SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA. It is estimated that 20 million Americans have cholesterol-based gallstones. These stones form when bile acid supersaturated with cholesterol is destabilized. Animal experiments have shown that guinea pigs that are deficient in vitamin C (ascorbic acid) frequently develop gallstones. Now researchers at the University of California report that vitamin C can help prevent gallbladder disease in women. Their study involved 7042 women and 6088 men enrolled in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994 (NHANES III). All participants had their blood serum levels of ascorbic acid determined and were evaluated for gallbladder disease. Among the women 761 (11 per cent) reported a history of gallbladder disease (symptomatic gallstones or cholecystectomy) while 408 (8 per cent) were found to have asymptomatic gallstones. Corresponding figures among the men were 235 (4 per cent) and 274 (6 per cent) respectively.
In the women a clear association was found between the prevalence of both clinical
gallbladder disease and asymptomatic gallstones and the blood level of ascorbic acid.
For every 27 micromol/L increase in ascorbic acid level the incidence of gallbladder
disease and asymptomatic gallstones decreased by 13 per cent. The protective effect of
ascorbic acid was particularly impressive among the women who supplemented with
vitamin C. In this group the incidence of clinical gallbladder disease was 34 per cent lower
than among women who did not supplement. No association between gallbladder disease
or asymptomatic gallstones and vitamin C level was observed for the men.