Caffeine prevents cholesterol gallstone formation

Keith D. Lillemoe, Thomas H. Magnuson, Rhett C. High, George E. Peoples, Henry A. Pitt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Methylxanthines are known to inhibit in vitro gallbladder absorption. Increased gallbladder absorption has been observed during formation of cholesterol gallstones. Therefore we tested the hypothesis that caffeine would inhibit in vivo gallbladder absorption and thus prevent formation of cholesterol gallstones. Sixteen adult male prairie dogs received a control nonlithogenic diet, and 16 were fed a diet containing 1.2% cholesterol. Half of the animals in each group received caffeine in their drinking water. Gallbladder and hepatic bile were examined microscopically and analyzed for biliary lipids and electrolytes. The gallbladder/hepatic bile ratios of bile acids and sodium were calculated as indices of gallbladder absorption. All eight animals receiving the 1.2% cholesterol diet formed cholesterol gallstones, whereas none of the eight animals fed the cholesterol diet plus caffeine formed gallstones. The cholesterol saturation index was similar, however, in both groups. In animals fed a control diet, the administration of caffeine significantly increased hepatic bile flow and decreased the gallbladder/hepatic bile ratio for both bile acids (5.4 ± 0.9 vs 3.6 ± 0.3; p < 0.05) and sodium (1.26 ± 0.03 vs 1.12 ± 0.03; p < 0.01). In animals fed the high-cholesterol diet, caffeine significantly decreased the ratios for both bile acids (9.0 ± 1.6 vs 5.3 ± 0.6; p < 0.05) and sodium (1.37 ± 0.06 vs 1.21 ± 0.01; p < 0.05), lowered gallbladder bile protein levels, normalized gallbladder stasis, and lowered serum cholesterol levels. In summary, caffeine prevented formation of cholesterol gallstones in this experimental model. The effect of caffeine may be the result of alterations in multiple biliary parameters including the inhibition of gallbladder absorption.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)400-407
Number of pages8
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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