Obesity ups the risk of gallstones in women–study

A new study delving into the correlation between weight fluctuations and gallbladder problems found that more pounds means higher the risk of the painful condition.

Experts found women with a high body mass index (BMI) are more prone to developing gallstones.

Gallstones are stones that form in bile, which is made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile helps digest food in the intestine, especially fat. About 80 percent of gallstones develop from excess cholesterol in the body, and others develop from extra bile salts or bilirubin.

Link between gallstones and BMI assessed
While previous research has found a link between gallstones and BMI, until recently it was quite ambiguous whether being overweight or obese contributes to gallstone formation.

In a bid to get some insight into this phenomenon, the Danish scientists conducted a study. They tracked more than 77,000 people from the general population over a period of 34-years.

The subjects were part of either the Copenhagen General Population Study or the Copenhagen City Heart Study, both that included blood samples. During the study, over 4,000 of the participants developed symptomatic gallstone disease.

As a part of the research, the investigators conducted genetic testing on the participants to test for three types of genetic variations known to be linked to a higher BMI. Subsequently, they used a technique called a Mendelian randomisation approach that helped them assess the co-relation between these genetic variants, the participants’ BMI and their risk of gallstone disease.

“[I]f raised BMI truly is a causal factor in the development of gallstone disease, genetic variants that increase BMI would be expected to also increase risk of gallstone disease,” the researchers explain.

It was noted that participant’s with an increased BMI (in the highest 20 percent or one fifth of participants’ BMIs) had approximately 2.8 times higher risk of developing gallstones than those in the lowest 20 percent for BMI.

Additionally, the risk varied according to gender. A higher BMI among women raised the danger of gallstone disease by 3.4 times whereas a higher BMI increased the risk in men by 1.5 times.

Lead researcher, Dr. Tybjærg-Hansen of the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Rigshospitalet hospital in Denmark stated, “Obesity is a known risk factor for gallstone disease and our study suggests that elevated BMI likely contributes to the development of this disease. These data confirm that obesity adversely affects health, and lifestyle interventions that promote weight loss in overweight and obese individuals are warranted.”

Results are published in Hepatology, a journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.

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