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Exercise reduces gallstone risk

13th February 2010

Exercise reduces risk of gallstones

People who are very physically active are significantly less likely to develop painful gallstones, the results of a new study indicate.

Gallstones are small, pebble-like substances that develop in the gallbladder. The function of the gallbladder is to store bile, a digestive juice produced by the liver. Bile is required to digest a fatty meal.

Gallstones are very common, however only around 30% of those affected will go on to develop symptoms or complications, such as pain, recurring indigestion and jaundice.

UK researchers questioned over 25,000 people, aged 40-74. The participants were ranked into four groups depending on their physical activity levels. They were then monitored for a 14-year period to see who would develop symptomatic gallstones.

The study found that those who were the most physically active were 70% less likely to develop symptomatic gallstones after five years, compared with those who exercised the least.

Those who did a moderate amount of exercise were also at a reduced risk of developing gallstones compared to the most inactive.

The team from the University of East Anglia believe the results may be down to cholesterol. Gallstones are usually made up of hardened cholesterol and exercise is known to reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol. It also increases ‘good’ cholesterol, which may help movement within the gallbladder.

Details of these findings are published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

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