By Claire Georgiou, Reboot Naturopath, B.HSc ND
The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that stores and concentrates the bile that is produced by the liver, which increases its (bile’s) potency and intensifies its effect on fat digestion. When food containing fat enters the digestive tract, it stimulates the secretion of cholecystokinin (CCK) which then stimulates the gallbladder to release bile into the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). The bile emulsifies the fats in the partially digested food. This also aids the absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. A well functioning gallbladder also helps your body excrete cholesterol, other fats and fat soluble toxins.
The prevalence of gallstones in adults of industrialised countries is approximately 10% and it is on the rise, although some people who are affected may not have symptoms. Approximately 750,000 Americans have their gallbladder removed each year!
Gallstones are solid particles that form from bile in the gallbladder. Bile contains several different substances, including cholesterol and bilirubin, stones form when these substances are too high. Residual bile that is not ejected from the gallbladder properly also increases the risk for gallstones.
Gallbladder stones or biliary colic can cause symptoms such as:
• Nausea and vomiting
• Intolerance to fatty foods
• Abdominal bloating
• Gas and belching
• Pain in the right upper and central upper abdomen
• Referred pain may radiate to the back and the right shoulder
Approximately 3% of people with gallstones may develop inflammation, infection or obstruction (acute cholecystitis), which occurs when stones or sludge block the duct. The symptoms are more severe and include severe and constant pain in the upper right abdomen lasting for days in some cases, pain worse after eating or drawing a breath, fever, nausea, vomiting and pancreatitis.
What increases the risk of gallstones?:
• Overweight or obesity, particularly weight around the upper and middle torso
• Birth control pills and Oral hormone replacement therapy (due to the estrogen content)
• High fat intake
• High sugar intake
• Being a woman
• Family history
• Liver disease such as a fatty liver
• Some medications (such as statins, proton-pump inhibitors)
The standard western diet which consists of highly-processed refined foods, fried foods, hydrogenated fats, white sugar, white flour, whole dairy products along with a sedentary lifestyle tends to create an environment perfect for the formation of gallstones or other gallbladder diseases.
Eating too many of the wrong types of fats puts you at a high risk for gallbladder problems, but people who eat no fat at all are also at risk. No fat in the diet means that the gallbladder works less frequently, which could cause inactivity or stoppage of flow (stasis) and bile thickening (bile sludge). Eating moderate amounts of healthy fats is highly recommended for gallbladder health. Here is a Reboot article about good fats versus bad fats.
The most important treatment nutritionally for gallbladder stones and bile sludge is to improve the liver function that in turn improves bile production. Here is more information about a healthy liver
Recommendations to reduce the incidence of gallbladder stones
(Note: this advice still applies to people who have had their gallbladder removed, you can still form stones within the liver ducts )
• Include juices using cabbage, carrot, ginger, mint, apple, beetroot and fresh tumeric. Apple has been shown to reduce pain experienced during a mild upset due to its natural pectin content.
• Drink plenty of water
• Increase physical activity. Animals studies show that exercise may reduce the incidence of gallbladder stones
• Include plenty of raw (enzyme rich) salads and vegetables (Reboot food ☺)
• Eat smaller more frequent meals to reduce the total secretion of CCK
• Include plenty of fibre in the diet through a healthy whole food diet
• Apple cider vinegar is thought to reduce stone formation and may even help to reduce the very small stones and sludge due to the acetic acid.
• Lemons and other citrus fruits (d-limonene) have been used clinically to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones.
• Include bitter foods to stimulate healthy bile production such as endive, radicchio, chicory(witlof), bitter melons, limes, beetroot leaves, collard greens, watercress, rocket (arugula), dandelion leaves and olives
• Herbal teas that have been thought to help prevent and treat gallbladder stones are peppermint (due to the Menthol content), green tea and dandelion tea.