As many cancer patients will confirm, the chemotherapy prescribed to kill the disease is often more debilitating than cancer itself, with a range of horrendous side effects.
Gastrointestinal mucositis, painful inflammation, and ulceration of the digestive tract, is one adverse outcome of chemotherapy that has plagued cancer sufferers for years, and for which no effective treatment currently exists.
In a new study, researchers found that vitamin D may help reduce inflamed intestinal tracts and provide relief to cancer patients.
The study highlights the limited options for easing the gastrointestinal side effects of chemotherapy, singling out Vitamin D and probiotics as the most promising.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of South Australia.
Scientists 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.
The severity and progression of various gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer, are linked to vitamin D deficiency.
It appears that Vitamin D helps suppress inflammation and enhances the function of T-cells which boosts immunity.
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.
Probiotics (live bacteria and yeast) have also been widely promoted for digestive health and there is evidence they reduce the severity of diarrhea and abdominal pain, but researchers have not been able to establish the direct effect of probiotics on the intestinal function that reduces these side effects during and following cancer treatment.
The team says vitamin D shows the most promise and could prove the key hormone to alleviate suffering for cancer patients.
One author of the study is Dr. Andrea Stringer.
Their paper has been published in Supportive and Palliative Care.
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