Epidemiologic studies have suggested that alcohol intake may protect against cholelithiasis. Gallstone formation was studied in 20 prairie dogs fed a 0.4% cholesterol-supplemented liquid diet. In ten animals, ethanol provided 35% of total calories. In ten pair-fed controls, ethanol was replaced with isocaloric maltose. After 3 months the gallbladders were inspected for gallstones, and gallbladder bile was analyzed. Cholesterol macroaggregates were present in all controls and pigment concretions were noted in five. No stones were observed in ethanol-fed animals. Bile in the ethanol group contained less cholesterol than the controls (5.60 ± 0.71 vs. 9.16 ± 0.61 mmol/L, p < 0.05) while phospholipids, total bile acids, and bilirubin were unchanged. The resulting cholesterol saturation index was reduced in the ethanol group (0.81 vs. 1.22, p < 0.05). The ratios of trihydroxy to dihydroxy bile acids were also different (2.07 ± 0.25 in ETOH vs. 3.29 in controls, p < 0.05). The bile calcium concentration was higher in control animals presumably secondary to the use of complex sugars (5.36 ± 0.37 vs. 3.77 ± 0.32 mmol/L, p < 0.05). These results confirm that ethanol inhibits cholesterol gallstone formation. Their further suggest that this effect is dependent on reductions of biliary cholesterol and selective changes in bile acid concentrations.
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