Gallstones Self Help

The most common digestive problem associated with the gallbladder is gallstones. One in five Americans over the age of sixtyfive has gallstones, and half a million surgeries are performed each year for removal of the gallbladder. Women are two to four times more likely to be affected by gallstones than men.

However, most people who have gallstones are never bothered by them, and doctors only treat them if they are causing problems. An inflammation of the gallbladder can lead to pain and discomfort. Symptoms can take the form of abdominal discomfort, bloating, belching, or food intolerances.

When you have more than one stone, you may experience a sharp pain or a spasm under the ribs on the right side. Occasionally, the pain will be felt under your right shoulder blade. These pains are often strongest after eating a high-fat meal. Diet plays an important role in prevention of gallbladder disease.

Low-fat, low-meat, and vegetarian diets are recommended, as is a low-sugar, high-fiber intake. In fact, a recent study of over 1,100 people found that none of the 48 vegetarians in the group had any gallstones at all. There was an increase in gallstones in people who were heavy coffee drinkers.

Dennis Burkitt, a British physician who lived and worked in Africa for twenty years, found that he performed only two surgeries for gallbladder removal among Africans eating an indigenous diet. If you are overweight, losing weight will reduce your risk of developing gallstones.

Be careful, because several studies have shown that fasting and extremely low-fat, low-calorie diets increase your risk of developing gallstones. Fasting for more than fourteen hours raises the risk of problems due to gallstones. So easy does it while dieting. And always eat breakfast.

Exercise is also important for the prevention of gallstones. It has been postulated that thirty minutes of exercise, five times each week, could reduce the risk of gallstones by 34 percent. In a 1998 study, men who watched fewer than six hours of television per week had a gallstone rate lower than that of men who watched more than forty hours.

The researchers concluded that 34 percent of the cases of symptomatic gallstone disease in men could be prevented by increasing exercise to thirty minutes of an endurancetype training, five times per week.

Medical treatment for gallstones consists of an injection of a drug that dissolves the gallstones, oral medication to dissolve stones, lithotripsy that breaks stones with sound waves, or surgical removal of the gallbladder.

Physicians familiar with natural therapies have favorable results treating gallstones without use of drugs or surgery by having their patients detoxify the liver and strengthen liver function.

Metabolic cleansing or other detoxification programs are a critical first step in treatment. Food sensitivities also play an important role in the development of gallstones—most patients with gallbladder disease have them and they must be identified.

Healing Options

  • Make dietary changes. Low-fat diets help prevent gallstones and also reduce pain and inflammation associated with gallstones. Saturated fats found in dairy products, meats, coconut oil, palm oil, hydrogenated oils, and vegetable shortening stimulate concentration of bile.

While a low-fat diet is optimal, essential fatty acids are vital to gallbladder function and overall health. Make sure you get 1 to 2 tablespoons of uncooked expeller-pressed oils or extra-virgin olive oil each day—the easiest way is in homemade salad dressing.

Also, vegetarian diets have been found to be helpful in reducing the incidence of gallbladder disease. Several studies have indicated that people who consume a lot of sweets are more likely to develop gallstones. And remember to eat breakfast. Fasting for more than fourteen hours raises your risk of problems due to gallstones.

  • Decrease coffee intake and increase water consumption. Coffee may trigger gallbladder attacks in susceptible people. Use of either regular or decaffeinated coffee raises levels of cholecystokinin, a hormone that stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder and digestive enzymes from the pancreas, and causes gallbladder contractions.

Stop drinking coffee and see what effect this produces. Some people get horrible headaches or flulike symptoms when they withdraw from caffeine. If you do, wean yourself gradually. And don’t forget to drink six to eight glasses of water every day.

  • Reduce bowel transit time. People with gallstones have significantly slower transit times than healthy people. Eat more high-fiber foods and drink more fluids.
  • Investigate food sensitivities. In 1968, James Breneman, a pioneer in the area of food allergies, found that food sensitivities play a role in gallbladder disease. He put sixty-nine patients on an elimination diet consisting of beef, rye, soy, rice, cherry, peach, apricot, beet, and spinach.

After three to five days, all people were free of symptoms. With a slow reintroduction of foods they were sensitive to, symptoms returned. The most common food offenders were eggs (3 percent), pork (64 percent), and onions (52 percent). Interestingly, beef and soy are often trigger foods for food sensitivity reactions.

  • Rule out deficient levels of hydrochloric acid (HCl). A study published in The Lancet found that about half of the people with gallstones had insufficient levels of hydrochloric acid (HCl). A Heidelberg capsule test can determine if you have sufficient levels of hydrochloric acid.

You can also take HCl supplements with meals. Begin with 1 500-milligram capsule of HCl with 150 milligrams of pepsin. If you don’t need the HCl, you’ll experience a burning or warm sensation. If this is uncomfortable, you can drink some milk or a teaspoon of baking soda in water to neutralize the acid.

Many people with low-acid secretion need several HCl tablets per meal; increase the dosage slowly to find the correct one for you. Too much will cause a warmth or burning sensation.

  • Try milk thistle or Silybum marianum (silymarin). Extracts of the herb milk thistle have been used historically since the fifteenth century for ailments of the liver and gallbladder. It helps normalize liver function, detoxify the liver, which it does gently and thoroughly, and improves the solubility of bile.

Silymarin promotes the flow of bile and helps tone the spleen, gallbladder, and liver. Take 3 to 6 175-milligram capsules daily of standardized 80 percent milk thistle extract with water before meals.

  • Try lipotrophic supplements. Lipotrophic supplements contain substances that help normalize liver and gallbladder functions. They may contain dandelion root, milk thistle, lecithin or phosphatidylcholine, methionine, choline, inositol, vitamin C, black radish, beet greens, artichoke leaves (Cynara scolymus), turmeric, boldo (Peumus boldo), fringe tree (Chionanthus virginicus), greater celandine, and ox bile.

Lipotrophics may also contain magnesium and B-complex vitamins (B6, B12, and folate) to enhance their function. Use as directed on the label. Use 1,000 milligrams each of methionine and choline daily.

  • Try lecithin. Phosphatidylcholine, the most biologically active form of lecithin, and lecithin have been shown to make cholesterol more soluble, which reduces formation of gallstones. Studies have shown that as little as 100 milligrams of lecithin three times daily will increase lecithin concentration in bile. I recommend 500 milligrams daily.
  • Take vitamin C. Vitamin C has been shown to prevent formation of gallstones. Vitamin C is required for the enzymatic conversion of cholesterol to bile salts. People with high risk for developing gallstones have low ascorbic acid levels. Take 1 to 3 grams daily.
  • Do a liver or gallbladder flush. Anecdotal stories about people showing up at their doctor’s office with a jar full of stones after a gallbladder flush are abundant, but there is little documentation to validate whether what they passed are really gallstones or just congealed olive oil.

Nonetheless, many people testify to the benefits of the gallbladder flush. Do this procedure at home only under the supervision of a physician. From Monday through Saturday, drink as much natural apple juice as possible. Continue to eat normally and take your usual medications or supplements.

On Saturday, eat a normal lunch at noon. Three hours later (3:00 p.m.) dissolve 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) in ¼ cup of warm water and drink it. This is a laxative and helps peristalsis move the stones through your digestive system.

It doesn’t taste great, so you may want to follow it with some orange or grapefruit juice. Two hours later (5:00 p.m.) repeat the Epsom salts and orange or grapefruit juice. For dinner, eat citrus fruits or drink citrus juices. At bedtime, drink 1½ cups of warm extra virgin olive oil blended with 1½ cups of lemon juice.

Go to bed immediately and lie on your right side with your knees pulled up close to your chest for half an hour. On Sunday morning, take 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts in ¼ cup of warm water an hour before breakfast.

If you have gallstones, you will find dark green to light green stones in your bowel movement on Sunday morning. They are irregular in shape and size, varying from small, like kiwi seeds, to large, like cherry pits. If you have chronic gallbladder problems, you may want to repeat this again in two weeks. The flush can be repeated every three to six months if you continue to form stones.

  • Try black radish. Black radish, Raphanus sativus niger, has long been used as a folk remedy to stimulate bile production and aid in the digestion of fats. Radishes of all types seem to be of benefit. A recent rat study showed that the inflammation and other abnormal parameters that were observed in rats fed a fat-rich diet were reversed with treatment with black radish.

Radishes are also high in bioflavonoids and other immune protective substances. You can eat radishes for the same benefit. Daikon radish, an Asian variety, is a mild tasting radish for those of us who aren’t radish lovers. Or, you can take black radish in capsule or tablet form.

  • Try bile salts. These are useful for people who have already had their gallbladders removed. Take 1 to 2 with fatty meals.