Taking quercetin to try to get off prednisone – my sordid story

I’m hoping that by posting this I can help other people avoid getting into the same quandary in which I’ve found myself.

As background, I have an autoimmune disease called Myasthenia Gravis. This disease causes weakness in my muscles, and occasionally causes double vision that is pretty debilitating if you want to hold a steady job, drive, and generally function normally in society. I’ve taken prednisone for 15 years to keep my double vision in check, but prednisone is a harsh mistress; it causes bone loss, blood sugar issues, bacteria and yeast overgrowth, and more.

Boarding the quercetin train

So last fall I went to a doctor who recommended that I take a mega dose of quercetin + vitamin C to help me get off prednisone. He told me that the quercetin would help my body make its own cortisol, which would reduce my reliance on prednisone. He initially put me on a dose of 1500 mg 3x/day, with a goal of increasing to 3000 mg 3x/day. He also put me on a number of other supplements that he produced and sold himself, and prescribed me a no carb, alkaline diet to help with my gut problems.

As I increased my quercetin dose, I noticed that I felt pretty terrible. I felt achy, and every time i increased my dose my double vision got WORSE, not better. The doctor’s office said that i was probably ‘working out some toxins’ and that I should keep with it. When I next saw the doctor, he told me that I should keep increasing, and he had me taking 5000 mg 3x/day at the peak. During this time, my Myasthenia Gravis symptoms were ‘off the rails.’ I had never felt as weak in my whole life as I did during the period when I was taking a high dose of quercetin. I could barely smile, I had a hard time talking, and I struggled with double vision. I also was down to about 111 pounds from my normal 120-125 pounds, and I couldn’t gain weight no matter how much I ate.

I did enjoy some benefits from the regime. The foot and toenail fungus that had plagued me for a few years disappeared. My grey hairs actually started turning back to brown – I pulled out a few grey hairs that had brown roots. My guts were very manageable during this time period.

But there were some scary things happening too. I started having trouble breathing while I was running; I started wheezing for the first time in my life. I noticed a rattle in my chest while I was lying down. And overall, I felt very unsure about taking this drug. I couldn’t find any major studies on quercetin, and all the articles I read advised not to take more than 1000 mg/day. I was taking more than 10 times that much.

Breakdown of trust

When I challenged the doctor about quercetin’s safety, his repeated response was that he had been taking it for 20 years with no problems. I asked him for studies showing its safety and efficacy, and he pointed me to a few studies from the 90’s that demonstrated quercetin’s positive effects – but these were NOT studies on mega-doses of quercetin; they were studies of quercetin in its natural state (in green tea, red wine, etc).I told him I wanted to stop taking it, but when I lowered my dose I was having withdrawals exactly like prednisone withdrawals. He said this was impossible, yet I felt it every time I decreased my quercetin dose. He told me if I stopped taking quercetin I’d be in trouble – ‘just see how much prednisone you’ll have to take.’

My trust in him was completely broken and I stopped seeing the doctor immediately. But I couldn’t stop taking the quercetin, because every time I tried reducing my dose I’d be up all night, heart beating for days, full of anxiety. It turns out that quercetin interacts with prednisone, increasing the amount of time that the prednisone stays in your body. So once my body adapted to having a certain level of predisone/cortisol, trying to reduce it put me into serious withdrawal. This has been confirmed by a pharmacist that I recently consulted with.

So fast forward to today. I am now ‘addicted’ to predisone AND quercetin; I am still on 9500 mg of quercetin a day. I am still purchasing it online from the same doctor at a cost of about $280/month, because I want the quality and contents of the supplement to remain stable while I’m trying to reduce it.

Discovery: Quercetin blocks fructose and glucose absorption

I’ve also been taking digestive enzymes that have been helping with my stomach problems, but I simultaneously developed burning in my fingers and toes. After some self-tracking, I learned that the burning happened when I ate sugar, and especially fructose. Through the help of my health coach Josh, I discovered some articles that may help explain this; one research study found that quercetin actually blocks the absorption of fructose and glucose in the intestines. If that’s true, that could explain why my body was feeling inflamed when I ate fructose and sugars. It also could explain why I lost 10 pounds and could not manage to gain it back while I was on a super megadose of quercetin. Here’s a quote from the paper:

Because the flavonoid quercetin, a food component with an excellent pharmacology safety profile, might act as a potent luminal inhibitor of sugar absorption independent of its own transport, flavonols show promise as new pharmacologic agents in the obesity epidemic.

This was heavily denied by my doctor – he said there was no way anything I was taking could be causing me to lose weight.

My advice to prednisone-dependent people thinking about taking quercetin:

  1. If you’ve been taking prednisone for a very long time like I have, be cautious and well-informed before you take supplements that interact with it.
  2. When a doctor is trying to push you to buy supplements that he makes himself, there’s probably a conflict of interest.
  3. Be wary of supplements that are under-researched; who knows what the side effects might be.

Wish me luck, amigos.

Update 10/11/12 – I now believe that the breathing problems I have experienced while on quercetin may be a flare-up of my autoimmune disease. My latest theory is that the quercetin has kick-started my immune system, which is good for many people, but for me I believe that it has caused my lungs to become weak at certain times. I will keep you posted.


11 thoughts on “Taking quercetin to try to get off prednisone – my sordid story

  1. Was the dr in New York? My daughter was prescribed the same high amounts of Quercetin to boost her immune system.

  2. This article isn’t very helpful. You’ve got 1000 words about how bad quercetin was for you, then you add an update a month later that basically says “well, maybe quercetin didn’t do all that…I’ll let you know!” Then you never follow up again.

    Your article’s on the first or second page of Google for “quercetin for anxiety”. If you’re not sure about its effects, please remove the post. If you are sure, then please update it with current information.

    • Hi Mike, this post was intended only for people who are using quercetin to try to get off of prednisone – probably people like me who have autoimmune conditions. I still have not been able to reduce my quercetin dose without spiking my autoimmune symptoms, and those symptoms have not been able to be contained by any medication I’ve tried thus far.

      I am still sorry that I am on a mega-dose. I recommend consulting with an herbalist if you have further questions about how to use this substance – I’ve found one here in Vermont who has been of great counsel.

    • Hi Viktor, I have not noticed a continuing trend of repigmentation. I noticed it when I first started taking quercetin but my dose at the time was even higher, which may have had something to do with it. My hair is now coming in grey, as expected (I’m in my late 30s).

  3. Do you know why you’ve felt so bad with quercetin? Because, in spite of being a scavenger of O2–, NO–, HO–, and peroxy radicals., quercetin can be dangerous (even in small doses, if taken as a supplement, and not in fruits/vegetables). It is an endocrine disrupter and interferes with the metabolism of xenobiotics (drugs/medicines/toxins) in our body, by disturbing CYP450 pathways (a family of cytochromes present in our liver that helps us metabolize or get rid of toxins). Quercetin inhibits CYP1A2 function, but enhances CYP2A6, NAT2 and XO activity. It can inhibit the detoxification of xenoestrogens (in hormone pills/ pesticides/ or even tamoxifen) and multiply the action of a long list of drugs. It is also a powerful aromatase inhibitor (it inhibits the transformation of testoterone into estrogen) and may make your hair fall, especially if you have androgenetic alopecia – Ifound out about its dangers after having a huge shed when taking it as a supplement). You may find a whole lot of trustworthy information about this on Pubmed/NCBI.

    • Thank you for these resources. I am in the midst of finally trying to get myself off of these supplements, so hopefully I can even things out soon.

  4. Hi Katie,

    I’ve been desperately trying to wean off of prednisone. I’ve was highly considering taking Quercetin after reading the great benefits of it discussed by Dr. Axe. Can you please give me any advice? An update on your condition and experience with taking it?

    • Hi Kevin, thanks for your note. The timing was great – I had just dropped a bunch of $$ on more quercetin. :/ I am still taking it, though have been able to reduce it a little since I wrote the original post. I can’t speak to your specific situation, but what bothers me is being on such a high ‘mega-dose’ of one compound that is not very well-studied. It did not improve my symptoms for my primary autoimmune disease (Myasthenia Gravis), though it seems to have been helpful with joint issues due to my secondary autoimmune conditions. My advice for you would be to look for a good herbalist to consult with – someone who is steeped in science/research and can help advise you on potential herbal alternatives to prednisone. My herbalist here in Vermont has been incredible to work with, and she has helped support me through both quercetin and prednisone reduction. Best of luck to you!

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