By Aline Rodrigues
As many cancer patients can attest, the chemotherapy prescribed to kill the cancer cells is often more debilitating than the disease itself.
Besides some side effects like nausea and hair loss, there is the gastrointestinal mucositis. This condition is a painful inflammation and ulceration of the digestive tract, which no effective treatment currently exists.
However, a new study of the University of South Australia, undertaken by Dr Andrea Stringer, Associate Professor Paul Anderson and PhD student Cyan Sylvester, has found that vitamin D and probiotics could potentially mitigate inflamed intestinal tracts and provide relief to cancer patients.
“The severity and progression of various gastrointestinal diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and colorectal cancer, is associated with Vitamin D deficiency,” Sylvester says. “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.
“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”, explains Dr Stringer.
According to the researchers, probiotics (live bacteria and yeast) have been widely promoted for digestive health and there is evidence they reduce the severity of diarrhoea and abdominal pain. However, they 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.
Also, they are now working on ways to enhance the activity of vitamin D in the intestine as a more viable option for treating gastrointestinal mucositis.
“Vitamin D shows the most promise and could prove the key hormone to alleviate suffering for cancer patients,” Dr Stringer says.