Doctors prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs long or short term to treat a range of conditions from allergies to arthritis. But could some of these drugs actually increase the risk for another chronic condition — diabetes?

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Regular doses of glucocorticoids may increase the risk of diabetes, some researchers argue.

Glucocorticoids are a type of anti-inflammatory drug that doctors often prescribe for the treatment of various conditions, including allergies, asthma, and rheumatic conditions.

As with most medications, glucocorticoids can also have some adverse effects. In the case of these drugs, possible unwanted effects that people report include skin dryness and discoloration, shortness of breath, and problems with sleep.

At higher doses, some individuals have also reported depressive moods and high blood pressure. Now, new research from Sapienza University of Rome in Italy and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom suggests that these anti-inflammatory drugs could have long-term consequences for health.

In a poster presentation at The Society for Endocrinology Annual Conference — which this year takes place in Brighton, U.K. — study authors Dr. Riccardo Pofi and Prof. Jeremy Tomlinson have explained that glucocorticoids may increase a person's risk of diabetes.

Drugs impact blood sugar regulation

For their study, Dr. Pofi, Prof. Tomlinson, and team recruited 16 healthy male participants. To these participants, they administered either 10- or 15-milligram doses of a glucocorticoid (prednisolone) for 1 week.

These doses, the researchers explain, are the doses that doctors usually prescribe to their patients.

At the end of a week of treatment, the investigators measured both regular biomarkers, such as fasting blood sugar levels and weight, and metabolic markers in the participants.

They found that while most biomarkers — including blood sugar levels — remained unaffected by the drug, the treatment appeared to impact blood sugar regulation mechanisms negatively. In the long term, the investigators note, this may lead to a heightened risk of diabetes.

"This is the first study to examine the very short-term metabolic effects of commonly prescribed doses of glucocorticoids on healthy men and indicates that, even at these lower doses, glucose metabolism is impaired, suggesting an increased risk of diabetes with continued treatment," says Dr. Pofi.

The researcher argues that the current findings point to a stringent need to consider anti-inflammatory drug dosage very carefully, to make sure that the benefits outweigh the potential risks.

"This [research] suggests that we need to more accurately assess [glucocorticoid] use in patients to prevent and reduce the undesired effects, especially in patients for which steroid treatment is essential for life."

Dr. Riccardo Pofi

Going forward, the investigators point to a need to conduct larger, more conclusive studies to confirm the validity of the current findings.

Moreover, Dr. Pofi is planning to investigate whether there are any ways of reducing or preventing the metabolic impact of glucocorticoid treatment.