Gallstones are a common condition and gallbladder removal is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in Australia, where about 18,000 are performed using keyhole surgery each year.
The gallbladder is a small pear shaped pouch-like organ in the upper abdomen just under the liver, that works alongside the liver to digest foods and eliminate toxins. It is responsible for breaking down fats, mostly cholesterol, so that they can be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine.
Bile is made in your liver from recycled red blood cells, cholesterol and bile salts (minerals). The bile then passes from your liver into the bile duct and gallbladder which acts as a storage house. Here the bile is concentrated ready to be released when it is required. After a fatty meal more bile is needed to digest the extra fat and can be released quickly from the gallbladder into the intestine to help with digestion.
When your gallbladder is not functioning well it can affect your energy level, your weight, exacerbate thyroid conditions, cause bloating, gas and stomach pain and other miscellaneous pains. But many people nowadays have poorly functioning digestive systems and often regard many of these symptoms as being normal.
Many people have gallstones and are not even aware of them as they have no obvious symptoms. But for some the presence of gallstones can cause excruciating pain and other symptoms.
Bile is usually liquid, but when the different components are out of balance the bile hardens and over time forms gallstones. They can be the result of insufficient amounts of bile or an excess of cholesterol (fat) in the bile. At first the fat clumps to form a sludge. With time this sludge thickens to become first ‘sand’, then ‘gravel’ until eventually the ‘gravel’ becomes one or more gallstones, which can be as big as a golf ball. They form in the liver and most of them are carried through into the common bile duct on their way to the small intestine.
Problems arise as the gallstones pass from the liver through the common bileduct. When a stone begins to make its way down this tube the result can be what is known as biliary colic. Pain suddenly starts under the ribs on the right side, sometimes radiating up into the back, getting steadily worse for a few hours until the stone passes out of the bile duct and into the intestines. It can be accompanied by sweating, vomiting and great restlessness. The attack passes, but will recur again later.
The next stage of gallbladder disease, cholecystitis, is similar to biliary colic but involves inflammation and fever and vomiting. The pain is often stronger and lasts longer and jaundice occurs if the stone becomes stuck along the way. If the stone gets impacted in the neck of the gallbladder it impedes the flow of bile and the gallbladder eventually becomes infected. This is when a major attack occurs, often requiring surgery.
After the gallbladder is removed the bile drips steadily into your intestines. Because there is no longer anywhere to store it, there are no reserves for the body to draw on if it has to digest a greater amount of fat so it becomes vital not to eat large amounts of fat that will overwhelm the system.
There are a number of factors that make you more susceptible to gallstones.
- They are twice as common in women than men.
- It seems that oestrogen plays a role and having more children puts you more at risk.
- So does pregnancy, obesity, liver disease, diabetes, high fat diets, the contraceptive pill, a sedentary lifestyle, family history of gallstones and some forms of anaemia.
- Their incidence also increases with age particularly for those over sixty years old.
Some Natural Ways To Prevent Gallstones
The gallbladder works with the liver to digest food and eliminate toxins. When either of them is clogged up from poor nutrition or a buildup of toxins the cholesterol in the bile crystallizes to form gallstones. Gallstones are far more difficult to break down than to prevent, so it is worth taking steps to keep your liver and gallbladder happy.
Gallstones won’t form if you are digesting fats properly. However, removing fats totally from your diet, while it might seem like an easy option, is not the answer. Your body needs fats in order to function efficiently and therefore it is a matter of choosing better forms of fat and digesting those fats well. In fact eating fats helps to prevent the bile in the gallbladder from stagnating as it promotes the flow of bile.
The best approach lies with choosing healthy fats. Olive oil, coconut oil and saturated fats from grass-fed animals for instance, actually help assimilate nutrients from foods that help to maintain a clean liver and gallbladder. Select foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as oily fish or chia seeds, to reduce the toxic burden. One way to help break down the fat in your meal is to have lemon juice before you eat. Add it to warm water as a tea and drink thirty minutes before eating. It will cut through the fat making it easier to digest.
Avoid unhealthy fats and oils such as canola oil, soybean oil or other vegetable-based hydrogenated processed oils as they cause inflammation and chronic inflammation leads to chronic disease. In addition chronic inflammation causes high cholesterol. Don’t include foods high in unhealthy fats like burgers, fried foods, ice-cream, or cheese.
Liver and gallbladder health is strongly affected by what you eat. Foods are perhaps the simplest way to make changes to your health. Here are a few that will support your gallbladder or even dissolve gallstones.
1. Apples are a great friend for the gallbladder and eating apples is a particularly useful way to support the gallbladder. They contain pectin to soften and disintegrate existing gallstones and prevent new ones forming. Raw, unfiltered apple juice is very rich in pectin. Juicing reduces inflammation and enzymatically helps to detoxify your liver and gallbladder. Good selections to add to apples are lemons, celery, tomato and beets. Another wonderful apple juice variation is to add Apple Cider Vinegar mixed with malic acid to it, which makes a great gallbladder flush. The richest source of malic acid is apples.
2. There are a number of foods that are perfect for offering support to the liver, and therefore the gallbladder. Green vegetables including artichokes, rhubarb, beets and cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli etc) stimulate bile production. Other helpful foods include green leafy vegetables, fresh ginger, and foods rich in pectin. Add them to your meals wherever you can.
3. Diets high in refined carbohydrates are a problem because they reduce the solubility of the bile, making it more likely to ‘sludge’
4. Eat lots of soluble fibre (apples, celery, dark green leafy vegetables) which goes a long way to help prevent gallstones forming and can even reverse them once they have formed.
5. Having sufficient bile is also essential and some foods that promote bile production and flow are artichokes, beets, dandelion root, and turmeric.
6. Turmeric is certainly a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory food. Adding it to your meals helps maintain a healthy gallbladder by improving the solubility of your bile, so that it is able to break down the minerals and cholesterol in it more efficiently. You can take also take curcumin (the active component of turmeric) as a supplement – 300mg of curcumin three times a day.
Support For Your Liver And Gallbladder
Because the liver and gallbladder work alongside each other, taking care of your liver also benefits your gallbladder. Reducing your toxic load greatly reduces the strain on your liver and how hard it has to work. You can do this by reducing your intake of caffeine, alcohol and unnecessary medications. In addition try to reduce any toxins you are exposed to, but don’t actually ingest. Hair care products, skin and body care products, toxic fumes, even the pesticide residue on non-organic foods are some factors that put stress and strain on your liver. Don’t forget that you body may regard and respond to many seemingly harmless foods as toxins. Foods such as gluten and dairy foods are perfect examples.
There are a number of botanicals that you can treat your liver to. Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) protects liver cells. Dandelion root, a classic bitter herb can be taken as a tea or latte, and stimulates bile production as well as bile action. Rosemary is another herb that stimulates bile production. Both young milk thistle leaves and dandelion leaves (picked from your garden) can be steamed like spinach or added to salads.
There are many wonderful Homeopathic remedies such as Chelidonium, Dioscorea, Nux vomica and Lycopodium amongst many others, used to successfully relieve the symptoms of gallbladder attack as well as to redress a dysfunctioning liver and gallbladder and prevent more gallstones developing.
If you find you get mild pain after eating fatty foods you could take the digestive enzyme lipase to help digest the fat. But, if you provide extra enzymes as a supplement over a long period, and your body is no longer required to manufacture them at all, it may cease making them altogether. It is far better to improve the health of your body so that it is able to more easily make the enzymes it requires itself. In the long run it is the healthier outcome.
Supplementing with lecithin is one easy way to dissolve gallstones. Make sure it comes from sunflower or non-GMO soy. The digestion of lecithin requires large amounts of bile, and in the process hardened gallstones are also dissolved. Taking even one gram of lecithin three times a day has been shown to increase the concentration of lecithin in the bile. Taking more (up to ten grams) produces even greater increases.
Lastly, increasing exercise and stretching can help prevent gallbladder disease.
All information and opinions presented here are for information only and are not intended as a substitute for professional advice offered during a consultation. Please consult with your health care provider before trying any of the treatment suggested on this site.
- Higher BMI Increases Risk Of Gallstones, Especially In Women (medicalnewstoday.com)
- Everyday Practices That Will Help Prevent Gallstone Attacks (medicaldaily.com)
- Gallstones Genetic Risk (23andme.com)