Obesity linked to abnormal bowel habits—not diet

In a new study, researchers found a strong link between obesity and chronic diarrhea.

The link is independent of an individual’s dietary, lifestyle, psychological factors or medical conditions.

This is the most comprehensive analysis of the link between Body Mass Index (BMI) and bowel habits to date.

The findings could have important implications for how physicians might approach and treat symptoms of diarrhea in patients with obesity.

The research was conducted by a team of physician-researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC).

Obesity affects approximately 40 percent of Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While obesity is known to be associated with increased risk of other health conditions—such as heart disease, diabetes and gut diseases—less is known about the relationship between obesity and abnormal bowel habits.

In the study, the team analyzed the bowel health questionnaire responses of 5,126 patients over the age of 20 years who did not report a history of irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease or colon cancer.

The team compared the reported bowel habits of patients who had a BMI linked to being underweight, normal weight, overweight, obese and severely obese.

They found that respondents who were obese or severely obese were 60 percent more likely to have experienced chronic diarrhea compared to those with normal bowel habits or constipation.

Questions still remain about what underlying causes may explain why obese individuals would be more likely than non-obese individuals to have diarrhea.

One possible explanation may be related to the link between obesity and chronic low-grade inflammation, which may contribute to diarrhea.

Future research clarifying this relationship and determining how obesity triggers inflammation could serve as a base for how physicians approach treating abnormal bowel habits with this patient population.

The team says doctors should be aware of the relationship between obesity and diarrhea, especially considering the potential negative impacts altered bowel habits can have on the quality of life.

One author of the study is Sarah Ballou, Ph.D., a health psychologist in the Division of Gastroenterology.

The study is published in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics.

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