Most people don't think about their gallbladders very often, that is, until they face the painful sensation of gallstones. But a new study holds that a glass or two of wine each day may help prevent gallstone formation.
The findings were presented in May at the Digestive Disease Week 2009 conference in Chicago, by Dr. Andrew Hart of the University of East Anglia's school of medicine (located in Norwich, U.K.). The study was conducted with cooperation from the gastroenterology division at the university's hospital as well as the epidemiological department of Cambridge University and the U.K.'s National Institutes of Health. Hart and his colleagues found that drinking up to two units of alcohol per day reduces the risk of developing gallstones by one-third when compared to nondrinkers.
The gallbladder is a small organ below the liver in the right upper abdomen that stores bile, a substance that helps the body digest fats. Gallstones form when stored bile hardens and can be incredibly painful. If the problem is persistent, surgery to remove the gallbladder may be required.
Previous studies have found that alcohol may have a preventative effect on gallstone formation, but Hart noted that this is the first study to document this effect on a drink-per-day basis. Earlier studies linked alcohol to lower levels of cholesterol (the major ingredient in gallstones), but did not provide detailed enough data that could potentially translate into dietary guidance.
To find a daily amount of alcohol that may optimize gallstone prevention, the researchers monitored the dietary habits of 25,639 English men and women, pulled from the larger European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition, a broad study that follows inhabitants of the continent for a 10-year period. During the course of the study, 267 patients developed gallstones, and the scientists compared this to daily drinking habits.
They found that drinking 175ml of wine per day (about 6 ounces) offered a 32 percent lower risk of gallstones. The more the participants drank, the lower the risk, but the researchers noted that the dangers of excessive alcohol outweighed the benefits.
"These findings significantly increase our understanding of the development of gallstones," Hart said in a statement. "Once we examine all the factors related to their development in our study, including diet, exercise, body weight and alcohol intake, we can develop a precise understanding of what causes gallstones and how to prevent them."