Diet and Weight Loss: Does Dieting Increase the Risk of Developing Gallstones?

Swedish researchers monitored 6,640 overweight or obese people (mostly women) who chose either a very-low-calorie diet (500 calories a day) or a low-calorie diet (1,200 to 1,500 calories a day) for three months. Then both groups entered the same weight maintenance phase—including exercise and diet advice—for nine months.


At the end of the 12 months, the very-low-calorie dieters had lost more weight (24 pounds) than the low-calorie dieters (18 pounds). However, there were 48 gallstones requiring hospital care in the very-low-calorie dieters, but only 14 in the low-calorie dieters.

What to do: If you’re thinking about going on a very-low-calorie diet, consider gallstones as a possible downside. Although rare, they were roughly three times more common than on the low-calorie diet. (And don’t assume that a very-low-calorie diet leads to greater weight loss. It’s possible that the more-ambitious dieters picked that option.)

Source: Int. J. Obesity 2013. doi:10.1038/ijo.2013.83.


Other relevant links:

17 Replies to “Diet and Weight Loss: Does Dieting Increase the Risk of Developing Gallstones?”

  1. This is a great research and out is absolutely great timing as I have just started a low calorie diet 1200/day…Ian definitely stopping.

    1. Tamara, I think the point of this article is to be careful of VERY LOW CALORIE (I. e., 500 calories/day) diets.
      The 1200 calories/day folks had a very low incidence of gallstones… You just have to be careful to keep some healthy fat in that diet, both to keep the gallbladder working, AND to aid in absorption of fat-soluble vitamins.

    2. 1200 calorie is definitely not considered very low calorie (VLC) diet.
      As for developing gall stones, going into a VLC diet does not automatically cause someone to develop gall stone. There are other risk factors which may cause one to have a higher chance of developing gall stone. One must speak with their personal physician if they have the risk.

      Losing weight is the lesser of the two evil in my opinion as it will prevent one from developing health problems associated with obesity such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer.

  2. The diet outcome of the very low calorie diet should have lost more weight, only 24 lbs in 12 months! So,done was cheating…

    1. Perhaps the reason for the low weight loss was due to the body sensing it was being starved and went into starvation mode to counter act the major loss of intake.

  3. What do you mean by “more-ambitious” dieters”? Do you mean they may have exercised more? If so, why don’t you say that instead of implying that the low-calorie dieters lacked some personal characteristic?

  4. In 1990, I had to have my gall bladder removed because of gallstones. I had been on a low calorie diet for about 8 months and had lost 40 pounds on a commercial diet, (will not say the company here). Guess who my roommate was? Another dieter. I considered suing the company but my extended family has a significant history of gallstones so I didn’t bother.q

  5. A very low calories meal replacement program paired with exercise helped me lose 100 pounds over a year and a half. Trick is, don’t blow your diet with a high fat celebration meal! When you are low calorie, your gall bladder becomes relatively inactive, so when you sneak in a fatty cheat, you may very well trigger an attack! I have kept my weight off for 6 years, and my life has changed dramatically.

    1. Hi Edie,
      Congratulations! I am envious, as I eventually lost a total of 170 pounds but have gained some back and am now concentrating on adding back more exercise as that is the key for me. I did keep the weight off for about 7 years before I started slowly regaining (because I slowly stopped doing what I had done to get to the healthy weight…) It never gets any easier but it is totally worth it!!!
      I think you were lucky not to have your gall bladder self-destruct. It probably depends on a genetic disposition for the problem. (Once the problem started, I had no way of knowing what would trigger an attack. I had a horrible attack that was triggered by an orange!) For me, once the gall bladder was gone, I figured “well, I don’t have to worry about that any more!” and continued successfully with a more moderate diet and lots of exercise, on my own… And I now use Weight Watchers to keep myself honest. They have a life plan, not a diet. And I like the fact that they encourage slow and steady weight loss, and I am sure that, in part, it is to avoid problems with gallstones in addition to problems with loss of muscle mass (not everyone exercises enough to prevent that, either through lack of drive or because of medical problems…)
      The good life continues!!!

  6. We have been using 1200 calories with most of our women at our clinic – we see about 300 pts a week

    Im aware of maybe one who has had a gallstone in 15 years- we keep some fat in the diet to keep the gallbladder working


  7. The increased gallstone frequency for low calorie dieters does not compute with over 50,000 asymptomatic successful fasters which raises the suspicion of a confounder cause for this study.

  8. Some surgeons who perform bypass surgery, will advise pts to have gall bladder removed at the same time just because it might have to be removed later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *