Natural Alternatives to Cortisone and Prednisone: Drug-free Strategies to Clear Inflammation

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Natural Alternatives to Cortisone


The massive heart attack which took the life of former finance minister, Jim Flaherty, on April 10, 2014 brought renewed public attention to the potential dangers of Prednisone.

Back in January 2013, in response to increasing public concern about Flaherty’s bloated appearance and facial redness, a spokesman for the minister had stated: “Minister Flaherty is undergoing treatment for a non-life-threatening but serious dermatological condition known as Bullous Pemphigoid. To help clear up the condition the Minister has been prescribed a steroid called Prednisone. This treatment has side effects such as bloating, weight gain, redness in the face, and bouts of sleeplessness.”

Bullous Pemphigoid is a skin disease which causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack the body, triggering large painful blisters on the arms, legs, and back. The conventional medical treatment utilizes a powerful  steroid called Prednisone, which works to clear the lesions from the skin, giving the patient relief from discomfort, pain, and itching.

Prednisone is a synthetic corticosteroid used widely for numerous acute and chronic inflammatory conditions like asthma, temporal arteritis, autoimmune diseases (i.e. Bullous Pemphigoid, Crohn’s disease) and numerous skin conditions (especially eczema and hives). Its basic effect is to suppress the immune system’s natural inflammatory response.

While often lifesaving in the short term, Prednisone is associated with serious side effects in the long term such as cataracts, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), fluid retention, osteoporosis, fractures, infections, adrenal disease, and numerous metabolic disorders. In my practice I’ve seen some patients develop diabetes, angina, and heart attacks as a result of long-term use.

Those who use Prednisone daily for months or years tend to gain weight and appear puffy-faced and hump-backed. They also develop ulcers requiring more drugs to suppress acid in the stomach, and complain of all manner of digestive disorders. As with most drugs, prednisone is likely to cause a great deal of damage when used long term for any reason.

With the exception of the famous Dr. W. Gifford-Jones, few have questioned the use of Prednisone or suggested safer alternatives to steroid injections to deal with severe skin diseases. So are there effective alternatives to this highly toxic steroid? What might have been this unfortunate man’s other options? Is there any evidence supporting the use of a natural anti-inflammatory diet and supplements to clear eczema, skin disease, and joint pain?

Natural Anti-Inflammatory Approaches

The nice thing about the natural interventions which can be used to reduce or even reverse chronic inflammation is that you can implement them even if you are currently using Prednisone. And it is even possible to wean off Prednisone safely if you are willing to make some changes in your diet and lifestyle. For this, you will most likely need the supervision of a health professional who has experience in helping people successfully wean off drugs like Prednisone, replacing it gradually over a period of months with a safer, more natural regime.


To begin removal of inflammation from the body, an anti-inflammatory diet is essential. This means the elimination of grains (especially gluten), sugar, alcohol, allergenic foods, trans fats, aspartame, chemicals, caffeine, and toxic heavy metals. Removing excess iron from the system is especially important in reducing inflammation.

One does not need to have celiac disease to be gluten-intolerant and develop autoimmune disease as a result. A key consideration is how much inflammation is caused in any given person by the consumption of gluten-containing products – once the inflammation reaches a certain level, autoimmune disease kicks in and the steroid drugs are brought out.

If you are unconvinced of the necessity to stop consuming gluten in order to get off Prednisone, read the book Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar – Your Brain’s Silent Killers by Dr. David Perlmutter. In it, he provides more than adequate documentation for the concept that gluten is behind just about every inflammatory condition known to humans, especially those involving the brain. This includes Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and even psychotic behaviours.

Wheat Belly Book ReviewIn addition, the book Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back To Health by Dr. William Davis discusses how gluten causes obesity – in reality a condition that is caused by chronic inflammation.

Furthermore, over the years a variety of authors (Dr. Jonathan Wright, Dr. Andrew Weil, Dr. Alan Gaby, and many others) have shown how gluten is at the bottom of conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, M.S., Lupus and dozens of other diseases usually treated by Prednisone and assorted immunosuppressive drugs.

There are lab tests that can measure your antibodies against gliadin (the major protein in gluten). If these antibodies are elevated, there’s a very strong chance your inflammatory symptoms will respond well to a gluten-free diet. Just about any MD can order the test for you, so ask your family doctor for help in this.

One clue that you might be sensitive to gluten arises from the fact that gluten-sensitive people absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins poorly. So, if your blood levels of triglycerides, vitamin A, and D are low despite adequate food and supplement intake, consider that you may have a strong sensitivity or allergy to gluten.

Also, people who have osteoporosis or osteopenia, despite adequate calcium and vitamin D intakes, can often reverse the bone mineralization issue by going off gluten. In other words, some cases of osteoporosis are caused by gluten sensitivity.

Beyond gluten, get some kind of food allergy/intolerance testing to discover other inflammation triggers. Food allergies/sensitivities cause the gut lining to become inflamed and consequently many vital minerals are poorly absorbed. This is one of the major reasons why people often do not see any benefits from vitamin and mineral supplements despite ever increasing intakes. One relatively inexpensive lab test now offered by some drugstores as well as provincial labs is the IgG RAST, a blood test that can measure antibodies to as many as 250 foods. Any doctor can order this test but it is not covered by Medicare and costs between $250 and $350 depending on the number of items tested.

Also, look into the possibility that your gut has a fungal overload problem (dysbiosis, candidiasis, helicobacter pylori infections). These can all also be triggers in the creation of autoimmune disorders. Live cell microscopy can provide clues to the existence of these microbes in your system.

It is now a well-documented fact that candida (fungal) overgrowth in the gastrointestinal tract increases the rate of allergic responses to foods for any individual. In cases where there is evidence of allergy to 30 or more foods, there should be a strong suspicion that this individual is really suffering from a chronic fungal problem that needs to be addressed first. Candida infections or overgrowth usually arise from a history of heavy antibiotic use, or the use of various steroids including the birth control pill, along with a high carbohydrate diet.

Also, the resolution of psychological and emotional life traumas that are triggers for chronic inflammation is also highly recommended. My favourite methods for reducing mental and emotional stress include:

  • EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
  • NET (Neuro Emotional Technique)
  • Yoga, Qi Gong, tennis, or swimming to exercise the cardiovascular and muscular systems and blow off stress
  • Deep breathing and meditation to shift the body into a state of deep relaxation

Recommended Supplements

There are many important nutrients that can be supplemented in high doses to reduce inflammation safely. The most important of these are vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA). The use of omega-6 has to be reduced in order for omega-3 to have maximum benefit.

High dose vitamin C and the amino acid L-lysine can help prevent the rapid atherosclerosis caused by Prednisone, so supplementation of both should be considered at levels of 3,000 mg. each or more daily, in any Prednisone weaning-off program.

Correcting nutrient deficiencies, either through dietary changes or supplements, is important because this allows the body to heal tissues and organs damaged by inflammation. In order to determine what these might be, you will need the help of a natural health care professional.

Effective Natural Anti-Inflammatories

People have often asked me what the most effective supplement is to reduce autoimmune disease inflammation. In my experience, curcumin (an extract of the spice turmeric) is the overall most effective remedy. It has been used successfully for just about every inflammatory condition. The evidence for this is piling up in published research from the world’s medical literature.


Curcumin also appears to be effective at protecting our bodies from the damaging, pro-inflammatory effects of fluoride. At this point, one could write a book detailing all of curcumin’s benefits, but suffice to say it is the single most important alternative supplement to Prednisone. Curcumin also works as an anti-cancer, anti-fungal, antioxidant, anti-Alzheimer’s and anti-depressant agent.

My favorite forms of curcumin are the longvida, meriva and BCM-95 forms. These are all 100% natural forms derived from turmeric and have high absorption rates. Some brands have a form of black pepper called piperine to enhance absorption. This only needs to be avoided by those with an intolerance to pepper, a nightshade that is sometimes associated with inflammation. An effective anti-inflammatory dose of curcumin for most conditions is 1000 mg, three times daily with food. Your natural health care provider may recommend either more or less of that amount for your particular condition.

Also, add the whole spice version of turmeric to your meals throughout the day (either in the powder form or the  whole root). The amount of curcumin in turmeric is a small fraction of the spice, but is still worthwhile using in your everyday diet. The only downside is that it may stain your teeth a yellow colour that is difficult to remove but this is a small price to pay for better health.

Another potential alternative to Prednisone is licorice root. It works primarily by preventing the breakdown of the adrenal gland’s own production of cortisol, thus potentiating the body’s natural steroidal anti-inflammatory effects.

Unfortunately, licorice root can elevate the blood pressure (just like Prednisone) in certain susceptible individuals. So, this may not be the best choice for many who suffer from chronic inflammation. On the other hand, licorice could be a great benefit to those suffering from low energy caused by low blood pressure (hypotension).

Other Natural Anti-Inflammatories

There are many other natural supplements and alternatives to cortisone injections that help reduce inflammation. Here are some of the most effective:

SERRAPEPTASE – is an enzyme derived from the silkworm that appears to be one of the most potent and effective of all the anti-inflammatory enzymes. In high enough doses, serrapeptase is capable of dissolving atherosclerotic plaque. It can also dissolve a cancer cell’s protective coat, thereby making virtually any chemotherapeutic remedy more effective. Many people use serrapeptase to dissolve excessive mucus so it’s highly effective in alleviating chronic bronchitis and sinusitis, conditions which usually trigger steroid prescriptions from doctors.

PANCREATIN – is a type of enzyme extracted from porcine pancreas. When consumed by humans, it can get into the bloodstream very much like serrapeptase and help destroy free radicals and pro-inflammatory compounds. The net effect is a reduction of inflammation, carcinogenesis, and numerous other conditions dependent on inflammation to spread. Brand names you might be familiar with include Wobenzyme and Intenzyme Forte. The key to use these is to take them on an empty stomach so that they absorb intact into the bloodstream. Taking enzymes with foods digests the food better but does not produce the same anti-inflammatory benefits.

BROMELAIN– is an enzyme derived from pineapple, and is especially useful for relieving tendinitis and healing from most physical injuries. Combined with the other enzymes listed here, you get a remarkable anti-inflammatory benefit.

GINGER– is long known and acknowledged as a highly effective anti-inflammatory remedy that can be especially effective in gastrointestinal ills (any gut inflammatory condition), especially chronic nausea, even in early pregnancy.

If you wish to start an anti-inflammatory program of diet change and supplements, it’s highly recommended you see a natural health care professional to work with you on a personalized plan.

(This is part IV of a Series on Drugs You May Not Need)

A WORD OF CAUTION HERE: Do not, under any circumstances, go off Prednisone suddenly on your own without medical supervision. Doing so could have dire consequences in the form of strong ‘rebound inflammation’, pain, and a worsening of the disease for which you are taking this drug. Asthmatics, for example, can develop severe breathing crises if taken off Prednisone too rapidly without adequate stabilization through natural approaches first.


  1. On Reversing Chronic Inflammation:
  2. On the research regarding curcumin:
  3. W. Gifford-Jones. The Doctor Game. What Could Have Saved Jim Flaherty?
  4. Problems with Prednisone? Dr. Andrew Weil.
  5. Dr. Michael T. Murray, Natural Alternatives to Over-the-Counter and Prescription Drugs (New York: William Morrow & Co., Inc.), 1998. 155.
  6. Dr. Joseph Mercola. Dangers of Prednisone and How to Avoid Them.
  7. Sapone A, Lammers K, et al. Divergence of gut permeability and mucosal gene expression in two gluten-associated conditions: celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. BMC Medicine 2011;9:23
  8. Nieuwenhuizen WF, Pieters RH, Knippels LM, Jansen MC, Koppelman SJ Is Candida albicans a trigger in the onset of celiac disease? Lancet. 2003 Jun 21;361(9375):2152-4.
  9. Alan R. Gaby, M.D. Nutritional Medicine.  Fritz Perlberg Publishing; Concord, NH 2011.
  10. Julie Daniluk. Meals That Heal Inflammation. Hay House Inc. Publishers: USA, 2011








Zoltan P. Rona, MD, MSc, offers consultations on nutrition and natural remedies in Thornhill. He has recently retired from medical practice as a Complementary and Alternative medical practitioner and now strictly offers nutritional consultations. He is the medical editor of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing and has also published several Canadian bestselling books, including Vitamin D, The Sunshine Vitamin. To see more of Dr. Rona’s articles, visit: and for appointments, please call (905) 764-8700; office located at: 390 Steeles Ave. W., Unit 19, Thornhill, Ontario


Write a comment
  1. d
    January 13, 12:03 doug

    I wish to stop taking steroids, What is the alternative?, please

    Reply this comment
    • D
      February 19, 19:22 Dr. Zoltan Rona

      There is not one single alternative. You must use a combination of an anti-inflammatory diet and natural anti-inflammatory supplements listed in this article. If you are not familiar with natural medicine, work with either a naturopath or holistic medical doctor.

      Reply this comment
  2. F
    January 20, 06:22 Fiona Williams

    Hi I have polymyalga and don’t want to take cortisone to combat the muscle pain associated with it
    I’m drinking three ginger tea,dandelion root tea (both for the liver) and willow bark tea(as a pain killer)
    What can I take instead of cortisone

    Reply this comment
  3. L
    February 18, 18:32 Lori

    I am taking prednisone for 1 year and gaining weight please tell me how to get help to get off of this crazy medicine!

    Reply this comment
  4. j
    July 28, 15:31 jan

    hi Dr,ive recently ,approx. one year three months ,been put on prednisone,ive gained weight and very unhappy about it,also when I was in mexico in February I developed cellulitus resulting in pain an ulcer and parcels of what feel ike fat deposits ,also extreme sleepneses ,I could fall asleep at anytime literally ,i would think id benefit from your servicesor at least advice or should i go to local md ,as im not feeling like myself at all

    Reply this comment
  5. R
    August 23, 15:32 Rakesh Malik.

    Doctor I want to know replacement for Tab. BETNESOL ,if the turmeric powder does replaces it? Pls. reply.Thanks for the informative article .

    Reply this comment
  6. David
    September 20, 16:14 David

    Excellent article. I thank you for the wealth of footnoted information. I have just one “bone to pick” with you. A small error. You state, “My favourite form of curcumin is the BCM-95 extract of turmeric, found in the Nutri CURe Version 3 supplement. ” The only problem is that Nutri Cure Version 3 does not contain BCM-95 but rather a newer formulation of curcumin, actually far more effective in many ways than BCM-95, called Longvida.

    Thanks again for a very informative article.

    Reply this comment
  7. G
    November 02, 07:43 Gabsta

    I have nadal polyps asthma and an anaphylaxis to aspirin, prenisosolone helps, what would be suitable, with a small and none woukd be better salicilate

    Reply this comment
  8. S
    April 11, 16:13 Sumi Saif

    I tried making turmeric and honey tea at night before see. I noticed my wheezing disappeared and I can breath 80 percent better instead of rushing for my cortisone or vontoin inhaler. Today is day three and I’m noticing the same result: miraculous relief! Minutes later the lungs start clearing! Thank you Dr. for your thorough research and great article that explained to me why this tea works!

    Reply this comment
  9. N
    April 23, 17:35 NONE


    Reply this comment
  10. A
    January 13, 12:39 Akhilesh

    I have been taking prednisolone at a low dose of 10-20 mg for a long time. I have stopped taking prednisolone for last three days. I feel week, Hungary and sleepy. What food should I take to counteract the steroid withdrawal symptoms?

    Reply this comment
  11. srivari
    January 14, 03:47 srivari

    Informative article

    Reply this comment
  12. Srivari Healthcare
    January 24, 04:21 Srivari Healthcare

    Good one.

    Reply this comment
  13. c
    May 31, 16:48 colorbill

    Great article Dr Rona-
    I would like to point out paragraph re: best types of curcumin (below):
    Piperine (black pepper) actually is NOT part of nightshade family. But, as I understand can cause other issues for certain individuals.

    “My favourite forms of curcumin are the longvida, meriva and BCM-95 forms. These are all 100% natural forms derived from turmeric and have high absorption rates. Some brands have a form of black pepper called piperine to enhance absorption. This only needs to be avoided by those with an intolerance to pepper, a nightshade that is sometimes associated with inflammation”

    Reply this comment
  14. M
    July 02, 09:47 Miss AA

    how interesting I came across looking for natural alternative from cortisone.. I have just been diagnosed with Phem disease and been on the steriods for 2 weeks high does and hating it… any alternative way to keep the disease in bay and remision with out these medications

    Reply this comment
  15. m
    March 11, 13:31 me

    Doc there are some precautions to some of these herbs and enzymes. I can’t tecall now, but licorice has some precautions associated with it- I think for people with norally low blood,pressure? Also, do any of these have negative effects on kidneys? Liver?

    My body is so doge gone weak and any amount of stress or exertion will cause me to get even weaker to,the point where it takes me a couple days to get back to my usual crappy feeling self again. It’s like my body’s energy supply starts the day out at just 1/4,charged, and decreases through the day, napping in afternoon just to feel good enough to get through rest of evening til. Bedtime. My muscles feel like,they have lactic acid burn constantly, and any little stress makes them suffer worse. It’s debilitating. I don’t know,if my issue is hormonal (tests say everything is normal), adrenal, or fuel/energy breakdown in the process of turning fuel to energy (like something along gthe lines of glycogen storage disease) just typing this my arms are Burning and I have to stop and rest them. Magnesium helps a little. I had a cortisol test done once, it was along test, like,3 hours I think, and they injected me with somehting, and wow! After the test I felt almost normal again. The rest of the day was a blessing after having felt awful for so many years. But again, all my tests were normal, yet here I suffer from something g that has disabled me, and all i know is that I felt fantastic after the cortisol test. But it didn’t last.

    Reply this comment
  16. J
    March 02, 02:29 Jane Hammons

    I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying to read this Article!

    Reply this comment

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