It is estimated that at least 20 million Americans suffer with gallstones. That number is likely overly conservative, as many people with gallstones show no outward symptoms until a major flare-up occurs.
Gallstones are small, pebble like substances that are formed when the bile in the gallbladder contains too much cholesterol. The cholesterol crystallizes, and forms hard “stones” that can block bile ducts, restricting the flow of bile from the bladder to the digestive tract. This blockage can lead to infections and, in extreme cases, to a rupturing of the gallbladder itself.
People suffering with gallstones typically experience pain in the upper right side of the abdomen, pain between the shoulder blades, and sharp pains under the right shoulder. The most common treatment for gallstones is medication to shrink the stones, or surgery to remove the gallbladder entirely. Fortunately, by making some sound dietary and nutritional choices, it is possible to greatly reduce the risk of gallstones, and so avoid the need for costly, and often dangerous, conventional treatments.
Common Causes of Gallstones
Instances of gallstones in otherwise healthy individuals can be linked to the high fat, low fiber, and diets of the western world. Our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, with diets consisting mainly of rich, overly processed foods are the primary underlying cause of gallstones. Research has shown a direct correlation between western diets and lifestyles with the occurrence of gallstones and gallbladder disease in general. Populations that depend upon more traditional diets, rich in vegetables and fruits have far fewer instances of gallstones and gallbladder disease.
Choosing a Healthy Diet
With diet being the primary contributing factor in the development of gallstones, it only makes sense that the right nutritional choices can help to maintain a healthy gallbladder. Transitioning to a high fiber, low fat, diet is the first step in avoiding the development of gallstones. Raw fruits and vegetables provide the fiber necessary to keep bile cholesterol from crystallizing and forming gallstones. It is important to change the fat intake from cooked animal fat to raw plant fat. The body needs some fat to function properly, and too little can also result in the formation of gallstones. A healthy balanced diet including “good fat” sources, such as avocado, olive oil, walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds and coconut oil will help to maintain a healthy gallbladder and to avoid the formation of gallstones.
It is very important to understand that the gall bladder secretes bile which helps in the digestion of fat and the detoxification of the liver through that bile. You need fat to stimulate the flow of bile and to detoxify the liver so reducing your total fat is not the answer but instead switching the type of fat. Raw plant fat does not aggravate the gall bladder whereas cooked animal fat and processed plant fats that are hydrogenated can cause stress to the gall bladder.
Vitamins and Nutritional Supplements
In addition to a balanced high-fiber, low-fat diet certain vitamins and nutritional supplements have been shown to have a positive effect on the health of the gallbladder. For example, recent research has revealed that Vitamin C helps to convert cholesterol to bile acids, reducing the chances that the cholesterol will crystallize and begin to form gallstones. A daily allowance of 200mg of Vitamin C can be taken to help guard against the formation of gallstones. Milk Thistle, which contains the compound Silibinin, can be taken to reduce the overall level of cholesterol in bile within the gallbladder thus helping to keep gallstones from forming.
Women are at a higher risk for gallstones, and calcium supplements should already be a part of their daily vitamin regimen. Calcium helps to bind bile acids, and greatly reduces the risk of gallstone formation. Women should consider consuming 500 – 700 mg of calcium in the form of green vegetables, seeds and nuts especially sesame seeds and almonds.
By making some sound nutritional choices, it is possible to greatly reduce the risk of having gallstones form within the gallbladder. Gallstones can lead to serious health conditions, and in many cases will result in surgery to remove the gallbladder. Switching to a high-fiber, raw plant fat diet, supported by all natural nutritional supplements, can help to keep the gallbladder healthy and to greatly reduce the risk of gallstones. As the old saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”