Current DateSeptember 27, 2021

Cancer: Vitamin D to reduce a side effect of immunotherapy?

The benefits of vitamin D on the body are regularly touted. The latter is particularly involved in the functioning of bone metabolism. By promoting the intestinal absorption of calcium and phosphorus, it participates in the consolidation of bones, the proper mineralization of teeth and muscle building. Recently, it has also been shown that people with vitamin D deficiency are twice as likely to develop a severe form of Covid-19 than others. Today, a new study in Cancer shows that taking vitamin D supplements may help prevent a potentially serious side effect of immunotherapy, which is increasingly used in the treatment of cancer.

Immunotherapy helps the immune system of cancer patients to recognize and fight cancer cells. If this treatment is effective for many sufferers, it can cause side effects such as colitis, an inflammatory reaction of the colon. “Colitis induced by immune checkpoint inhibitors can limit the use of these vital medicines, which results in treatment being stopped. Although this is one of the most common and serious side effects of immunotherapy, there is a lack of understanding of the risk factors that could be changed to prevent colitis, ”says Dr. Osama Rahma, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School, in Boston (United States), who conducted the study.

During the latter, researchers drew on research showing that vitamin D can affect the immune system in autoimmune disorders and inflammatory bowel disease. They reviewed data from 213 melanoma patients who received immune checkpoint inhibitors between 2011 and 2017. Of these, 17% developed colitis.

Validate the influence of vitamin D on reducing the risk of colitis thanks to future studies

Scientists then noticed that patients who took vitamin D supplements before starting treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors were 65% less likely to develop colitis. These results were then validated in another group of 169 patients in whom 29% had developed colitis. In this group, vitamin D consumption was associated with a 54% reduction in the risk of colitis.

“Our findings on the link between vitamin D intake and reduced risk of colitis could have an impact on practice if validated in future prospective studies,” said Osama Rahma. Vitamin D supplementation should be tested further to determine if it can be a safe, readily available and cost-effective approach to prevent gastrointestinal toxicity from immunotherapy and to extend the effectiveness of immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy in cancer patients.”

Where to find vitamin D?

Vitamin D is mainly present in the sun. Also, it is recommended to expose your hands, forearms, and face at least fifteen to twenty minutes each day to refuel. During periods of low sunshine, it is recommended to consume a 100,000-unit vial of vitamin D every two months (or 600 to 800 units per day) so as not to be deficient. Besides the sun, vitamin D can be found in certain foods, especially fatty ones. It is for example present in fish such as sardines, salmon, or mackerel, as well as in organ meats, egg yolk, butter, margarine, and cheese.

However, as with all good things, vitamin D should not be abused. Overdosing can weaken bones. It is therefore recommended not to use dietary supplements without prior advice from your doctor. “The use of food supplements containing vitamin D can expose too high intakes, which can cause hypercalcemia – high levels of calcium in the blood circulation.

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