Health Watch -- Obesity and Gallstones

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Obesity is associated with a number of health problems. Now there's another one to add to the list.

The health risks of obesity have been widely reported. We know that obesity increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. It also appears to be a risk factor in some forms of cancer. Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say that obesity is also related to gallstone formation.

Doctors have observed that obese people, particularly women, are more likely to develop gallstones. The bile in the livers of obese people has a higher amount of cholesterol in it, which makes it more likely for the cholesterol to crystallize and form gallstones. Doctors haven't yet discovered the exact metabolism behind this, but it's likely that in obese people, body tissues are overloaded with fatty acids, so that more cholesterol is produced than the liver can process.

Dr. Scott Grundy, director of UT Southwestern's Center for Human Nutrition, recently discussed the relationship between obesity and gallstones in an editorial in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. He suggested a possible link between the metabolic syndrome, abdominal obesity and cholesterol gallstones. The metabolic syndrome is a collection of symptoms that raise the risk for a variety of diseases and disorders. One sign of metabolic syndrome is extra weight carried in the upper or middle body - as opposed to in the hips or thighs. This "spare tire" fat appears to have more of an impact on the metabolism. More research is needed on the link between the metabolic syndrome and gallstone formation.


Aug. 2004

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