Dietary ethanol has been reported to protect against cholesterol gallstone formation. Because enhanced gallbladder absorption of water is important in cholesterol cholelithiasis, we examined the hypothesis that ethanol acts by inhibiting the absorptive function of the gallbladder. Eighteen adult male prairie dogs were fed a lithogenic liquid diet containing 0.4% cholesterol. Half of the animals received 30% of total calories as ethanol, whereas their pair-fed controls received equicaloric amounts of maltosedextrin. After 3 months, the gallbladders were inspected for gallstones and crystals, and gallbladder and hepatic bile were analyzed. Cholesterol stones and crystals were present in all nine controls. None of the alcohol-fed animals had stones, but four had cholesterol crystals. Gallbladder cholesterol, phospholipids, and total calcium were significantly decreased in alcohol-fed animals. In both gallbladder and hepatic bile, the cholesterol saturation index was significantly lower in alcohol-fed animals, as was the ratio of trihydroxy to dihydroxy bile salts. The ethanol-supplemented diet produced a significant decrease in the absorption of water by the gallbladder as indicated by changes in the gallbladder bile to hepatic bile ratios of the total bile salt concentration (7.29 ± 1.25 versus 3.84 ± 0.56; p <0.05) and the total calcium (3.37 ± 0.24 versus 2.43 ± 0.29; p <0.05). These findings indicate that the protective effect of ethanol may be related to its ability both to inhibit gallbladder absorption of water and to alter the composition of biliary lipids.
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