Fat Fiction Fat, lies and measuring tape


The mysterious case of Indian gallstones

Indian roof

In North East India, there’s been a rapid rise in cases of gallstones. And obesity. Sound familiar? It should do, as we’re seeing a live recreation of the same problem that beset the Pima Indians in the early 1900s that turned them from athletic hunter gatherers into the one of the most obese groups on the planet. And we should be paying attention, because the true cause of obesity and all its related ills is intertwined in this one thorny area.

There’s no formal study for this – simply a surgeon noting that the number of gallstone cases has increases from 100-150 per year to 500, and that most hospitals have reported a sudden increase in gallstone cases, and obesity.

Some points made by surgeons and medical professionals in the area are worth a second look:

  1. Women suffer more from gallstones because hormonal changes after pregnancy led to acidic deposit and other digestive problems
  2. “The primary reason … is excessive consumption of fast food in the Naga society that led to high concentration of cholesterol in bile. Most gallstone cases are reported … because of high concentration of cholesterol in their bodies as they are fond of eating fast food and hardly any exercise. … Excessive concentration of cholesterol causes gallstones. One average 2 out of 10 Nagas suffer from gallstones because of lack of exercise.”
  3. “Gall bladder stone is a tomb of death bacteria”, said the MD of Shija hospitals
  4. Gallstone cases are as old as man (they’ve been found in Egyptian mummies 1000BC) but the prevalence is on the rise
  5. Mustard oil “may be responsible” and possibly “we can try to use coconut oil since the number of gallstone cases in South India because of the use of coconut oil”.

Cholesterol, obesity, gallstones, bacteria and exercise. They’re hitting the right notes, just not quite in the right order.

The first point we know is that saturated fat isn’t driving the increased levels of cholesterol (if so, why would coconut oil, incredibly high in saturated fat – lead to reduced gallstones?). Junk food is. They don’t specify exactly what junk food actually is, but you can be sure refined carbohydrates figure large.

Lack of exercise is a dubious cause. While exercise is key to good health, increasingly I’m certain the causation is the wrong way around – obesity leads to lack of exercise, not the other way around.

High levels of cholesterol as a cause is getting closer, but it’s regulation of cholesterol, not cholesterol per se that’s responsible for gallstones. And for that, I’m certain bacteria play the leading role – disrupting the distribution of nutrients to the body affecting the body’s ability to regulate levels. Also, bile stasis is the other key component to gallstone formation, most likely caused by leaky gut. And again, the most likely cause points firmly at refined grains.

When surgery goes wrong

I’m still going to go over gnolls.org and Guyenet obesity theories but it was this story that prompted me return sharply to why I started this. A 14 year old girl in the UK in for gallstone surgery is now wheelchair bound for the rest of her life after the anaesthetic went wrong.

A tragic mistake. But if diet is causing gallstones, our guns should be pointing ultimately at the food that’s responsible for this. White flour seems to be the most effective agent at causing obesity and gallstones; now all that’s left is to work out by what mechanism and prove it. Solve that, and you reverse the need for one of the world’s most common operations (gallstone surgery) and the world’s most expensive medical problem – obesity.

Indian roof from McKaysavage

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  1. I’ve heard that its palmitic acid specifically and not saturated fat generally, that raises cholesterol levels. I don’t think coconut oil is high in palmitic acid.

  2. hi,
    found your website through a google search in my attempt to find a cure to my troubles – gallstones!
    been suffering these acute pains for more than 2 years now… thing is, the pain is to the left side of my stomach and started after I had a bout of Hepatitis A.
    The stones were undiagnosed for more than a year, but the pain persisted, attacks almost every night. After months of sleepless nights, finally one report showed gallstones.
    Have tried many cures, but to no success. Some stones slipped off by themselves, causing acute pancreatitis once, leading to a week of hospitalization. But I still have 2 stones left and the option before me is surgery which I’ve been trying to avoid for the past year…
    Really confused… and the pain on the wrong side isn’t helping!

    • Hi Amit, sounds properly nasty. As usual I’d say first off, get to your doctor and discuss. I wouldn’t rule out surgery quite so quickly, especially given the trouble you’ve had but you might still want to look at what’s causing it. The pain in the left-side doesn’t sound related unless it’s stomach ulcers maybe?
      If you only have a couple of stones, Rowachol might do the trick, but in the long run, you also need to find out what’s causing it otherwise they’re likely to return. There’s no escaping diet changes I believe.

      best of luck

  3. Hi Mike,

    I appreciate your writing here. Haven’t had the chance to read in full detail, so I’m not sure if I concur with your theories. But it’s nice to see your balanced perspective on science and the medical/health literature. Sick to death of quacks and science-deniers, but you’re so right that sometimes scientists aren’t asking the right questions. (I’m an epidemiologist.)

    Vis a vis your theory on disruption of the gut microbiota by a bacterial pathogen, you might be interested in doing some reading on Proprionibacterium acnes. I saw a paper that detected DNA from this species in gallstones. (Let me know if you need the exact reference.) I can across this paper when I was researching a hare-brained theory that cholesterol dysregulation might be related to acne and gallstones. (My poor husband has all three.) P. acnes is a commensal organism found on the skin of lots of people, but it also plays a role in acne and can sometimes cause invasive infection of other body sites. Anyway, if you’re still looking in that direction, it might be a place to start. At some point though, you’ll probably face a major lack of data. Time to get a research lab?

    • Hi Jessica,
      Thanks for the feedback. I’ll definitely take a look at the paper – think this is the one : http://www.wjgnet.com/1007-9327/4/234.pdf
      I’m not looking as hard at the moment because – touch wood – the dietary changes have worked in the sense I don’t get any problems any more. Whether or not a second scan reveals much I’ll soon know.

      Nutrition and quacks go together like red wine and cheese. But then the lobbyists employing rent-a-scientist shills are pretty much the crackers that get served up at the same time so I can understand why so many quacks flourish.

      I’ve already run out of data a while back – there’s a dozen experiments I’d like to see the results of relating to gut bacteria and gallstones/obesity. I reckon £1m or so should cover it in case you’re feeling generous :)

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