Exercise Cuts Risk Of Gallstones in Women

Women who exercise two to three hours a week cut their risk of excruciatingly painful gallstones by nearly one-third compared with women who don't exercise at all, according to a new study at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The usual treatment for painful gallstones is removal of the gallbladder, and about 500,000 Americans, two-thirds of them women, have their gallbladders taken out each year.

The operations and hospitalization cost more than $5 billion a year, and the problem is the most common and costly digestive disease requiring hospitalization, according to the National Institutes of Health.

An earlier study by the same group looked only at men, even though women are twice as likely to develop gallstones. The study on women, published in today's New England Journal of Medicine, confirmed the earlier findings.

The researchers, led by Michael F. Leitzmann, looked at 60,290 women who were age 40 to 65 in 1986 and had no history of gallstones. The women filled out surveys every two years about their activity. Overall, women who exercised about 30 minutes a day cut their risk of gallbladder surgery by 31 percent.

Obesity increases the risk of gallstones, as does rapid weight loss. But even after the researchers took obesity and recent weight changes into account, the exercisers still were 20 percent less likely to undergo gallbladder surgery.

The researchers theorize that exercise may reduce the cholesterol content of bile, the digestive juice stored in the gallbladder. That could reduce the number of gallstones, because 80 percent of gallstones in this country are solid cholesterol. Also, people who exercise have more active large intestines and better levels of blood sugar and insulin, all of which may reduce the risk of gallstones.

Women who sit for 41 to 60 hours a week--that's most women with desk jobs--were found to be 42 percent more likely to need their gallbladders removed than those who spend six hours or less sitting down. At more than 60 hours a week, the risk skyrockets: A woman is 132 times as likely to need gallbladder surgery as someone who spends most of her waking hours on her feet.

Most Drug Abusers Are Full-Time Workers

Seventy percent of all people who abuse drugs work full time, a U.S. government report released yesterday shows--contradicting the image of drug users as people on the fringe of society.

The report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows that 80 percent of all people who abuse alcohol work full time. It also shows that 7.7 percent of full-time workers age 18 to 49 admit to having used illicit drugs in the past month. And there are 6.2 million who abuse alcohol.

For the report, SAMHSA interviewed more than 24,000 people in 1997 and concentrated on the 7,000 who were 18 to 49 and worked full time. They compared their findings with those of a similar survey done in 1994.

They also found that workplace drug testing is on the increase--44 percent of those surveyed in 1994 said their employers had some sort of drug test at hiring, and 49 percent said so in 1997.