The gallbladder is a digestive organ located in the upper right portion of the abdomen, directly underneath the liver. It is responsible for storing and concentrating bile that is produced by the liver. Bile is a greenish-yellow color and is composed of bile acids, water, electrolytes, bilirubin, cholesterol, and phospholipids. As food enters the small intestine, hormonal and nervous system activity causes the gallbladder to contract and sends bile through the common bile duct into the beginning portion of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. Bile has several different functions, which include the digestion and absorption of fats, and the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, the retention of water in the colon to promote bowel movements, the excretion of bilirubin (degraded red blood cells), the elimination of drugs and other compounds in the body, and the secretion of various proteins involved in gastrointestinal function. As you can see, dysfunction in bile production and secretion can result in many different health problems.
The most common problem associated with the gallbladder is gallstones. It is estimated that 20 percent of people over the age of sixty-five have gallstones. Every year, more than 500,000 people have surgery to remove their gallbladders. The symptoms of gallstones can greatly vary, from person to person. Most people with gallstones often have no symptoms throughout their lives, as the stones pass without problems. Symptoms may include right-sided abdominal pain (or pain anywhere in the abdomen) and radiating pain that goes to the right shoulder blade. Abdominal bloating, gas, belching, and recurrent pain is common too. Most often, gallstones have been found with a routine exam, and if they are causing no symptoms, they are left alone. Gallstones that cause pain and other symptoms are treated conventionally, with surgery (often using laparoscopy), bile acids are taken orally (for stones that are noncalcified), or, more commonly, lithotripsy, the use of shock waves to fragment the stones so that they will pass.
Gallstones are formed as a result of the bile becomes saturated with cholesterol. This can be due to an increase in cholesterol secretion or decreased bile and lecithin secretion. This then causes other particulate matter to attract cholesterol and sets the stage for stone formation. As you will read in this chapter's treatment section, there are natural ways to decrease the saturation of cholesterol in the bile via diet and nutritional supplementation.
Risk factors for gallstones include:
- Sex: Women are two to four times more likely than men to have gallstones. This, in part, could be due to the use of oral contraceptives and synthetic hormone replacement.
- Race: Gallstones are more common in women of North American Indian ethnicity. Obesity causes an increased secretion of cholesterol into bile. Also, it should be noted that rapid weight loss (during the initial phases) can contribute to gallstone formation.
- Age: The frequency increases with age.
- A Western diet is a contributing factor.
- A positive family history predisposes one to this problem.
- Digestive tract diseases, such as Crohn's disease, increase one's risk.
A persistent obstruction of the bile duct can also result in fever, nausea, and vomiting. At this point, the condition is termed acute cholecystitis. This is an acute inflammation of the gallbladder wall as a response to the gallstone obstruction. In rare cases, infection and pus may fill the gallbladder or cause perforation of the gallbladder wall. These situations are dangerous and require immediate surgery. While most cases of acute cholecystitis are surgically treated, people who improve greatly within one to two days may not require surgery if the gallstones are small enough to pass through into the intestinal tract. Ultrasound and X-rays are used to diagnose gallstones and acute cholecystitis.
The natural approaches in this chapter are highly successful in preventing further gallstone formation and gallbladder inflammation/attacks, as long as the present stones are not too large. People with asymptomatic or "silent" gallstones should not require surgery if the proper diet and supplemental measures are followed.
** All of these prescriptions below have been proven effective; the level of effectiveness depends on the individual. Please consult your doctor when taking any and all supplements.
The top 7 vitamins and supplements have shown to help Gallbladder
Prescription for Natural
Cures by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.M.D.
Super Prescription #1 Wild yam root (Dioscorea villosa)
Take 2 to 3 ml or 500 mg of the capsule form every hour for the relief of gallbladder spasms and pain. Wild yam root has an antispasmodic effect on the bile duct.
Super Prescription # 2 Milk Thistle / Silymarin – LifeSource Product Take a milk thistle extract standardized to contain a daily total of 420 mg a day. Milk thistle increases bile flow and decreases bile cholesterol saturation.
Super Prescription #3 Enzymes – Super Enzymes - LifeSource Product Take 1 to 2 capsules of lipase enzymes with each meal to improve fat digestion.
Super Prescription #4 Dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale)
Take 2 ml of tincture or 500 mg of the capsule form with every meal. Dandelion root improves bile flow.
Super Prescription # 5 Curcumin – Turmeric - LifeSource Product Take a product standardized to contain 150 mg of curcumin with each meal Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties, improves bile flow, and relaxes the bile duct.
Super Prescription #6 Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
Take 1 to 2 ml of the tincture or 500 mg of the capsule form with each meal. Globe artichoke improves bile flow.
See All of the
LifeSource Vitamins Gall Bladder Support Products, Articles, and Studies: Click
- Right-sided abdomen pain (or pain anywhere in the abdomen) and radiating pain that goes to the right shoulder blade
- Drugs, such as oral contraceptives and synthetic hormone replacement and some cholesterol-lowering drugs
- Race (more common in women of North American Indian ethnicity)
- Rapid weight loss
- Western diet (high in saturated fat, low in fiber, alcohol)
- Food allergies/sensitivities (root cause for gallbladder attacks)
- Positive family history
- Increased risk from digestive tract diseases, such as Crohn's
Fiber-rich foods are important in reducing the likelihood of gallstones. A variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and oat bran is recommended. Include five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Regularly eat beets, globe artichokes, and organic dandelion greens, and they improve bile flow.
Olive oil has historically been used by nutritionists and naturopathic doctors to improve bile flow. Use it on salads regularly.
Flaxseeds are a highly concentrated source of essential fatty acids, the "good" fats that reduce inflammation. Add flaxseeds to juices, salads, or fruit plates, or use the oil as a salad dressing.
Studies have shown that vegetarians are at a lower risk for gallstones. This does not mean you need to be a strict vegetarian if you have gallstones, but you should greatly increase the number of plant foods in your diet.
Foods to Avoid
Avoid the use of fried foods and foods with a high percentage of saturated fat (dairy products and red meat).
It is important to limit your intake of simple carbohydrates and sugars. Researchers have found that gallstones are rare in countries like Africa, where the diet is low in refined sugars and high in fiber. In one study, 13 people with gallstones ate a diet contained refined carbohydrates for 6 weeks, then consumed a diet of only unrefined carbohydrates for an additional 6 weeks. The cholesterol-saturation index of bile (indicating a tendency to form gallstones) was higher in 12 of the 13 people during the period of time they ate refined carbohydrates.
Food allergies or sensitivities can be a root cause of gallbladder attacks. Since the 1940s, James Breneman, M.D., the former chairman of the Food Allergy Committee of the American College of Allergists, reported that food allergies can initiate gallbladder attacks and gallbladder disease. One study found that 100 percent of a group of patients were symptom-free after following an elimination diet that included beef, rye, soy, rice, cherries, peaches, apricots, beets, and spinach for one week. Foods that were most likely to cause gallbladder symptoms in this study included eggs, pork, and onions. Other common triggers included fowl, citrus fruits, milk, coffee, corn, beans, and nuts. Dr. Breneman believes that food allergies cause inflammation and swelling of the bile duct, which restricts bile flow from the gallbladder.
One study found that men who drank coffee had a lower risk of gallstones than men who did not drink coffee. However, coffee initiates gallbladder contractions, so people with known gallstones should avoid its use.
- Exercise should be part of a program to prevent gallstones. In a study of over 60,000 women, an average of two to three hours per week of exercise reduced the risk of gallbladder surgery by approximately 20 percent. Choose an exercise system you like and be consistent with it.