Smoking increases your risk of several health problems, but research is unclear about its impact on gallstone formation.

The connection between smoking and gallstones may not be obvious, but it’s one to consider if you smoke.

While the research is a bit unclear on the exact effect that smoking may have on your gallbladder health, medical experts and healthcare professionals often caution people who smoke about the overall health risks.

This article will explore what the research says about smoking and gallbladder health and what types of things might cause you to develop gallstones.

Between 10% and 20% of adults will develop gallstones at some point in their lives, and many diet and lifestyle factors can contribute to this painful digestive condition.

About 11% of adults in the United States smoke, but studies aren’t clear on the effect that smoking has on gallbladder health and whether or not cigarettes have a role to play in gallstone formation.

On one hand, cigarette smoking has been shown to have negative effects on the digestive system overall — specifically in the delayed emptying of the gallbladder, which researchers have observed in people who’ve smoked for a long time.

Other studies suggest that the increased risk of gallstones in those who smoke is more often the result of other health issues that can be tied to the habit, such as lung disease and cardiovascular disease.

Cigarette smoke contains dangerous chemicals that can affect every tissue in your body in some way.

Smoking is known to trigger inflammation in the digestive tract. This means that your risk of various gastrointestinal conditions, like Crohn’s disease and peptic ulcers, may be higher.

Studies in mice suggest that nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes, might actually offer some protection against certain digestive conditions. In humans, such conditions may include ulcerative colitis.

Gallstone formation, which causes inflammation of the gallbladder (acute cholecystitis), has many contributing factors. Sex, age, genetics, obesity, alcohol consumption, and dietary habits have all been linked to an increased risk of gallstones.

There are different types of gallstones, and different root causes can trigger them. For example, high cholesterol can lead to the formation of cholesterol-based gallstones. A buildup of other substances — like bilirubin, calcium bilirubinate, or even bacteria — can also cause gallstones to form.

Gallstones block the flow of bile from the gallbladder, and a decrease in circulating bile reduces your body’s ability to digest fats. As bile fluids build up in the gallbladder, you may experience pain in your gallbladder (a gallbladder attack).

It’s best to avoid smoking for a healthy lifestyle. This is especially true after surgery, including following gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy).

Cigarette smoking is known to reduce your body’s ability to heal, and it can also contribute to complications during the surgery itself. If you smoke, your healthcare team will advise you to quit for at least a few days before your procedure.

After gallbladder removal, quitting smoking altogether can help improve your overall health. You’ll also have to make some dietary changes, which may include:

  • increased fiber consumption
  • reduced fat intake
  • limited dairy intake
  • fewer processed foods

Read more about gallbladder removal.

Beyond diet, age, and other factors, certain medications can also trigger gallstones. These include:

Smoking isn’t good for your overall health, but the evidence is mixed when it comes to the link between cigarettes and gallstones.

Some studies have shown that smoking can slow the function of the gallbladder, while others point to separate health issues — like obesity and cardiovascular disease — as more significant risk factors for gallbladder disease.