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Vitamin C May Keep Ulcers Away

Link found between ascorbic acid and ulcer-producing bacteria

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FRIDAY, Aug. 1, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Vitamin C may help keep your stomach and intestines free of ulcers.

The higher your blood levels of ascorbic acid, the lower your risk of gastrointestinal trouble, suggests a study in August's Journal of the American College of Nutrition.

"We are not the first to show this," says Dr. Joel A. Simon, an associate professor of clinical medicine and epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine. "But it could be the largest study."

Simon and his colleagues used an existing set of data, the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination survey (NHANES III), and found almost one-third of the 6,746 adults evaluated had antibodies against Helicobacter pylori, a strand of bacteria that is now believed to be the cause of most peptic ulcers. Chronic infection with H. pylori is an important risk factor, Simon notes, for both peptic ulcer problems and gastric cancer.

When the blood samples were evaluated, the researchers found that higher blood levels of ascorbic acid in the white people studied were associated with lower rates of H. pylori infection, Simon says. Minorities showed a weaker relationship, and Simon is not certain if that's due to the fewer number of participants or a true biological difference.

And he can't say why vitamin C may work, although animal studies have found that ascorbic acid inhibits the growth of the bacteria.

After Simon accounted for factors that might affect the relationship, like age and body mass index, he still found the white subjects with the highest blood levels of ascorbic acid, as detected in blood samples, had a 25 percent lower risk of having the infection.

When he looked at infection with especially virulent strains of H. pylori, there was a 69 percent lower risk for each .50 milligram per deciliter increase in blood levels of ascorbic acid.

If there is a true association, he says, higher intakes of vitamin C might help prevent infection and, in turn, ulcers. His study was supported by a donation from Roche Vitamins Inc. and a Public Health Service grant.

Each year, there are up to 500,000 new cases of peptic ulcer disease in the United States, according to the American Gastroenterological Association.

The study adds to a body of literature of the potential effect of vitamin C on decreasing H. pylori infection, at least in the white population, says Dr. James Everhart, chief of the epidemiology and clinical trials branch of the division of digestive diseases and nutrition at the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive anf Kidney Diseases.

"It's an interesting finding," he says. "But I think the results were not terribly strong." And it still doesn't prove cause and effect, he adds.

Under recommendations issued in 2000 by the Institute of Medicine, women should consume 75 milligrams a day of vitamin C and men, 90. A medium orange has about 60 milligrams of vitamin C.

More information

For information on H. pylori and ulcers, see the National Institutes of Health and the American Gastroenterological Association.

SOURCES: Joel A. Simon, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.N, associate professor, clinical medicine and epidemiology, University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine, and staff physician, San Francisco Veterans Affair Medical Center; James Everhart, M.D, chief, epidemiology and clinical trials branch, division of digestive diseases and nutrition, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.; August 2003 Journal of the American College of Nutrition
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