The Link Between Gallstones Obesity and Weight loss

Gallbladder is a small yet key organ of the human digestive system located down the liver. This organ stores, concentrate, and eject bile, which helps break down fats.

Sometimes hardened deposits, usually made up of substances such as cholesterol or bilirubin, are formed in the gallbladder; such deposits are known as ‘Gallstones.’ These gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, and patients can either develop a single gallstone or multiple gallstones. They are formed when there is an imbalance between the chemicals that form bile, accumulating cholesterol or bilirubin crystals in the gallbladder; symptoms include nausea, vomiting, cramps, and pain in the upper-right abdomen, back, or right shoulder. They are found quite frequently in developed countries affecting around 10% of the adult population, and the percentage increases to 20% for people over 65.

Among many risk factors of gallstones like having diabetes, being of Mexican origin Hispanic, being old age, and more, being obese is a major risk factor too.

The link between Obesity and Gallstones

According to the Body Mass Index scale, a BMI between 25-30 is considered as overweight and obesity starts from a BMI of 30 and goes beyond. Several researchers have found strong links between obesity or being overweight and increased risk of developing gallstones. Researchers have found several mechanisms which explain the relationship between obesity and gallstones. Some of them are −

  • Increase in Cholesterol Secretion − The effect of excess fat in the body on bile metabolism is a vital mechanism. Studies have found that obesity is a leading cause behind increased cholesterol production in the liver, resulting in increased secretion of cholesterol into bile. The excess cholesterol then crystallizes and forms stones in the gallbladder.

  • Increase in Insulin Resistance − Increased insulin resistance leads to modifications in the composition of bile which then plays a role in the formation of gallstones, and obesity is a major factor that causes such an increase in insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is believed to increase the secretion of insulin, which in turn increases cholesterol synthesis and triglycerides into the bile.

  • Improper Gallbladder Emptying − As mentioned, the gallbladder is an organ with a small size that stores, concentrates, and ejects bile. When it comes to obese individuals, the gallbladder sometimes does not empty properly, leading the bile to stay inside the gallbladder. This allows cholesterol and other substances to become concentrated in the gallbladder, forming gallstones.

  • Low-grade Inflammation − The presence of small quantities of inflammation in the body is known as low-grade inflammation. Obesity is one of the reasons associated with low-grade inflammation. The precise mechanism by which such inflammation causes gallstones is not yet fully understood but it is believed to be caused due to changes in the bile’s composition.

Along with these mentioned mechanisms, other factors may connect obesity with gallstones. Multiple factors can simultaneously lead to gallstone formation too. Due to the significant links between obesity and gallstones, weight loss is widely suggested by experts.

The link Between Weight loss and Gallstones

  • Data indicates that individuals with a BMI below 25 and a healthy weight have a much lower risk of developing gallstones. When an individual gets to a healthy weight, their body reduces cholesterol production, and lesser production of cholesterol reduces the availability of excess cholesterol to crystallize and form gallstones. Additionally, a healthy weight leads to the efficient and proper functioning of the gallbladder, reducing the risk of excess accumulated bile forming stones. Weight loss also helps reduce inflammation, which is one of the multiple reasons causing gallstones.

  • Weight loss can be made through regular exercise or physical activity, eating a healthy, balanced diet containing the right amounts of micronutrients, and living a sustainable lifestyle with a minimal number of habits that cause any damage to an individual’s health. Along with weight loss, drinking a lot of water can help flush out excess bile from the gallbladder.

  • However, a vital thing to consider is that weight loss should be gradual, healthy, and not rapid. Losing weight at a very rapid pace of more than 2 pounds or 1 kg per week can have an adverse effect and increase the risk of developing gallstones. If the slow and steady process of weight loss is done quickly, the liver produces excessive cholesterol to help break down fats; this excess cholesterol can cause an imbalance in bile and cause gallstones. Moreover, quick weight loss can lead to improper gallbladder contraction, causing accumulation of bile and increasing risks of gallstones

  • Weight cycling or yo-yo dieting involves losing and gaining weight repeatedly due to following a diet extremely low in calories and then returning to normal eating patterns. This kind of weight loss strategy can only work in the short run and is highly discouraged if an individual wants to lose weight to minimize the risk of gallstones.


The presence of gallstones can potentially cause multiple health complications like cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder), cholangitis (inflammation of the bile duct system), pancreatitis, jaundice, and even gallbladder cancer. Therefore, medical attention should be paid to gallstones. Both obesity and rapid weight loss expand the risk of developing gallstones.

A healthy approach Is losing weight slowly, steadily, and sustainably by following a healthy lifestyle and a balanced diet. Harsh diets and ways of losing weight should be avoided as they do more harm than good.

If a person has already developed severe gallstones, a cholecystectomy is a commonly performed surgery involving surgically removing the gall bladder.

Updated on: 04-Apr-2023


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