Obesity and Risk of Gallstones


Carrying extra weight can increase the risk of developing gallstones, which could mean needing surgery to remove the gallbladder.

Gallstones can impact the function of the gallbladder and other organs, and cause severe pain.

Breaks down fat

The gallbladder is a small organ found in the upper part of the abdomen. Its function is to store bile – a fluid produced by the liver that breaks down fat and uses it for energy.

The most common problem that people have with their gallbladder is gallstones. These are usually made up of cholesterol and form when there is an imbalance between the substances that make up bile.

Many people have gallstones and don’t realise it. However, if they start to impact how the gallbladder and other organs function, they can cause problems.

Removal of the gallbladder

Gallstones that become trapped can cause intense pain and can lead to complications such as inflammation of the gallbladder.

If the gallstones cause these problems, surgery is often recommended to remove the gallbladder. It is possible to digest fat as usual without a gallbladder, as bile will still reach the small intestine, but won’t be stored in the gallbladder along the way.


Gallstones are very common, with around one in every 10 adults having them, although most don’t develop any symptoms. There are particular risk factors for gallstones, with obesity being one of the main ones. Being overweight increases the amount of cholesterol in the bile, which increases the risk of gallstones.

Around 25% of people who are severely obese (with a body mass index of over 40) have gallstones. It is believed that the risk is higher if the excess body weight is around the stomach. A study has found that the risk of gallstones increases by 7% with every one point on the body mass index (BMI) scale.

Saturated fat

Experts believe that people can reduce their risk of developing gallstones by maintaining a healthy weight, and if someone needs to lose weight, to lose it gradually. It is also advised to cut down the consumption of refined carbohydrates such as white bread and sugary drinks.

Cholesterol plays a role in the formation of gallstones, and so it is advised to cut down on foods that have a high saturated fat content, such as butter, cheese, biscuits and fatty cuts of meat.


This article was written by a third party source and does not reflect the views or opinions of Ramsay Health Care unless explicitly stated.

Additional comments on the page from individual Consultants do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Consultants or Ramsay Health Care.

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