Low Calorie Diets and Gallstones
Weight loss dieting increases the risk of developing gallstones. People who lose a large amount of weight quickly are at greater risk than those who lose weight more slowly. Rapid weight loss may also cause silent gallstones to become symptomatic. Studies have shown that people who lose more than 3 pounds per week may have a greater risk of developing gallstones than those who lose weight at slower rates.
A very low-calorie diet (VLCD) allows a person who is obese to quickly lose a large amount of weight. VLCDs usually provide about 800 calories or less per day in food or liquid form, and are followed for 12 to 16 weeks under the supervision of a health care provider. Studies have shown that 10 to 25 percent of people on a VLCD developed gallstones. These gallstones were usually silent-they did not produce any symptoms. About one-third of the dieters who developed gallstones, however, did have symptoms and some of these required gallbladder surgery.
Experts believe dieting may cause a shift in the balance of bile salts and cholesterol in the gallbladder. The cholesterol level is increased and the amount of bile salts is decreased. Following a diet too low in fat or going for long periods without eating (skipping breakfast, for example), a common practice among dieters, may also decrease gallbladder contractions. If the gallbladder does not contract often enough to empty out the bile, gallstones may form.
You can take several measures to decrease the risk of developing gallstones during weight loss. Losing weight gradually, instead of losing a large amount of weight quickly, lowers your risk. Experts recommend losing 1 to 2 pounds per week. You can also decrease the risk of gallstones associated with weight cycling by aiming for a modest weight loss that you can maintain. Even a loss of 10 percent of body weight over a period of 6 months or more can improve the health of an adult who is overweight or obese.