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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Vitamin C supplement use may protect against gallstones: an observational study on a randomly selected population

Thomas Walcher1, Mark M Haenle2, Martina Kron3, Birgit Hay3, Richard A Mason4, Daniel Walcher1, Gerald Steinbach5, Peter Kern6, Isolde Piechotowski7, Guido Adler2, Bernhard O Boehm2, Wolfgang Koenig1, Wolfgang Kratzer2* and the EMIL study group

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Internal Medicine II, University Hospital Ulm, Ulm, Germany

2 Department of Internal Medicine I, University Hospital Ulm, Ulm, Germany

3 Department of Biometry and Medical Documentation, Ulm University, Ulm, Germany

4 Department of Veterans Affairs, Louis Stokes Cleveland Medical Center, Brecksville Division, Brecksville, Ohio 44141, USA

5 Department of Clinical Chemistry and Pathobiochemistry, University Hospital Ulm, Ulm, Germany

6 Department of Internal Medicine III, Division of Infectious Diseases and Clinical Immunology, University Hospital Ulm, Ulm, Germany

7 Baden-W├╝rttemberg State Health Office, District Government Stuttgart, Stuttgart, Germany

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BMC Gastroenterology 2009, 9:74  doi:10.1186/1471-230X-9-74

Published: 8 October 2009



Animal experiments have shown a protective effect of vitamin C on the formation of gallstones. Few data in humans suggest an association between reduced vitamin C intake and increased prevalence of gallstone disease. The aim of this study was to assess the possible association of regular vitamin C supplementation with gallstone prevalence.


An observational, population-based study of 2129 subjects aged 18-65 years randomly selected from the general population in southern Germany was conducted. Abdominal ultrasound examination, completion of a standardized questionnaire, compilation of anthropometric data and blood tests were used. Data were collected in November and December 2002. Data analysis was conducted between December 2005 and January 2006.


Prevalence of gallstones in the study population was 7.8% (167/2129). Subjects reporting vitamin C supplementation showed a prevalence of 4.7% (11/232), whereas in subjects not reporting regular vitamin C supplementation, the prevalence was 8.2% (156/1897). Female gender, hereditary predisposition, increasing age and body-mass index (BMI) were associated with increased prevalence of gallstones. Logistic regression with backward elimination adjusted for these factors showed reduced gallstone prevalence for vitamin C supplementation (odds ratio, OR 0.34; 95% confidence interval, CI 0.14 to 0.81; P = 0.01), increased physical activity (OR 0.62; 95% CI, 0.42 to 0.94; P = 0.02), and higher total cholesterol (OR 0.65; 95% CI, 0.52 to 0.79; P < 0.001).


Regular vitamin C supplementation and, to a lesser extent, increased physical activity and total cholesterol levels are associated with a reduced prevalence of gallstones. Regular vitamin C supplementation might exert a protective effect on the development of gallstones.