Vitamin D may mitigate side effects of chemotherapy

pharmacy staff

It’s no secret that chemotherapy has a range of horrendous side effects and is often more debilitating than cancer itself.

One adverse side effect that has plagued cancer sufferers for years and for which there is currently no effective treatment is gastrointestinal mucositis – a painful inflammation and ulceration of the digestive tract.

However, relief may be on its way, with new research suggesting that vitamin D could potentially mitigate inflamed intestinal tracts.

The new study by Dr Andrea Stringer, Associate Professor Paul Anderson and PhD student Cyan Sylvester published in Current Opinion in Supportive and Palliative Care has shown that vitamin D along with probiotics may ease the gastrointestinal side effects of chemotherapy.

“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,” says Ms Sylvester, adding that vitamin D helps to suppress inflammation and enhances the function of T-cells.

However, Dr Stringer cautions that there is a need to “better understand and optimise” the action of vitamin D in the gut “before we can be 100% confident that it could be a treatment option for gastrointestinal mucositis”.

“We are investigating the effects of enhanced vitamin D activity in the intestine on both reducing damage and minimising compositional change to the gut microbiome caused by chemotherapy agents,” says Dr 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,” adds Dr Stringer.

To read the study, click here.