Q & A Library

Print this page | Sign up for free e-bulletins
 | Bookmark This Page

Too Fat to be an Organ Donor?

My husband recently volunteered to donate a kidney to his brother but was turned away because of his weight. We were shocked. What criteria are used for evaluating potential organ donors? I always thought that more donors are needed.

Answer (Published 10/12/2012)

More organ donors are urgently needed, but transplant centers are having an increasingly difficult time finding qualified donors because of the ongoing obesity epidemic. You don't have to be slim to qualify. In fact, when evaluating potential donors, different hospitals have different body mass index (BMI) cutoff points, but it's likely that a potential donor whose BMI is 35 or above, which signals morbid obesity, will be excluded.

Related Weil Products
Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging - Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet! - Everything you need to get started eating a healthful, satisfying diet is here - including eating and shopping guides, over 300 recipes, and an exclusive version of Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid! Start your 14-day free trial now - and start eating anti-inflammatory today!

In your husband's case, the problem with using a kidney from an obese donor is the heath risk posed (to the donor) by having only one kidney. Obesity raises the risk of kidney failure, and without a "back up" organ, donors themselves would be at increased risk. Normal-weight donors are at risk, too, but their chances of developing kidney disease are much lower. No studies have looked at the long-term risk of kidney failure among obese donors, so doctors have no way to assess it for any individual.

On August 6, 2012, the New York Times reported that obesity is also becoming a problem among liver donors. (A transplant involves taking a portion of the healthy liver, which typically regenerates in six to eight weeks). Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease also called non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) is common among obese individuals and makes donation risky for both donor and recipient. This disease also rules out taking part of a liver from a deceased person, as does Type 2 diabetes, a disease increasing in frequency which precludes taking a kidney from a living or deceased donor. 

Some potential donors turned down because they are obese can qualify if they lose weight, but a study presented at the National Kidney Foundation's spring 2012 meeting found that only three prospective donors of 22 who were rejected because of excess weight managed to lose enough to become donors.

To qualify as a donor, an individual must be physically fit and in good general health (no high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, kidney disease, or heart disease). You should be over the age of 18 (younger potential donors must have parental consent). There's no age cutoff, but most donors are under 60. Gender and race don't matter when selecting a donor, but blood compatibility is essential, as it determines whether or not the donor's organ will be accepted by the recipient's body.

I commend your husband for offering to become an organ donor. I wish more people would - the need is pressing. According to U.S. government statistics, more than 115,000 people are waiting for an organ transplant, and 18 of them die every day because of a lack of donations.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved Creative Commons Copyright Notice
A portion of the original material created by Weil Lifestyle on (specifically, all question and answer-type articles in the Dr. Weil Q&A Library) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

The Weil Vitamin Advisor
Get your FREE personalized vitamin recommendation & supplement plan today!

Dr. Weil on Healthy Aging
Your Online Guide to the Anti-Inflammatory Diet. Start eating for your health - begin your free trial now.

Dr. Weil's Spontaneous Happiness
Achieve emotional well-being in just eight weeks! Start your 10-day free trial now!

Vitamin Library
Supplement your knowledge with Dr. Weil's essential vitamin facts. Learn why they are necessary and more.

Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan
Your 8-week plan to wellness.
Begin your journey today!

Dr. Weil's Head-to-Toe Wellness Guide
Your guide to natural health.
Use the Wellness Guide today!

Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet
Food Pyramid

Our interactive tool can help improve overall health through diet.

Condition Care Guide
Learn about health conditions from acne to vertigo, and Dr. Weil's view of the best treatment options for each.

Healthy Recipes
Discover a treasure trove of healthy, healing foods and creative, delicious ways to prepare them.

Q&A Library
Over 2,000 questions from you and their corresponding answers from Dr. Weil.

Copyright © 2015 Weil Lifestyle
Information on this web site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this web site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Ad Choice
Advertising Notice

This Site and third parties who place advertisements on this Site may collect and use information about your visits to this Site and other websites in order to provide advertisements about goods and services of interest to you. If you would like to obtain more information about these advertising practices and to make choices about online behavioral advertising, please click here