Vitamin C may protect against ulcer-causing bacteria, study finds

A study led by researchers at the San Francisco VA Medical Center (SFVAMC) has found that the lower the level of vitamin C in the blood the more likely a person will become infected by Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that can cause peptic ulcers and stomach cancer.

"This is the largest study to look at the relationship between vitamin C levels and infection by H. pylori," said Joel A. Simon, MD, MPH, SFVAMC staff physician and UCSF associate professor of medicine and epidemiology and biostatistics.

The study was published in the August 1 issue of the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. Simon and his collaborators utilized data and blood samples collected from a random sample of nearly 7,000 American adults by the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during NHANES III, the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted between 1988 and 1994.

From the available data, researchers cannot determine whether or not vitamin C might prevent initial infection by H. pylori, which often happens during childhood, Simon said. Neither do the data shed light on the mechanism for the association between vitamin C and bacterial infection they observe. "We cannot be certain if the infection lowers blood levels of vitamin C or if higher blood levels protect against infection. However, some studies using animal models suggest that adequate vitamin C intake may reduce infection with these bacteria," Simon said.

Even if it is infection itself that lowers blood levels of vitamin C, Simon said, it would still be prudent for people who test positive for H. pylori infection to increase their intake of vitamin C. "The bottom line is that higher levels of vitamin C may have the potential to prevent peptic ulcers and stomach cancer," he said.

In 1982, scientists discovered that H. pylori was responsible for causing peptic ulcers--painful sores in the lining of the stomac

Contact: Camille Mojica Rey
University of California - San Francisco

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