Gallstones are pebble-like, insoluble, mostly round accretions formed in the human gall bladder or bile ducts from cholesterol or calcium salts present in bile. They may be without symptoms or they may cause pain, indigestion, or jaundice. Gallstones (or bile stones) which are often seen in women and have been linked to obesity, occur in the ducts that transfer bile from the liver to the small intestine. If the stones block the opening of the gallbladder, they can cause discomfort and pain, typically located just below the rib cage on the right side of the abdomen. Serious complications from bile stones are uncommon.
Gallstones occur worldwide, however they are most among North American Indians and Hispanics but low in Asian and African populations. High protein and lipid concentrations in bile are risk factors for the formation, while gallbladder sludge is thought to be the usual precursor of gallstones. Biliary calcium concentration plays a part in bilirubin precipitation and gallstone calcification.
They can be dissolved with medication or removed, either by means of an endoscope or, along with the gall bladder, in an operation known as cholecystectomy. Emergency gallbladder surgery has a higher risk of complications than planned surgery.
Gallbladder surgery, when should you have it done?
Cholecystectomy is indicated in the presence of gallbladder cancer, acute cholecystitis, and other complications of gallbladder stones. More controversial are the indications for elective cholecystectomy. The risk of the operation (taking into account the age and the medical condition of the individual patient) must be weighed against the risk of complications and death without operation (taking into account the symptoms the patient is experiencing and how well the gallbladder is working). Cholecystectomy (or some other form of gallstone therapy) is indicated in most patients with symptomatic cholelithiasis--especially those with non-functioning gallbladders. Cholecystectomy is not indicated in most patients who have no pain, indigestion, jaundice or other symptoms.
Gallstone Diet - Drink more tea?
A high-fiber diet with lots of grains, vegetables and fruits helps spare the gallbladder. Reducing the risk of gallstones by eating a diet high in fiber, particularly the "insoluble" type found in whole-wheat products and corn bran, may help women avoid gallbladder surgery. In fact, the protective effect of a high-fiber diet remains even after taking into account other risk factors for gallstones, Dr. Chung-Jyi Tsai, at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and colleagues found. Consumption of vegetable protein also seems to block gallstone formation. Tsai's group analyzed data from approximately 70,000 women who completed food-frequency questionnaires starting in 1984. The women were apparently free from gallbladder disease when the study began. By 2000, nearly 6000 of the women had undergone gallbladder removal, also called cholecystectomy. Women who consumed the highest amounts of fiber were 13 percent less likely to undergo cholecystectomy than those who consumed the lowest amounts. The reduction in risk was even more pronounced for the highest levels of insoluble fiber intake --17 percent. The authors note that fiber has a number of biochemical effects that may reduce gallstone formation. "Our findings support the notion that the public should consume adequate amounts of dietary fiber," Tsai and associates conclude. SOURCE: American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2004.
A Mediterranean diet rich in vegetable oil, nuts and fish may help fend off more than heart disease and diabetes: It appears to prevent gallstones, too.
Drinking tea may reduce the incidence of gallstones. Researchers examined the effects of tea consumption on the risk of gallstones. Included in the study were 627 patients with biliary tract cancer, 1,037 with biliary stones, and 959 comparison subjects. In women, drinking at least one cup of tea per day for at least 6 months seemed to cut the risks of gallstones by 27 percent, gallbladder cancer by 44 percent, and bile duct cancer by 35 percent. In men, tea drinking had a similar effect, but not of the magnitude seen in women. Certain chemicals in tea may prevent cells from growing abnormally and may have anti-inflammatory effects that reduce the risk of these bile tract diseases. International Journal of Cancer, June 2006.
Eating garlic cloves could be helpful in dissolving cholesterol gallstones. Metabolism. 2010 Feb. Regression of preestablished cholesterol gallstones by dietary garlic and onion in experimental mice.
Magnesium and gallstones
A diet rich in magnesium appears to reduce the risk developing painful gallstones. Consumption of magnesium has been declining over the years, due in part to the overprocessing of foods, Magnesium deficiency is known to raise triglyceride levels and decrease HDL cholesterol levels in the blood, both of which may increase the risk of developing gallstones. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 2008.
Gallstones and abdominal fat
Central fat, as measured by abdominal circumference or waist-to-hip ratio, is associated with an increased risk of gallbladder removal or cholecystectomy. By far the most common reason for this surgery is the presence of gallstones. The amount of fat carried around the middle, independent of weight, and a high waist-to-hip ratio, increase the likelihood that a woman will have to undergo gallbladder surgery. Women with the largest waist circumference have nearly double the risk of women with the smallest waists. Those who successfully lose weight, regain it, lose it again and so on -- a pattern called weight cycling -- are at increased risk of developing gallstones.
Exercise reduces gallstone
Regular exercise reduces the incidence of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Exercise also reduces the risk of gallbladder disease and gallstones.
Most gallstones do not cause symptoms. However, when gallstones become larger, or when they begin obstructing bile ducts, symptoms or "attacks" begin to occur. Attacks of gallstones usually occur after a fatty meal and at night. The following are the most common symptoms of gallstones: * steady, severe pain in the upper abdomen that increases rapidly and may last from 30 minutes to several hours, pain in the back between the shoulder blades, pain in the right shoulder, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills and jaundice.
Gallstones are made when bile inside the gallbladder hardens into rock-like pieces. Some people are more prone to gallstones due to being overweight, eating a diet low in fiber and high in certain fats, having high blood sugar or diabetes, or by having rapid weight loss. Other gallstone causes include excess estrogen from pregnancy, birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy. Children and adolescents who are obese are more likely to get this condition.
Patients with coronary heart disease appear to be at increased risk of developing gallstones. Obesity is a risk factor for gallstones and coronary heart disease. To investigate the possible association between these two diseases, researchers, based at Medica Sur Clinic and Foundation in Mexico City, studied 119 patients with gallstones visible on ultrasound and 354 controls without evidence of gallstones. The prevalence of coronary heart disease was close to 16 percent in subjects with gallstones, significantly higher than that of controls at 4.5 percent. The most important risk factors for gallstones were having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, a waist circumference of more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women, high blood pressure, and insulin resistance, a pre-diabetic condition. In analyses adjusting for age, gender and BMI, the risk of gallstones in those with coronary heart disease remained almost three times higher than those without. American Journal of Gastroenterology April 2005.
Gallstone natural treatment and
diet, food questions
Q. My 21 yr old daughter has just been diagnosed with multiple gallstones. She was a very active child & teen-ager (cheerleader) and always maintained her IBW of 124 lbs at 5'4'. However, upon entering college; living away from home and decreasing physical activities had gained considerable wieght tipping the scales to 165-170 lbs. Her symptoms had given her strength to resolve her weight problem but we have talked about going the naturopatic way of addressing her gallstones problems rather than any form of surgery or other high doses of synthetic drugs to 'melt' the gallstones. Do you have proven products to recommend.
A. We're still looking for herbs and supplements that could be helpful in preventing or treating gallstones.
Q. Still having pain after gall bladder surgery 2 years
ago. Some weeks are tolerable, some weeks are terribly painful. All tests come
back negative etc. Have you heard of a cleansing agent for the gallbladder
ducts? Out of desperation, I have tried some remedies such as nox vomica and
after some hours of needle-like pains in the "area," I then will have several
days of much lighter pain. I'm not inclined to play doctor, but sometimes a
layman or a doctor with access to a large audience may learn of a good natural
A. We will update this page on gallstones as we come across more info.
Q. When reading on your webpage on gallstones such
questions from desperate people who have gallstones, I was quite amazed because
I have successfully passed gallstones on 4 occasions, one batch just over the
last few days. This was done with the minimum amount of effort or discomfort, by
drinking 3 x 1.5 litres of apple juice per day for 3 days and taking 1/2 cup of
olive oil and 1/4 lemon juice. The stones I have just passed were massive, much
bigger than the first lot and were much darker in color, indicating to me that
these have been there a long time. Although I have not had a painful attack
since the first time I did a cleanse last February, I went through intervals
where my feces became very light in color. I am hoping that the main stones are
A. My initial thought is to be skeptical that this dietary method works for passing gallstones, but I will keep an open mind and hopefully someone will do a formal study on this method.
What is your opinion on gallstone surgery?
Surgery is an option in those who stones are large or when there is constant pain and possible blockage of the duct. Diet and food are more important than supplements for this condition. Eating less could be helpful.
I was recently diagnosed with gallstones. Through some
diet adjustment, I have staved off the need for the extraction of the organ. Is
it unnecessary, as everyone tells me, or does it serve a function which will be
noticed if it's gone? I am very much opposed to surgery, and have had good luck
staying out of hospitals. Is there a cleanse of the gallbladder that is
effective and safe? Thanks for your help-your website gives hope to folks who
desire a different way to remain healthy.
It is preferable to keep the gallbladder unless it is causing serious problems. Perhaps some of the information on this page can help you.
I want to let you know I enjoy visiting the website
frequently and consider the words written there to be comforting and very
educating at the same time. I am an aficionado myself of natural cures /
alternative medicine, despite my lack of training. I must tell you I am stumped
here, I'm asking about my father. After frequent gallbladder attacks and bile
stones found blocking his ducts, his gallbladder was removed nearly 10 years
ago. He suffers from heart disease and has undergone two bypass operations--1991
and 2007. He's type 2 diabetic, but controls it well with insulin -- HbA1c last
month reads 5.2. But total cholesterol is high--300 as well as LDL--181.
Thankfully HDL is 59. Doesn't want to take statin drugs. My question to you is,
since I do have my father on a nutrient regimen, one that encompasses
fat-soluble vitamins as well as essential fatty acids (EPA / DHA from fish oil)
I'm wondering if all this is going to waste since he doesn't have a gallbladder.
I know his liver continues to secrete bile, but it can't be in the right
concentration as bile coming from the gallbladder, can it? Should he be on a
bile acid salt as supplement? I don't want to hurt him, I love this man dearly,
but I would love to know he's reaping 100% benefit from the supplements I've
recommended he take to preserve his health.
Although the gallbladder helps in digestion and absorption, fatty acids can be absorbed without its secretions. However, perhaps it may be better to split the dosages of the fatty acids during three meals rather than taking them at one time.
I recently had my gallbladder removed due to what
turned out to be benign gallbladder polyps. Luckily I have had no ill effects as
the result of my surgery. However, I have heard that I will now have a problem
digesting fat soluble nutrients and vitamins? Is this true?
Fat digestion is slightly less efficient after gallbladder removal. One could consider eating smaller meals which should overcome this limitation. There is usually no malabsorption after cholecystectomy, in the sense that the amount of intestinal bile is sufficient to absorb most of the fat and vitamins necessary to remain healthy.