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Food for a Healthy Gallbladder

 

Food for a Healthy Gallbladder

By: Erin Stair, MD, MPH

This blog will cover food for a healthy gallbladder, but I’ll start with the basics first.

I know a lot of people who struggle with gallbladder issues, and many of them will probably need it removed surgically. This blog is for people who want to know a bit more about the gallbladder and what foods they should eat and what foods they should avoid.

What’s the Gallbladder:

The gallbladder is a tiny organ nestled underneath the liver. Its purpose is to store bile and release it during and after meals, since bile aids in the digestion of fats. The more fat and sugar in our diets, the more the gallbladder works, which, unfortunately for our taste buds, increases our risk of getting gallbladder disease. Gallbladder disease refers to general inflammation of the gallbladder and bile ducts or it can also mean gallbladder stones, which are mostly made of cholesterol.

Those of us accustomed to the uber-fattening, overly-processed western diet are at a higher risk of gallbladder disease, and this trend is increasing around the globe. One study out of Saudi Arabia showed that the prevalence of gallstones increased significantly over the years as the daily consumption of total calories, fat and sugar increased. The researchers noted a significantly higher rate of surgeries to remove the gallstones, a phenomenon that could not be explained by changing demographics. Their results also correlated with a decrease in dietary fiber intake. Food for a healthy gallbladder clearly matters.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease: 

Once the gallbladder becomes symptomatic, it can be a constant frustration, so sometimes the best relief is getting it removed surgically. A common symptom is pain in the right upper, abdominal quadrant that radiates to the shoulder. Usually the pain gets worse after meals, since that’s when the gallbladder is working the hardest, and usually the pain worsens in proportion to how sweet or fattening the meal is.

After we eat, the gallbladder releases bile that travels down bile ducts and into our small intestine. If our bile ducts are inflamed or if there is a gallstone lodged in the ducts and hindering the passage of bile, the usually joyful process of eating can become very painful.

This reminds me of a conversation between a doctor and a gallbladder patient:

Doctor: When was the last meal you enjoyed?

Patient: Oh, it’s been a bile. 

Ahem. Food for a healthy gallbladder matters.

Other symptoms can be any of the ambiguous gastrointestinal ones, like vomiting, diarrhea, bloating, gas, or constipation. In medical school, I was taught the “5 Fs” which refers to the most common subgroup of people with gallbladder disease. Those “5 Fs” are fat, fertile, female, fair and forty. While this was more of a “buzz phrase” for The Boards, if those “5 Fs” apply to you and you’re experiencing pain during/after eating, you may want to see your doctor and rule out a gallbladder problem.

Risk Factors for an Unhealthy Gallbladder & Diagnosis: 

Other risk factors that may predispose someone for gallbladder troubles are: 1) Someone over the age of 60 2) Someone who struggles with frequent constipation, since slow intestinal transit time is an independent risk factor for gallbladder disease 3) Someone who loses a lot of weight rapidly 4) Someone of Mexican or Native American heritage 5) Someone receiving hormone replacement therapy, as estrogen seems to increase stone formation and 6) the Western diet

If you’re already experiencing symptoms or wondering if your gallbladder is acting up, you can go to your doctor’s office for an ultrasound, a quick, diagnostic test, that will either rule in or rule out gallbladder disease. If gallbladder disease is discovered, you’ll probably be given the option to have your gallbladder taken out via a laparoscopic procedure, which usually proves curative, although there are people who continue to complain of pain even after surgery.

There are also many people running around with asymptomatic gallstones, and the current guideline is to leave them alone as long as they aren’t creating  problems. There are also many people with the above-mentioned risk factors, so for these populations and anyone else interested in preventive care for the gallbladder:

A list of holistic tips and food for a healthy gallbladder:

1) Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day to keep the bile in your system more fluid and less likely to solidify to form stones. More fluid bile will help you digest fat better and decrease the risk of constipation, which by itself can lead to gallstone formation.

2) Lose weight, but don’t lose it FAST, as that’s a recipe for gallbladder problems. Crash dieters, I’m looking at you!!

3) Because bile is mostly composed of cholesterol, consider decreasing your fat intake to 25% of your daily calories. The more fat in your diet, the worse your gallbladder pain will be. It’s that simple. Also, eating a lot of sugar can make gallbladder issues worse, so I’d reduce sugar in your diet as well.

4) Try adding Curcumin to your diet. Some animal studies show that it inhibits gallstone formation.

5) Take 200 mg of Vitamin C daily. Animal studies and a few studies involving humans show that Vitamin C  may help prevent bile stones.

6) Try adding dandelions to your diet. There’s not a lot of mainstream scientific evidence for this,  however some evidence ( and herbalists who swear by it) shows that it may help improve gallbladder (and liver) issues by encouraging the flow of bile.

7)You can try supplementing with fish oil or eat more fish in your diet. Several animals studies have shown that fish oil helps prevent gallbladder stones.

8) Learn what your “Problem Foods” are and avoid them. The most reported, offensive foods for the gallbladder are: eggs, turkey, milk, caffeine, nuts, and red meat. This list will obviously vary from person to person, so start keeping track of your trigger foods so you can create awareness and recognize patterns.

9) Add more fiber to your diet. It’s never a bad thing to add more fiber and the Western diet is fiber-starved.  It will help with constipation issues too.

10) Use a Castor Oil pack: If constipation is a big issue for you, I first recommend boosting your fiber and water intake. I also recommend yoga and exercise, as that can help get things moving. If you’ve done those things and want to try something else, take a cloth and pour castor oil on it. Cover your abdomen with the cloth, wrap plastic around your abdomen and place a heating pad on top of the cloth. Let it sit for 60 minutes.

11) Try supplementing with Lecithin: Lecithin is a collective group of phospholipids in oil. Sunflower oil and Soya beans have high amount of lecithin. Some research indicates that it has an ability to emulsify bile. That means it makes bile less viscous, less stagnant and more fluid, all of which would serve to decrease the risks of gallbladder stones and gallbladder disease.

12) Try acupuncture. This is considered a more alternative approach to gallbladder disease, but it seems to help many people.

Since I discussed food for a healthy gallbladder, let’s talk about those popular fasts and flushes:

There is no published, peer-reviewed, solid research to say that fasts or flushes decrease your risk of gallbladder disease and improve gallbladder health. That said, common sense tells us that a scheduled, safe fast allows the gallbladder to rest and restore itself. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence in support of gallbladder flushes, and the lack of published research could be due to the lack of funding put into alternative therapies overall. If you’re going to try a fast or a flush, please be smart about it. You want to make sure it’s safe and that you don’t deplete your electrolytes to unsafe levels, create a hypoglycemic or hypotensive state or become dehydrated. ( It can happen. I’ve seen it.) There are myriad flushes on the natural health market, but 95% haven’t been evaluated by a reputable regulating body, and many times they are scams created by people only interested in making money. So, be careful if you go the fasting/flush route, and remember that you are much better off making long-lasting lifestyle changes that are proven to work. 

Thanks for reading, gang. This is a very basic overview of food, health and your gallbladder, but I’m confident that there is useful information in here that you can use. Feel free to check out some of my other blogs linked below, and definitely check out my health podcast, Causes or Cures. I’ve been lucky to feature some amazing doctors and researchers in their field and if you listen, you’ll not only learn a lot, but you can feel confident about the validity of the information you receive.  Also, say Hi on Instagram!  😉

XO, Erin

 

Other Gems of Wisdom from the Blog:

The long-term evidence for the Keto Diet may not be what you think

What is EMF Sensitivity? A nurse’s tale

Grain-free Diets in Dogs: Are they Really Unsafe? 

 

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