I still remember sitting in my rheumatologist’s office. “I think you have psoriatic arthritis,” he said. The tests didn’t show it but all of my symptoms and past history pointed to the disease and would explain the constant pain I was in.
Of course, that diagnosis, as they always are, was immediately followed with a prescription. However, since I hadn’t heard of the drug before and not sure what to expect, I asked for more information before I filled it.
And, good thing I did…
The drug was called etanercept or Enbrel and what I read was pretty scary.
In addition to some of its more common side effects, like increasing your susceptibility to serious infections, including viral, bacterial and fungal infections, there was something much more dangerous about it.
Some people who take the drug have developed deadly cancers, including lymphomas.
So, my doctor was recommending a medication that could increase my risk for deadly cancers for a condition he thought I might have — but wasn’t actually sure. Needless to say, I turned down the prescription.
And, it’s a good thing I did because now, the drug has been linked to another serious condition — and not just linked, shown to double the risk of the disease…
Medications targeting tumor necrosis factor alpha
Basically, etanercept or Enbrel is one of a class of medications that target tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα). That’s a protein involved in inflammation and while they’re believed to have revolutionized the management of certain autoimmune diseases, they’re also considered a risk for provoking the development of other autoimmune conditions.
And, that’s exactly what an Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics study took a look at…
The researchers combined data from over 17,000 people with autoimmune diseases who were treated with anti-TNFα medications along with over 63,300 people with autoimmune disease who did not take the drugs.
Drugs included in the study were:
- Infliximab – also known as REMICADE
- Etanercept – that Enbrel
- Adalimumab – also known as Humira
And, they discovered that treatment with etanercept (Enbrel), but not the other anti-TNFα drugs, was linked with an elevated risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease.
In fact, the drug resulted in a twofold increased risk of Crohn’s disease as well as a twofold increased risk of ulcerative colitis.
Yup, taking the drugs doubles your risk of these painful, debilitating, and sometimes even life-threatening diseases.
“This study established that there is an increased risk of developing inflammatory bowel disease in individuals taking etanercept. Recognition of this phenomenon is important for clinicians taking care of these patients,” said lead author Joshua Korzenik, MD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston. “Perhaps, more importantly, this study suggests that inflammatory bowel disease may be one of the auto-immune diseases that can be provoked by anti-TNFα agents. This suggests that there may be a common mechanism of immune dysregulation underpinning these diseases.”
So, if you’ve been taking etanercept for an autoimmune condition, including psoriasis, rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis, or ankylosing spondylitis, be aware of your risks that have now multiplied. You’re not only facing a higher chance of infections and cancer but also inflammatory bowel disease.
What else could you do? You might want to check out the AIP diet — that’s short for autoimmune disease protocol. It’s a variation of the paleo diet.
The AIP diet starts with an initial elimination phase where you stop eating grains, legumes, nightshades, dairy, eggs, coffee, alcohol, nuts and seeds, refined sugars, oils, and food additives. That’s because these foods are thought to cause intestinal inflammation, microbiome imbalances and cause food intolerances. While eliminating “bad” gut foods, you also focus on eating more “good” gut foods like fresh, nutrient-dense foods, bone broth, and fermented foods.
It’s not an easy undertaking but certainly worth avoiding the dangerous risks you just read about.
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- What Is Enbrel (Etanercept)? — EverydayHealth.com
- Medication linked to increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease — EurekAlert!
- Crohn’s disease — Mayo Clinic
- Enbrel® (etanercept) For Health Care Professionals — Enbrel.com