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Relief for Gallstone Sufferers

The most common illness affecting the gallbladder is gallstones. It is estimated that roughly 20 million Americans are affected, mostly women and ethnic groups. Predisposing factors include aging, obesity, family history, pregnancy, estrogen use, and eating a highly refined Western diet. There are over 500,000 gallstone surgeries performed annually in the United States alone. This article will look into the causative factors and how gallstones can be prevented.

What is the purpose of the gallbladder and how does it perform its functions? Many of us do not really know how important the gall bladder is or even where it is located. Bile is a substance produced in the liver from cholesterol, minerals, and phospholipids (fats containing phosphorous) that serves two functions: (1) Making dietary fats more digestible and (2) excreting cholesterol and other metabolic byproducts from the body. Once bile is sent to the gallbladder, it becomes concentrated and stored until needed.

That need arises whenever we eat any food containing fats or oils. We all know that fat and water do not mix well; and the makeup of our systems consists of fats that are large molecules and our blood stream that is mostly water. Bile is secreted along with other enzymes to help breakdown the dietary fats so that they can be absorbed in the intestines.

Most gallstones are comprised of cholesterol and the element calcium, known as a calcium oxalate. Stone formation has a lot to do with diet, which we will review in a few moments. Stone formation happens when the bile acids are heavily laden with cholesterol; which when combined with calcium, forms the stones. This happens especially if bile flow is impaired or restricted. Most people are without symptoms until an acute flair-up that can include the following: Pain or tenderness on the right side of the body, gas and bloating, nausea and vomiting of bile.

The most common remedy for painful gallstones is the removal of the gallbladder. There are three other non-surgical options available to the person, but most doctors do not recommend them. It also depends on the severity of the situations as to which treatment protocol is recommended. The three other therapies are:

Bile Acid Therapy involves the oral administration of ursodiol a specific type of acid. The length of time ranges from 6 months to years with varied success rates.
Contact Solvent Therapy involves pumping a solvent directly into the gallbladder to dissolve stones. It takes usually one session, but is wrought with side effects.
Lithotripsy uses high energy, ultrasound shockwaves to break up stones so they can exit the gallbladder easily.
Just remember that none of these therapies address the underlying causes of gallstones.

So what can a person do to reduce the risk of developing gallstones? Let’s begin with fat modifications. There are many studies linking dietary fat to the formation of gallstones. Specifically, saturated and hydrogenated fats are the culprits. This includes margarine and high processed vegetable oils used in snack foods and fast foods. Animal products high in fat are also implicated in the role of how dietary fats are absorbed by the body. The best oils for ingestion would be olive oil, flax oil, sesame, and high oleic safflower oil. I wrote some time back about how to judge the quality of oil and that is available as a handout. Highly processed oils are very difficult for the body to digest; and once eliminated, many gallstone suffers find some relief. The healthy oils mentioned usually do not cause problems, but one should use them with caution at first.

Dietary fiber is next since dietary fiber appears to deter the synthesis and absorption of secondary bile acids. Fiber is believed to help carry these bile acids out of the body quicker. Food allergies have been implicated in gallbladder symptoms. These foods would include, eggs, pork, onions, milk, coffee, poultry, nuts and seeds. Excessive sugar consumption may also pose a risk factor in gallstone development. Because sugar consumption triggers insulin release by the pancreas, it also increases cholesterol synthesis by the liver. Excessive sugar consumption also is related to elevated triglycerides (a fat storage molecule) which are associated with cholesterol saturations. Another idea about sugar is that due to its acidity factors, it causes the leeching of calcium from the bones as a way to balance this acidity problem. Since stones are made up mostly of calcium oxalates and cholesterol, it makes sense.

A supplement regime for the prevention of gallstones would include:

Antioxidants have been shown to help reduce stones. Subjects of research have been known to have lower levels of Vitamin E, manganese, and the amino acid methionine. A weaker association was found for the antioxidants beta-carotene, selenium, Vitamin C and zinc. Most antioxidants have beneficial effects on the liver, which we know produces bile.
Fiber supplements from fruit in the form of pectin, flax seed meal, psyllium husk, guar gums, and oat bran are good sources to add as well as bean fiber.
Lecithin is a natural component of fatty foods. It is found in numerous foods. It is manufactured from soybeans and is available in liquid or capsules. Lecithin is used in the food industry as an emulsifier. This means it has the ability to blend oils and water together. It helps the gallbladder to manage bile better.
Herbal remedies have been around for a long time when it comes to gallstones and relieving some of the symptoms. The use of ginger is helpful as an anti-inflammatory as well as peppermint. European studies using enteric-coated peppermint oil have found it to help in an acute gallbladder attack. Menthol is classified as a triterpene, and terpenes have been shown to keep cholesterol crystals from forming in bile and may even help dissolve them.
Traditionally, herbs classified as cholerectics and cholagogues were used to either increase the production of bile or the flow of bile. Herbs like barberry, burdock root, dandelion root, globe artichoke, goldenseal, greater celandine, Oregon grape root, and milk thistle would be included in these classifications.

Of course preventing gallstones makes more sense then waiting for something to happen. There are many ways to deal with gallbladder problems. Be sure to consult with your healthcare practitioner for advice.

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