Vitamin E Prevents Painful Radiation Therapy Side Effect
Taking vitamin E can reduce the likelihood and severity of painful mouth inflammation frequently caused by radiation therapy, according to Head and Neck (2004;26:313–21). Mouth sores are a common and serious radiation therapy side effect in people being treated for mouth and throat cancers.
Following surgery, radiation therapy is often the sole treatment for mouth and throat cancers. Inflammation and ulceration of the inside of the mouth, known as mucositis, is among the most common negative side effects of radiation therapy to this part of the body. It is often necessary to interrupt radiation therapy when mucositis develops because it is extremely painful and can make eating difficult. Interrupted treatments and poor nutrition resulting from the inability to eat can both decrease the likelihood of recovery from cancer. So, prevention and treatment of painful mucositis that results from radiation therapy may play an important role in the success of radiation treatments in people with cancer.
Vitamin E is an antioxidant nutrient found in foods such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. It prevents and repairs damage to cells in the body caused by oxygen free radicals. Free-radical damage is believed to be the cause of radiation-induced oral mucositis. Chemotherapy is also known to cause mucositis. Two previous studies have found that vitamin E applied directly to the mouth can speed the healing of mucositis in people receiving chemotherapy.
Fifty-four people with cancers of mouth or throat, for whom radiation therapy was the only prescribed treatment, enrolled in the current study. They were randomly assigned to receive either 400 IU of vitamin E two times per day or a placebo containing 500 mg of evening primrose oil two times per day, which was not expected to show any benefit. Participants were instructed to dissolve each capsule and hold the oil in their mouth for five minutes, then swallow, before radiation treatment and again 8 to12 hours later. This regimen was followed five days per week for seven weeks. At the end of the study, fewer people receiving vitamin E than placebo had experienced painful mucositis: 21.6 versus 33.5%. Furthermore, pain and eating restrictions were significantly less in those receiving vitamin E than in those receiving placebo.
The results of this study show that vitamin E can be useful in preventing and reducing the severity of mucositis, a major side effect of radiation therapy. Vitamin E is an inexpensive addition to a treatment plan for mouth and throat cancers. Comparing the effectiveness of vitamin E to combinations of antioxidants will be helpful in the future.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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