A large study of more than 13,000 people found an inverse relationship between blood levels of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid, and the prevalence of gallbladder disease and undetected gallstones in women. In addition, the researchers observed that women who used vitamin C supplements had a lower prevalence of clinical gallbladder disease. The study appears in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.
"Although a few previous studies have shown a relationship between vitamin C and gallbladder disease, the size of our study and the collection of data on undetected gallstones strengthens the hypothesis that vitamin C levels may be an important risk factor for gallstone formation, at least among women," said Joel Simon, MD, MPH, UCSF assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology, and staff physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center. "Because the study was conducted among a random sample of Americans, our results should be generalizable to the US population."
Building upon research done in animals that showed vitamin C-deficient guinea pigs frequently developed gallstones, the researchers hypothesized that the same relationship might hold true in humans. They specifically examined whether there was a relationship between ascorbic acid levels in the blood and the presence of asymptomatic gallstones - gallstones that are present but which haven't yet caused abdominal pain and therefore remain undetected.
Gallstones can form when bile, a liquid used to help the body digest dietary
fat, becomes over-saturated with cholesterol. The cholesterol eventually
hardens into stone-like material in the gallbladder forming gallstones.
"Because vitamin C regulates the conversion of cholesterol into bile acids in
experimental animals," said Simon, "we hypothesized that low levels of vitamin
Contact: Kevin Boyd
University of California - San Francisco