Nearly 25 million Americans suffer from gallbladder stones. Sudden pain in the stomach, chest, upper back or shoulder can mimic a heart attack, but for the 20% of women and 10% of men over 55 who have gallstones, those symptoms could mean a gallstone attack. Smart choices in diet, supplements and lifestyle can provide relief, or even prevention.
What are gallstones?
Gallstones are hard particles, ranging in size from grains of sand to golf balls, that develop in the gallbladder, an organ in the upper right abdomen. While some people have single large stones, others can have hundreds of tiny stones or a combination of small and large ones. Most people have “silent” gallstones that don’t cause any problems. However, if gallstones block bile ducts, they can result in sudden, excruciating pain – a gallbladder attack.
Gallstones may form if bile contains too much cholesterol, too much bilirubin, or not enough bile salts. Researchers do not fully understand why these changes in bile occur. Gallstones also may form if the gallbladder does not empty completely or often enough. Certain people are more likely to have gallstones than others because of their risk factors for gallstones,
There are two main types of gallstones. The most common is a cholesterol stone caused by imbalances in cholesterol. There are also pigment stones, which are made up of bilirubin, a substance produced when the liver breaks down old red blood cells.
Gallbladder attacks often occur after meals, especially after eating fried food, and in the evening or at night when we’re lying down. Symptoms – either during or after an attack – that require immediate medical care include:
• Abdominal pain lasting more than 5 hours
• Nausea and vomiting
• Fever (even low-grade ones) or chills
• Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes)
• Change in color of urine (tea-colored) or stool (light-colored)
Who is more likely to develop gallstones?
Certain groups of people have a greater risk of developing cholesterol gallstones, depending on the following factors:
Women are twice as likely to have gallstones as men because extra estrogen can increase cholesterol levels in bile, while decreasing gallbladder contractions. Pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or birth control pills (particularly among younger women), increase estrogen and the possibility of gallstone formation.
The risk increases with age, particularly over 40.
Gallstones tend to run in families.
Native Americans have genes that raise the amount of cholesterol in their bile, and have the highest rate of gallstones in the United States.
Certain lifestyle factors and other conditions can also put you at a great risk of developing gallbladder stones. These include:
• Obesity, particularly if weight is carried around the waist (apple shaped)
• Poor diet that’s high in calories and refined carbohydrates, and low in fiber
• Rapid weight loss
• Intestinal diseases
• Medical conditions, such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and insulin resistance
The American diet, which is high in refined carbohydrates, cholesterol and saturated fats while low in fiber, is one of the contributing factors to gallstones. Substituting healthier choices can make our diets both gallbladder- and heart-healthy. Although dietary changes can’t eliminate existing gallstones, they may help ease painful symptoms.
• Eat more foods that are high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and peas, and whole grains, including brown rice, oats and whole wheat bread.
• Eat fewer refined carbohydrates and less sugar.
• Eat healthy fats, like fish oil and olive oil, to help your gallbladder contract and empty on a regular basis.
• Avoid unhealthy fats, like those often found in desserts and fried foods.
Supplements to support gallbladder health
If you currently have gallstones, you should not take any of these supplements unless prescribed by your primary care physician.
Jarrow Bile Acid Factors:
If you have difficulty digesting fatty foods, this product can help with fat emulsification and therefore fat absorption.
Enzymatic Therapy Cholestoril Plus:
This product can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels already within normal limits. Pantethine acts at the synthesis stage in the liver to help support healthy cholesterol production. Phytosterols work in the intestines to help impede the body's ability to absorb cholesterol from foods. They also impede reabsorption of cholesterol from bile.
Pathway Hepa Plus:
By providing support to the liver, you also are supporting the gallbladder. This product supports healthy liver function, as well as healthy bile flow.
: Superzymes contains a full spectrum of enzymes to help break down proteins, fibers and fat. Taking a digestive enzyme before a meal can temporarily reduce the burden on the body to produce all the required enzymes and facilitate the breakdown of food.
Photo from here, with thanks.