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Gallbladder Health

Herbs and other natural solutions for gallstones.

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Herbs and other natural solutions for gallstones

One of my clients was diagnosed with gallstones and her primary doctor suggested that she have her gallbladder removed, adding that the gallbladder “has no purpose.” This is not entirely true. The purpose of the gallbladder is to store a small repository of bile, which serves many important functions. The main purpose of bile is to break down fat into tiny components, namely essential fatty acids, that can be absorbed through the microcapillaries in the villi of the small intestine.

Bile is produced in the liver. It’s produced slowly and deliberately by the liver cells; production can’t be “dialed up” on demand. When you eat a meal containing a larger amount of fat, more bile is needed. Therefore, the gallbladder, while not as essential as the liver itself, is handy for storing extra bile for when that big fat meal comes along. Gallbladder surgery is common, and usually harmless, but it’s always a good idea to try a nutritional approach to your healthcare problem before committing to a definitive surgery.

Diet Do’s and Don’ts

If your abdominal pain is correlated to eating fatty foods—usually within the hour—and occurs in the upper right quadrant, up under the right ribcage, sometimes with a sharp pain that radiates through to the right shoulder blade, gallbladder congestion is likely. Gallstones are easier to prevent than to reverse. Try to eat approximately the same amount of healthy fats on a daily basis. Never eat fried food, and drink plenty of fresh water. It’s not a good idea to commit to a completely low-fat diet. If you go for many days without eating much fat, bile may stagnate, causing it to form a kind of thick sludge, then “sand,” then “gravel,” and finally may coalesce into one solid stone, which can be very painful.

The solubility of your bile is a major component of your tendency to form sludge or stones. A diet high in processed foods, particularly refined carbohydrates, is well established to reduce the solubility of bile. Include ample soluble fiber in your diet, such as apples, steel-cut oats, celery, and dark leafy greens.

What to Take

If you are in the throes of a gallbladder attack, you can try placing a heat pack over the upper right abdomen as well as ingesting several thousand mg of magnesium; both serve as muscle relaxants. Dioscorea (wild yam) can also be an effective antispasmodic if you take several teaspoons of a standardized tincture every hour for up to six hours.
If you get upper right abdominal twinges after eating fatty foods, consider using bile stimulants, and digestive enzymes such as lipase, regularly in your diet.

Some of my favorite cholagogues (agents that promote bile production and flow) are beets and artichokes. Artichokes are in the thistle family, and many thistles, most notably milk thistle (Silybum marianum) are very helpful for liver health. If you have gallbladder problems you should eat artichoke hearts (preserved in water, not oil) on a regular basis. Other cholagogues include dandelion root (Taraxacum officinale), turmeric (Curcuma longa) and boldo (Peumus boldo). Take 1-3 g of vitamin C daily.

Another nutrient, related to B vitamins, that promotes bile solubility is lecithin (also known as phosphatidylcholine). Take 1 rounded tablespoon (500 mg) daily, in applesauce, yogurt, or oatmeal.

Love Your Liver

As the liver produces the bile that gets stored in the gallbladder, liver and gallbladder health are inextricably linked. Some top supplements for liver health:
Glutathione: protects cells from damage from toxins including alcohol.
N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC): helps the liver detoxify from alcohol and other toxins, and is used by physicians to detoxify the liver when patients overdose on the over-the-counter drug acetaminophen. It is converted by the body into glutathione.
L-Carnitine: Carnitine is produced in the liver, but can be depleted by certain medications. Research shows it can improve liver function and is beneficial in fatty liver disease.
Carnosine: protects the liver from damage from alcohol and other toxins.
Resveratrol: found in red wine, it may mitigate some of the effects of alcohol on the liver. It’s also found in grapes and blueberries, and is available as a supplement.

Illustration by Dave Klug

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HimalayA Herbal Healthcare Livercare supports normal liver function, especially when challenged by toxins in food, water, and air, and supports healthy liver enzyme levels.

Solgar Lecithin “95” Granules is obtained from soybeans and provides a concentrated source of phosphatidylcholine, as well as essential unsaturated fatty acids, to promote bile solubility.

Nature’s Way Thisilyn uses milk thistle that is carefully extracted to ensure all the plant’s benefits remain, including antioxidant silymarin that protects the liver against harmful substances.