Researchers have found that vitamin D can mitigate chemotherapy-induced gastrointestinal mucositis — a painful inflammation and ulceration of the digestive tract.
Gastrointestinal mucositis is one adverse outcome of chemotherapy that has plagued cancer sufferers for years and, for which, no effective treatment currently exists.
The findings showed that vitamin D could potentially mitigate inflamed intestinal tracts and provide relief to cancer patients.
The study, published in the journal Supportive and Palliative Care, highlights the limited options for easing the gastrointestinal side effects of chemotherapy, singling out Vitamin D and probiotics as the most promising.
“We already know that Vitamin D helps in the absorption of calcium, but new findings suggest it may also play an important role in chemotherapy-induced intestinal mucositis,” said study lead author Cyan Sylvester from the University of South Australia.
“The severity and progression of various gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer, is associated with Vitamin D deficiency,” Sylvester added.
“It appears that Vitamin D helps suppress inflammation and enhances the function of T-cells which boosts immunity,” she explained.
Vitamin D is also thought to improve the efficacy of certain anti-cancer drugs.
The researchers are now working on ways to enhance the activity of vitamin D in the intestine as a more viable option for treating gastrointestinal mucositis.
“We know that Vitamin D definitely does more than help absorbs calcium, but we need to better understand and optimise its action in the gut before we can be 100 per cent confident that it could be a treatment option for gastrointestinal mucositis,” said study researcher Andrea Stringer.
Probiotics (live bacteria and yeast) have also been widely promoted for digestive health and there is evidence they reduce the severity of diarrhoea and abdominal pain, but researchers have not been able to establish the direct effect of probiotics on intestinal function that reduces these side effects during and following cancer treatment.
“Vitamin D shows the most promise and could prove the key hormone to alleviate suffering for cancer patients,” the study authors wrote.