Pharmaceutical medications may have allowed us to beat innumerable diseases and significantly increase our lifetimes, but they are not without risk. One chief complaint about most pharmaceuticals is that while they are often effective at mitigating the diseases they are deployed against, they often cause unwanted side effects.
These side effects can range from drowsiness, dry mouth, and skin rashes to severe, life-threatening side effects. According to a previous study by the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, an estimated 4.5 million patients visit emergency rooms or doctors’ offices each year due to adverse drug effects.
Building on the growing body of research into the side effects of prescription medications, a recent study has revealed that glucocorticoids, a type of steroidal allergy treatment that is used to prevent inflammation in asthma and other autoimmune conditions, may be associated with reduced brain function. Researchers found that both inhaled and oral glucocorticoid use was linked with damage to the white matter of the brain. According to the study’s author Merel van der Meulen, glucocorticoid use was associated with an apparently widespread reduction in white matter integrity.
White matter is a type of tissue that provides essential connectivity in the brain, connecting brain cells with the rest of the nervous system via millions of bundles of nerve fibers. It plays a crucial role in the brain’s ability to pay attention, process information and remember, with lower levels of white matter making the brain less effective at carrying out these functions. Furthermore, lower white matter levels have been associated with mental health issues such as anxiety, irritability and depression.
This study was keenly interested in how the structure and function of white matter could be affected by medication use.
Glucocorticoids are among the most prescribed anti-inflammatory medications because they can be effective against a wide variety of conditions. These symptoms include asthma, inflammatory bowel diseases, allergies, skin conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, tendonitis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.
The recent study also found that people who regularly used oral steroids over a long period had the most white matter damage, testing higher for apathy, fatigue, depression and restlessness compared to those who inhaled the medication.
Researchers also found that inhaled glucocorticoids did not have as many side effects as oral glucocorticoids.
Despite the indication of reductions in white matter, Dr. Avindra Nath of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke highlighted that there was no cause for alarm.
The steroidal medications do cause the brain to shrink, but once the patients are taken off the medications, the brain is able to bounce back due to brain plasticity, an ability that allows the brain to reorganize its connections and structures.
For those who may still have concerns about the potential drawbacks of steroidal treatments on the brain, there is light at the end of the tunnel because a number of companies, such as Aditxt Inc. (NASDAQ: ADTX), are studying mechanisms through which one’s immune system can be reprogrammed so that allergies and other such autoimmune conditions are halted.
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