Many people are concerned about drinking alcohol and gallstone risk. Gallstones are hard bits from bile (digestive fluid) that can occur in the gallbladder. That’s a small organ just below the liver. Gallstones can be very painful if they cause blockage of bile by lodging in a duct. Thus, people want to reduce their risk of developing them.
- Risk Factors
- Study: Alcohol and Gallstone Risk
I. Gallstone Symptoms
If a gallstone lodges in a duct, it may cause any of these symptoms.
- Back pain between shoulder blades.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Pain in right shoulder.
- Sudden and increasing pain in the upper right portion of abdomen.
- Sudden and increasing pain in the center of abdomen, just below the breastbone.
The pain caused by a gallstone may only last a few minutes. On the other hand, it may last for hours.
II. Risk Factors
Any of these things can increase the risk of gallstone problems.
- Age 40 or older.
- Being either Native American or Mexican American.
- Being female.
- Certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia or leukemia.
- Family history of gallstones.
- High-cholesterol diet.
- High-fat diet.
- Liver disease.
- Losing weight quickly.
- Low-fiber diet.
- Medications that contain estrogen.
- Sedentary life style.
III. Study: Alcohol and Gallstone Risk
Researchers wanted to study if drinking alcohol effected gallstone risk. To do so, they studied 60,768 women from the Nurses’ Health Study. They also studied 40,744 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They followed them for 26 years.
The study of women included 1,156,079 person-years. During that time 6,946 women had gallstone symptoms. For men there were 769,287 person-years of study. And 2,513 men had gallstone symptoms.
The researchers found that women who drank in moderation had a 13% lower risk of gallstones. For moderately drinking men, the reduced risk was 7%.
These findings are consistent with other research. In short, moderate drinking reduces the risk of gallstones.
IV. Resources: Alcohol and Gallstone Risk
Wirth, J. et al. A healthy lifestyle pattern and the risk of symptomatic gallstone disease. Results from 2 prospective cohort studies, Am J Clin Nutrition, 2020,112(3), 586–594.
Ko, C. Gallbladder Disease. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2010.
Nat Inst Health Care Excell. Gallstone Disease. London: The Inst, 2015.
Sullivan, J. The Gallstone-Friendly Diet. London: Hammersmith, 2019.