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Steroids and Nutrition

Some people with chronic lung disease take steroid pills on a regular basis. Steroids (such as prednisone or methylprednisolone) are strong medicines that decrease swollen airways. Unfortunately, they also have some nutritional side effects.

  • Steroid therapy has the potential to interfere with the normal absorption and utilization of specific nutrients, including calcium, potassium, sodium, protein, and vitamins C and D.

  • A dramatic increase in appetite can occur. Focusing on low calorie foods can prevent extreme weight gain.

  • Steroids may irritate the stomach and should not be taken on an empty stomach.

If you take steroids for a chronic disease, it is very important to eat a balanced diet. Talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about specific concerns regarding steroids and your diet.


Effects of Steroids on Nutrients and How to Compensate

Review the following table to learn how steroids interfere with certain nutrients and how you can compensate for this in your diet.


Effects of Steroids


How to Compensate

Calcium - 99% of this mineral is deposited in your bones and teeth. 1 % is in blood and tissues.

Increased amounts of calcium lost in urine.

Bones lose minerals and may become thin and brittle.

Increase intake of milk products to 3-5 servings per day. Maintain good calcium intake when off steroids to build up bone mass. Take calcium supplement if needed.

Potassium - A mineral that regulates muscle contraction.

Increased amount of potassium lost in urine.

Low blood potassium causes irregular contractions in muscle and heart tissue and may cause fatigue.

Eat a well-balanced diet including 2 rich sources of potassium daily, such as orange juice, apricots, banana, cantaloupe, baked potatoes and tomatoes. Do not take potassium supplements unless prescribed by your physician.

Sodium - A mineral used in fluid balance and nerve conduction. We generally get too much sodium in our diets.

Causes sodium to be retained instead of excreted.

Leads to fluid retention and possibly high blood pressure.

Limit use of salt and sodium-rich condiments, convenience foods, salted snacks or processed foods.

Protein - Used to maintain muscles, blood and antibodies to fight infection.

Breaks down muscle tissue.

Weak muscles, low resistance to infection, and poor wound healing.

Eat a well-balanced diet, including a protein source at each meal (5-7-oz. daily) plus dairy products (3-5 servings).


This information has been approved by Emily McCloud, MS, RD  (June 2012).