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Vitamin C Might Lower Risk of Liver Damage from Alcohol, Researcher Says

October 11, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Daily doses of vitamin C might help protect some alcohol users from the liver damage that years of drinking can cause, a researcher said Friday.

Research in guinea pigs found that vitamin C helped them resist fat buildups in their livers that can lead to cirrhosis, said Vincent Zannoni, professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor.

An experiment in humans suggests the same effect might be at work, he said in an interview after describing the research at an international conference on vitamin C.

The results suggest that relatively large doses of vitamin C - such as 500 milligrams per day, more than eight times the recommended dietary allowance for adults - over a long period may help protect people who drink up to the equivalent of about three beers a day, Zannoni said.

Zannoni’s research was financed by the National Institutes of Health and Hoffmann-La Roche Inc., which supplies vitamins to companies that make vitamin supplements.

Dr. Mary Dufour, acting chief of the epidemiology branch of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said Friday she was not familiar with any studies relating vitamin C to liver protection from alcohol.

Most people can tolerate some fat in their livers without problem, and the buildup is reversible, she said. Scientists don’t know what makes some such people go on to get cirrhosis, she said.

Zannoni reported on studies of about two dozen guinea pigs, divided into one group on a diet low in vitamin C, and one on a diet supplemented with the vitamin, also called ascorbic acid.

Both groups were given alcohol in their drinking water for about three months. Afterwards, the group with the vitamin-rich diet showed no fat in their liver cells, Zannoni said. Among the other group, three-quarters showed fat deposits, and in half some liver cells had already died.

A second experiment involved 20 men, ages 21 to 28. Each participated twice in a two-week experiment, one time taking 5,000 milligrams of vitamin C a day, and one time taking a daily placebo. At the end of that time, each drank the equivalent of about six beers over the course of about three hours, Zannoni said.

Blood tests after the alcohol intake showed the men generally had higher levels of blood fats after taking the vitamin C than after taking the placebo, Zannoni said. That suggests the fat was being removed from the liver rather than building up there, he said.

He said that suggestion has not yet been substantiated.

Zannoni said he believes most people probably get only a fraction of 500 milligrams a day.

A federal survey of people aged 18 to 74, concluded in 1980, found an average daily vitamin C intake of 63 milligrams for men and 53 milligrams for women. The federal recommended daily allowance is 60 milligrams for adults.

In comparison, a raw navel orange contains 80 milligrams, a cup of strawberries 85 milligrams, and a cup of cantaloupe 68 milligrams.

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