Plasma antioxidant levels in chronic cholestatic liver diseases

Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2000 Mar;14(3):353-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2036.2000.00729.x.


Background: [corrected] A predictable consequence of cholestasis is malabsorption of fat-soluble factors, (vitamins A, D, E, K) and other free radical scavengers, such as carotenoids. It has been suggested that oxygen-derived free radicals may be involved in the pathogenesis of chronic liver damage.

Aims: (i) To evaluate retinol, alpha-tocopherol and carotenoid plasma levels in two groups of patients with chronic cholestatic liver disease (primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis); (ii) to compare the respective plasma levels with those of the general population; (iii) to correlate the plasma levels with disease severity.

Methods: A total of 105 patients with chronic cholestasis were included in the study: 86 with primary biliary cirrhosis (81 female, five male, mean age 55.5 +/- 11 years), 19 with primary sclerosing cholangitis (seven female, 12 male, mean age 35 +/- 11 years; six patients had associated inflammatory bowel disease); 105 sex- and age-matched subjects from the general population in the same geographical area (88 female, 17 male, mean age 51.3.5 +/- 10 years) served as controls. Carotenoids (lutein zeaxanthin, lycopene, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthin), retinol and alpha-tocopherol were assayed by high-pressure liquid chromatography. A food frequency questionnaire was administered to each subject to evaluate the quality and the quantity of dietary compounds. Data were processed by analysis of variance and linear regression analysis, as appropriate.

Results: Both primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis patients had significantly lower levels of retinol, alpha-tocopherol, total carotenoids, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene, alpha- and beta-carotene than controls (P < 0.0001). Among the cholestatic patients, no significant difference in the concentration of antioxidants was observed between primary biliary cirrhosis and primary sclerosing cholangitis subjects. Anti-oxidant plasma levels were not affected by the severity of the histological stage in primary biliary cirrhosis, but a negative correlation was found between total carotenoids and both alkaline phosphatase (ALP) and gammaglutamyl transpeptidase (GGT) (P < 0.013 and P < 0.018, respectively). Within the primary sclerosing cholangitis group, no correlation was found between total carotenoids and cholestatic enzymes. Nutritional intake in cholestatic patients was comparable to controls, including fruit and vegetable intake.

Conclusions: Although no clinical sign of deficiency is evident, plasma levels of antioxidants are low in cholestatic patients even in early stages of the disease. This is probably due to malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins, as well as other mechanisms of hepatic release, suggesting the need for dietary supplementation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antioxidants / metabolism*
  • Carotenoids / blood
  • Cholangitis, Sclerosing / blood
  • Cholestasis, Intrahepatic / blood*
  • Chronic Disease
  • Eating
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis, Biliary / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Vitamin A / blood
  • Vitamin E / blood


  • Antioxidants
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E
  • Carotenoids