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A study of 20 persons suffering from chronic radiation proctitis (inflammation of the rectum and anus) showed that a daily regimen for vitamins E and C substantially reduced or eliminated the symptoms of the illness. This condition has been treated in the past with anti-inflammatory agents and without satisfactory results.
Radiation therapy is typically used to treat patients with cancers of the prostate, cervix and endometrial cancers. It is effective in killing cancer cells but the therapy kills non-cancerous cells in the area as well. As a result, oxygen free radicals form and the patient experiences the symptoms of proctitis. The symptoms take a few weeks to clear up after that last treatement and include diarrhea, pain, bleeding and incontience.
However, the symptoms do not clear up in 10 to 20 percent of the patients and other patients develop symptoms months or years after the initial exposure. "Our study showed that we can harness the potent antioxidant properties of the vitamins to repair cell damage and bring relief to many people who suffer from the persistent, life-style-altering symptoms of chronic radiation proctitis," said Dr. Keith Bruninga, gastroenterologist, at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, one of the co-authors of the paper.
Radiation treatment causes oxygen free radicals to form from cells that have been injured by radiation. Oxygen free radicals are very active molecules that react with cells by changing or damaging their structure. The formation of the oxygen free radicals increases the amount of injury to the cells and that results in a chronic condition as blood flow to the cells decreases.
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that can react with the damage caused by oxygen free radicals. Vitamin C, in combintation with Vitamin E, increases the effects of vitamin E. The researchers believe that the antioxidant vitamins, in combination, can prevent oxygen free radical injury and increase blood flow to the injured cells of patients with chronic radiation proctitis.[The American Journal of Gastroenterology, April 2001]