More Pounds Means More Risk of Stones

Gallstone risk increased directly by being overweight or obese

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Gallstones can be incredibly painful, especially if a person regularly gets them. While overweight individuals are more prone to get gallstones, it has not been clear if being overweight is what causes them.

A recent study has found that being overweight and obese does appear to contribute directly to causing gallstone disease.

The researchers suggested that avoiding becoming overweight or obese may reduce an individual's risk of developing gallstones.

Lifestyle and behavior changes may be ways to help avoid becoming overweight or obese.

"Ask your doctor about healthy weight loss."

This study, led by Stefan Stender, MD, of the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Rigshospitalet hospital in Denmark, aimed to understand whether a higher body mass index (BMI) actually could cause gallstones.

BMI is a ratio of a person's height to weight. It's used to determine if someone is at a healthy weight.

Gallstones are like small pebbles that can develop in the gall bladder. About 80 percent of gallstones develop from excess cholesterol in the body, and others develop from extra bile salts or bilirubin.

Bilirubin is the substance that results when the body breaks down red blood cells in bile.

The link between BMI and gallstones was already known from past research, but it has not been clear whether a high BMI causes gallstones.

The researchers studied 77,679 people from the general population, including 4,106 who developed gallstone disease during 34 years of following these participants.

The researchers conducted genetic testing on the participants to test for three types of genetic variations known to be linked to a higher BMI.

Then, the researchers used a technique that allowed them to analyze the relationship between these genetic variants, the participants' BMI and their risk of gallstone disease.

The mathematical analysis let them study the extent to which certain risk factors can actually cause a disease.

Their analysis provided evidence that it was likely that a higher BMI was a contributing cause to gallstone disease.

An individual with an increased BMI (in the highest 20 percent or one fifth of participants' BMIs) had approximately 2.8 times higher risk of developing gallstone disease than a person in the lowest 20 percent for BMI.

When the researchers broke down the risk more specifically, they determined that every 1 BMI point in kilograms per meters increased a person's risk of gallstone disease by 7 percent.

When separated for different sexes, the risk differed for women and men. A higher BMI among women increased their risk of gallstone disease by 3.4 times. Among men, a higher BMI increased their risk by 1.5 times.

"Obesity is a known risk factor for gallstone disease and our study suggests that elevated BMI likely contributes to the development of this disease," said Dr. Tybjærg-Hansen in a prepared statement.

"These data confirm that obesity adversely affects health, and lifestyle interventions that promote weight loss in overweight and obese individuals are warranted," he said.

In other words, he implied that avoiding becoming overweight through lifestyle changes could help reduce the risk of developing gallstone disease.

This study was published June 14 in the journal Hepatology.

The research was funded by the Danish Medical Research Council, the Research Fund at Rigshospitalet, the Copenhagen University Hospital, Chief Physician Johan Boserup and Lise Boserup’s Fund, Ingeborg and Leo Dannin’s Grant, Henry Hansen and Wife’s Grant and a grant from the Odd Fellow Order.

The authors declared no conflicts of interest.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
July 11, 2013
Last Updated:
July 29, 2013