely on vitamin D in order activate and they would remain dormant, ‘naïve’ to the possibility of threat if vitamin D is lacking in the blood.

Professor Carsten Geisler from the Department of International Health, Immunology and Microbiology, said: “When a T cell is exposed to a foreign pathogen, it extends a signalling device or ‘antenna’ known as a vitamin D receptor, with which it searches for vitamin D.

“This means that the T cell must have vitamin D or activation of the cell will cease. If the T cells cannot find enough vitamin D in the blood, they won’t even begin to mobilize. ”

This is important not only in fighting disease but also in dealing with anti-immune reactions of the body – including allergies. Active T cells multiply at an explosive rate and can create an inflammatory environment with serious consequences for the body. In autoimmune diseases, like arthritis or allergies, T cells mistake fragments of the body’s own cells for foreign invaders, leading to the body launching an attack upon itself.

The findings are published in Nature Immunology.

Steroids and Immune Suppression

Allergies occur when an exaggerated immune response occurs in reaction to a pathogen. Steroids treat the allergies by suppressing the immune system – or more precisely, inhibit T cell activity. This is where conventional vets and holistic vets will part ways. Using steroids to control allergies is merely suppressing symptoms – and causing dangerous side effects including a suppressed immune system, softening of the bones, muscle weakness, diabetes and liver disease. Holistic vets are much more interested in restoring balance to the immune system – and avoiding the dangerous side effects of drugs.

If your dog’s allergies are being treated with steroids, there might be a more effective – and safer – long term solution. At the very least, make sure he is getting enough Vitamin D in his diet and plenty of sunshine (Vitamin D is known as the Sunshine Vitamin). Milk Thistle should also be given to protect his liver.

Ideally, seek out the services of a good holistic veterinarian. Allergies can be effectively treated with acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Homeopathy and nutritional supplements (including Omega-3, antioxidants, herbs, glandulars and enzymes).

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