Tips to preventing gallstones & how to look after your gallbladder

Removing the gallbladder due to gallstones is an increasingly common surgery.   It is done so on the basis that we can perform our digestive functions without the gallbladder.  While it is true that the liver continues to produce bile, the gallbladder is the one that squirts bile into the duodenum (our upper intestine) in the presence of fats.  The liver’s function is to produce bile so it will excrete it indiscriminately. 

What are gallstones

Taking care of your gallbladder will prevent gallstones.  The blockage of the bile duct by gallstones is called cholecystitis.  Gallstones can form when the liver puts too much cholesterol into the bile.  It is this excess cholesterol that precipitates the stones.  They can also form when the contents that are coming from the liver or the contents in the gallbladder are too acidic. Both the gallbladder and the liver need to be alkaline.

Risk factors

The  major risk factors for the development of cholesterol and mixed gallstones including diet, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and elevated blood triglyceride levels, high caloric intake, estrogens, gastrointestinal tract diseases (especially Crohn's disease and cystic fibrosis). Age and race can also be risk factors with the average patient being 40-50 years old.   Gallstones are most common in Native American women older than 30, whereas uncommon in black women of the same demographic.

How to eat for gallstones

Eating an organic diet and more plant foods are going to be helpful.  Increasing your vegetables is critical, along with a couple of servings of fruit, whole grains and essential fatty acids.  You really need more dietary fibre to prevent gallstones.  The oils really help keep the gallbladder fluid.  Healthy oils include olive oil, flax oil, walnut oil and the essential fatty acid oils.  Do not fry with these oils but instead olive oil can be used with other liquids to saute, or casserole.  Flax and walnut can be used as part of salad dressings.  Saturated fats are too congestive for the liver and the gallbladder to function properly when they are malfunctioning.  Fatty and fried foods are problematic and should be eliminated.  Instead bake, steam and slow cook.

Reducing refined sugar, saturated fats, alcohol and other irritants along with increasing fibre will help.  Green apples contain malic acid that helps to break down gallstones.  Radishes also help break them down.  Foods like fruits, vegetables and sea vegetables provide organic sodium and potassium which are helpful to gallstones.  Sea vegetables are readily available now in the supermarkets and can be soaked and added to salads, soups and stews.

Oils will help stimulate the bile secretions and empty out any sludge or concentrated bile that has collected in the gallbladder and allow it to develop fresh secretions.  In addition, lecithin and choline (which is a B vitamin) will help support gallbladder function and to emulsify fats.  The herb milk thistle is helpful in dealing with gallstones, as are castor oil packs.  These therapeutic considerations can be understood best when working with a qualified nutritionist.

Exercise

Prevention is always the best and having a normal body weight is helpful.  The liver and the gallbladder love exercise as they both need their contents in circulation.  Any kind of exercise that increases circulation is great, the best of these would be mini trampoline as the gentle bounce releases the lymph and gets things moving.

Gallbladder removal

If you have had your gallbladder removed, loose stools can sometimes cause a problem which is a result of bile being secreted directly into the intestines.   The amount of fat you eat in one sitting can also play a role as smaller amounts of fat are easier to digest.  

So Tip number 1, go easy on the fat.  

Tip number 2, increase your fibre, especially soluble fibre (oats, barley) as this will help normalise your bowel movements.  

Tip number 3, you may find smaller more frequent meals may help with diarrhoea.  Try reducing or eliminating foods that exacerbate diarrhoea, such as caffeine, refined sugar, dairy products and greasy foods and talk to your GP if diarrhoea persists.

Malabsorption of fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) can also be a problem once the gallbladder is removed.  Working with a qualified nutritionist will help ensure you aren't losing these valuable nutrients from the diet.

Remember, gallstones are easier to prevent than reverse.  So look after your gallbladder!

Deborah McTaggart practices holistic nutrition in Barnes and and South West London.  Please contact me for a chat or to book an appointment.