Why Your Allergy Treatment May Be Bad For Your Brain

If you have allergies or other inflammatory diseases, it's unfortunate but not uncommon. It's also likely that if you have these conditions, your doctor has prescribed you a glucocorticoid treatment. But what are glucocorticoids, and are they safe?

According to WebMD, glucocorticoids, which are hormones our body makes naturally, reduce inflammation by reducing the body's immune response. Inflammation is a response to an injury or infection by something foreign such as bacteria, as more white blood cells are made to combat the problem. When the body's immune response is too great, we may be prescribed a man-made glucocorticoid to help control the inflammation. Glucocorticoids can be used to treat various conditions related to inflammation, such as allergies, autoimmune disorders, some skin conditions, asthma, heart failure, and even cancer (via Healthline). 

Glucocorticoids are actually a type of steroid and multiple kinds can be prescribed depending on your health condition, notes WebMD. Prednisone is used for a wide variety of conditions including allergies, asthma, and arthritis. Budesonide is used for autoimmune diseases occurring in the digestive tract such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Triamcinolone is a cream steroid applied topically for the relief of skin conditions. Cortisone is administered as a shot and helps reduce inflammation within the joints. These steroids are all commonly prescribed and essential to many people's daily well-being. Glucocorticoids are known to have many side effects, however, and based on recent findings, there is a growing concern that these medications may also be negatively impacting your brain.

Glucocorticoids reduce white matter

A new study on the effects of glucocorticoids has found that both oral and inhaled methods have side effects that weren't previously confirmed. The study notes that glucocorticoids can cause many physical and psychological side effects, such as presenting a danger to cardiovascular health and links to depression. They're still prescribed regularly, though, due to their effectiveness at managing a major cause of many issues, inflammation.

In the new study, 222 patients who used oral glucocorticoids, 557 who used inhaled, and 24,106 who used neither were examined via cognitive assessments, medical history, and brain scans. The results found that those who had used glucocorticoids had noticeably more damage to their brains' white matter and reductions in white matter in general than those who had not. While all glucocorticoid users demonstrated these findings, those in the oral group had them the worst. The researchers suggest that the loss and damage to white matter may explain why neuropsychiatric issues often accompany glucocorticoid usage. 

White matter, which makes up much of the deeper portions of the brain, continues developing as we age (via Medical News Today). Its whiteness is due to myelin, which covers nerve cells that transport messages in the brain. Our precious white matter plays roles in learning, brain function, and information processing. The study results are discouraging, as many people use glucocorticoids. The promising news, though, is that now further research can be done related to the findings to make helpful progress in the future.