A large new study suggests that individuals may have an increased risk of heart disease if they suffer from gallstones.
Data of more than one-quarter million U.S. adults was observed during the new study. The researchers found out that individuals who had a history of gallstones had 17% more chance of developing a heart disease over time.
Some of the same risk factors such as type 2 diabetes, unhealthy cholesterol levels and obesity have been known to be shared by heart disease and gallstones. According to the Dr. Richard Stein, a cardiologist and director of the urban community cardiology program at New York University School of Medicine, the current study makes a convincing case that gallstones are a risk factor for heart disease. He wasn’t part of the study but he did share his opinion about individuals needing to pay more attention to their cardiovascular health if they happen to have a history of gallstones.
Dr. Stein is also a spokesperson for the American Heart Association. He said that “Eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise, keep your blood pressure down. It would be prudent to get your other heart disease risk factors under control.”
Gallstones is a medical condition that occurs when hard particles are developed in the gallbladder, an organ that is used for storing bile fluids that aid in digestion of fat and vitamins that are fat-soluble. According to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) gallstones are formed due to an imbalance in the substances that create bile, with high levels of cholesterol being one of the reasons. While gallstones don’t cause any symptoms in a lot of people, they can lead to abdominal pain if they happen to block a bile duct.
The senior researcher of the new study, Dr. Lu Qi (professor at Tulane University in New Orleans), saw that while there were numerous previous studies suggesting that individuals with a history of gallstones experienced higher risk of heart disease, these studies were not without their limitations.
The current study was published in the journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.
Dr. Qi and his team analyzed data from three large, long-running studies done by health professionals in the U.S. A total of 269,000 men and women were followed for 30 years in the data. Out of the total number of people only 3% men and 6% women had been diagnosed with gallstones.
The researchers found out that men who had a history of gallstones had an 11% increased risk of developing heart disease while women had a 33% chance. The results were then pooled with findings from four previous studies that included approximately 900,000 people. The new results showed men with a history of gallstones having a 23% increased risk of heart disease.
A cause-and-effect couldn’t be proved by the current study with regards to the link between heart disease and gallstones. However, Dr. Qi suggested that a role might be played by the changes occurring in the gut’s “microbiome”. The gallstones might disturb the balance of the microbes present inside a person’s gut and lead to a higher risk of heart disease.
Dr. Stein came forward to share another possibility to why gallstones increased the risk of heart disease. He said that in some cases gallstone might cause low levels of inflammation inside the body that aids in the development of heart disease. “We’ve known for years that chronic, low-grade inflammation is associated with heart disease.”
While more research is required to know about the true link between heart disease and gallstones Dr. Qi said that “To help protect your heart health, you may also need to protect your gastrointestinal system.”
According to the NIDDK there are some factors that can’t be changed. People who have a family history of gallstones are still vulnerable to the disease. Also women are at a higher risk of suffering from gallstones than men. However, factors such as diets that are high in fat and processed carbohydrates and obesity can be controlled to lower the risk of gallstone disease which can also lead to heart troubles.