A gallbladder attack can be a painful and sometimes frightening experience. Although a majority of people with gallstones do not experience recurring symptoms, if you are having gallbladder pains you may be wondering what you can do to get rid of them or at least relieve the pain. While gallstones may be uncomfortable there are many options to remove them including surgical procedures and nonsurgical remedies.
What are Gallstones?
Before we discuss how prevent and cure gallbladder issues, it’s important to first understand what your gallbladder is and what it does. This small organ contains a greenish fluid called bile that is used to aid in the digestion of fatty foods. It also helps the body to absorb fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Although gallstones may look and feel like stones, in actuality they are hard deposits that build up in your gallbladder. These deposits may consist of cholesterol, salt, or bilirubin, which is discarded red blood cells. Gallstones range in size.
They can be as small as a pea or as large as a plum. Some gallstones do not cause any symptoms and many people have gallstones and never know it. If you have a gallstone that moves to block a bile duct, you will become acutely aware of the issue due to the server pain this can cause.
What Causes Gallstones?
Gallstones are caused by an imbalance of the substances, such as cholesterol, that make up bile. When there are excessive amounts of cholesterol in bile, crystals begin to form. As the crystals multiply, they stick to each other and build up to form gallstones.
Generally, if gallstones are small and able to move freely, they do not cause any symptoms. Sometimes, however, a stone will get lodged in the narrow neck of the gallbladder or in one of the bile ducts causing inflammation, pain, and other symptoms. If these stones lodge in the neck of the gallbladder or the bile ducts connecting the gallbladder to the liver and the small intestine, pain, inflammation or other symptoms can result.
There are a number of factors that can increase your chances of developing gallbladder problems such as gallstones. Some factors can be modified like diet, but other factors like genes or ethnic background cannot be changed. The more of these characteristics you have, the more likely you are to suffer from a gallbladder attack during your lifetime.
Women are twice as likely as men to develop gallstones. Female hormones can impact the proper function of the gallbladder, putting pregnant women and those taking hormone replacement therapy at a high risk for gallstones due to higher estrogen levels. Excess estrogen can increase cholesterol in the bile and lessen gallbladder movement, again increasing the risk of gallstones.
Gallbladder problems seem to have a genetic basis, meaning that the tendency to develop gallstones often runs in families. Scientists suggest that there could be a mutated gene that controls the movement of cholesterol from the liver to the bile duct that increases a person’s risk of gallstones. Also, hereditary defects in the body’s ability to manage proteins may increase the risk of gallbladder issues in some people.
If you are over the age of 60, that also increases your risk. This is because as you get older your body releases more cholesterol into bile, which disrupts the balance of concentration, making it more likely that stones will form.
It has also be found that certain ethnic groups are at a higher risk. Native Americans, Mexican-Americans, and European Americans are more likely to develop gallstones than other ethnic groups. This could be a result of dietary as well as genetic factors.
Gallstones don’t always require treatment. Very often people have gallstones, but no symptoms in which case surgery is not necessary. However, if you are having frequent and worsening symptoms it may be necessary to remove the gallbladder.
While the gallbladder does serve an important function in digestion, the body is able to compensate without it. Gallbladder removal is considered one of the safest of all surgical procedures. Each year approximately 750,000 Americans have their gallbladder removed.
The surgery is performed by making several small incisions in the abdomen. A small surgical microscope and video camera are inserted through one of the incisions and then the gallbladder is extracted through another. Once this organ is removed, it is highly unlikely that you would develop any future occurrences of gallstones.
After the gallbladder is removed, bile is still necessary for digestion and flows directly from the liver into the small intestine. Because there is no longer a holding tank for bile to accumulate, it is important to adjust your diet after surgery. Your body will not be able to break down high-fat foods as easily without the gallbladder and your doctor will most likely recommend a low-fat and low-cholesterol diet.
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Diet for Gallstones
If you are suffering from gallstones, a change in diet may help to alleviate the pain. Because the main contributor to most gallstones is an excess of cholesterol in the body, it may help to switch to a low-fat, low-cholesterol eating plan.
Be sure to include some high fiber foods that will help your body to eliminate any extra cholesterol. Healthy high fiber foods include fresh fruits and vegetables. Dairy products are acceptable in moderation, as long as you choose the low-fat versions. Your protein should include lean chicken, fish, eggs, legumes, and limited amounts of red meat.
You should avoid foods high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fats. These foods include fatty red meat, butter, ghee, cheese, cakes, biscuits, pastries, and candy. Eating these items occasionally may not cause you pain, but overindulgence will cause a pulsation in the gallbladder that may compress on a stone that is lodged in the neck of the gallbladder or one of the bile ducts. This compression is what causes you pain.
Although a low-fat diet is recommended, you should not move to an extremely low-calorie diet. If you find that you are losing weight at a rate of more than one to two pounds per week, you should increase the number of calories you are consuming.
Along with a healthy diet, be sure to drink plenty of water. The typical recommendation is eight, eight-ounce glasses of water per day. Some people claim that drinking a glass of water can help to alleviate the pain caused by a gallstone attack. Limited amounts of juice are acceptable to make sure you get adequate fluids, but be sure to choose a brand without added sugar.
Preliminary studies show that drinking caffeinated beverages such as coffee helps to prevent gallbladder problems and reduce symptoms. Drinking moderate amounts of alcohol has also been linked to a reduction in gallstones in test subjects. Another test indicates that peanut consumption might reduce the need for gallbladder surgery. Keep in mind that this data is limited and results are not guaranteed.
For more information on the best diet to help cure gallstones, read Gallstones Natural Solution, written by David Smith. Smith is a natural health researcher who cured his own gallstones using diet and natural remedies. In this e-book he shares with you fourteen healthy diet secrets that will immediately put a stop to your gallstone problems.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
One of the causes of gallbladder problems is frequent, rapid changes in weight. If your weight fluctuates more than one to two pounds in a week, you could be putting a strain on your gallbladder.
The healthiest thing you can do if you are overweight is to evaluate your current diet and work to replace the high-fat foods you are eating with high fiber foods like fresh fruits and vegetables. Stay away from fad diets and quick weight loss plans as dropping too much weight too quickly will only exacerbate your symptoms.
Increase Physical Activity
It has been found that people who are more active are less likely to have gallstone issues. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is also helpful for maintaining a healthy weight. You should try to exercise for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, a minimum of three times a week.
Because the pain from a gallbladder attack is usually caused by a stone lodged in a duct, vigorous exercise can sometimes dislodge the stone, alleviating the pain. The book, Gallstones Natural Solution, includes exercises that can cleanse your gallbladder and help you to pass stones. Smith also shares his six golden rules of making exercise fun.
There are many natural herbs that can help improve liver and gallbladder health, reducing inflammation. These herbs help the body to regulate its production and use of cholesterol. The three most popular herbal supplements are peppermint, dandelion, and milk thistle.
Peppermint is known for its ability to aid in digestion by stimulating the flow of bile and other digestive juices. It is composed of a compound called terpene that has been reported to relax spasms, relieve pain, and dissolve existing gallstones.
To take peppermint, add one teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves to one cup of boiling water and steep for five minutes before straining. Drink after meals as needed. This tea can be enjoyed as is or with the addition of a natural sweetener such as honey or stevia.
Dandelion root is used in the treatment of gallstones because it acts as a natural diuretic and helps the liver eliminate toxins. It contains a compound known as taraxacum that aids the liver in excreting bile and metabolizing fat.
A well-functioning liver is necessary for a healthy gallbladder. For this remedy, add one teaspoon of dried dandelion root to one cup of boiling water and allow to steep for five minutes. Strain out the roots and add a natural sweetener if needed. You should drink this tea two to three times a day until symptoms have subsided.
Milk thistle is another herb that helps to detoxify the liver making it easier for the body to eliminate gallstones. This herb contains a compound called silymarin that stimulates bile production. Increased bile production prevents the concentration that causes crystals which become stones.
The increased bile also helps to flush out any existing gallstones. The easiest form of milk thistle to use is ground seeds which you can brew into a tea. Add one teaspoon of ground seeds to one cup of boiling water and allow to steep for 20 minutes before straining. Milk thistle is known to be quite bitter, so if sweetening, be sure to use a natural sweetener. Drink this tea two to three times a day for one week.
Other herbs that you might find helpful for gallbladder support include:
- Turmeric – aids in digestion, fights inflammation and supports liver metabolism
- Activated charcoal – binds to toxins and helps remove them
- Lipase enzymes – help to improve fat digestion and the use of bile
- Bile salts or ox bile – take with meals to improve gallbladder function and the breakdown of fat
When treating gallstones and their symptoms you may be able to turn to home remedies for help. Here are four home remedies that you can add to your daily routine that will help to reduce symptoms and prevent gallbladder attacks.
- Acidic Beverages – Increasing the alkalinity of your body reduces the production of cholesterol in your liver. Because gallstones are made up of cholesterol, this helps to aid recovery. Try mixing a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into a glass of juice and drink whenever you have an attack. Another alternative is drink four tablespoons of lemon juice mixed into a glass of warm water when you wake up in the morning. Not only is the lemon juice acidic, but it also contains pectin which can reduce pain and vitamin C which promotes faster elimination of waste products that can exacerbate the gallstones.
- Foods High in Fiber – Because a lack of fiber is a contributing factor in the development of gallstones, increasing your fiber intake can prevent the growth of new and existing stones. Fiber also helps to remove excess cholesterol that builds up in the body. You can increase the amount of fiber in your diet by eating 4 servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. In addition, you can take a psyllium supplement. Psyllium is a type of soluble fiber that binds to the cholesterol in your bile and prevents gallstones. It also promotes regular bowel movements, which reduces the risk of the gallbladder system becoming congested. Psyllium powder can be purchased at your local pharmacy. Take one tablespoon mixed in a glass of water twice a day until your gallbladder issues have resolved.
- Coffee – Research suggests that drinking coffee can help prevent the stomach pain associated with gallstones. Decaffeinated coffee does not appear to have the same benefit. It is recommended that you drink between one to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day to benefit. Coffee and other caffeinated products can help to prevent the development of gallstones. This remedy should be used with caution, however, as four or more cups of coffee in a day can increase the severity of symptoms.
- Wine – Another study showed that wine can help to prevent gallstone attacks. People who drank two glasses of wine a day reduced their risk of developing gallstones by one-third compared to those who did not drink any alcohol. If you drink a glass of wine at the onset of gallstone pain, you should get some relief within twenty minutes.
David Smith shares how to use even more simple herbs to reverse years of damage to your gallbladder in his book Gallstones Natural Solution. Smith discovered, through trial and error, how to cure his gallstones and restore his health.
Another popular natural treatment is a gallbladder cleanse. The preparation for the cleanse involves eating a large amount of apples or drinking apple juice. The actual cleanse itself prescribes drinking Epsom Salts dissolved in water and a mixture of olive and grapefruit juice. This is thought to help your body pass and excrete any stones that have accumulated in your gallbladder.
During the cleanse, you may feel some discomfort where the gallbladder is located, on the right side of your abdomen below the rib cage. This feeling will subside and indicates that your gallbladder is being stimulated.
The large, repeated doses of olive oil and Epsom Salts in a gallbladder cleanse have a laxative effect and you may notice changes in your stool. This is softened material that has been expelled from the gallbladder and is another sign that the gallbladder cleansing has been effective.
A surprising number of Americans suffer from gallbladder problems. The World Gastroenterology Organization reports that about 20 million people in the United States have gallstones. In severe cases, surgical removal of the gallbladder is necessary to alleviate symptoms, but fortunately, there are a number of alternatives to surgery.
Although your body can function without a gallbladder, it’s important to consider these nonsurgical options such as a modified diet, lifestyle changes, herbal treatments and home remedies. Often these treatments can alleviate the symptoms and prevent the formation of future gallstones, saving you the expense and discomfort of a surgical procedure.
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