What You'll Learn Here:
~ by Jo Jordan
Many of us have heard a tale of horror or two from the growing vault of painful gallstone stories. In fact, some people who’ve had them say the pain from ghastly gallstones is unbearable, worse than that experienced during childbirth!
So what can be done to prevent what ought to be a normal part of a body’s functioning from producing a colorful bounty of marble-like terrors? First, it’s important to know a thing or two about the who, what, where, and how of gallstones.
What are gallstones?
Formed in the gallbladder or its ducts, gallstones are lumps of solid material known as cholesterol or pigment stones. Those of the cholesterol variety account for approximately 80 percent of gallstone cases; these are often green, but can be white or yellow.
Pigment stones, which account for 20 percent, are small dark stones comprised of calcium salts and bilirubin – the orange-yellow pigment of bile, the green fluid secreted by the liver to aid in digestion.
Gallstones vary considerably, from the size a grain of sand, to those as large as a crabapple. The gallbladder can develop several thousand small stones, or a single large one…and everything in between. In their early stages, gallstones are undetectable, manifesting no signs or symptoms. Their appearance during the development stage, in fact, is rarely captured on an x-ray.
The cause – why do gallstones develop?
Cholesterol – as well as bile’s other components – is collected in the gallbladder when we sleep, between meals, or at other times when our body is fasting. Gallstones form when the chemical compounds in bile become imbalanced.
While researchers do not yet understand why, they do know that in people who develop gallstones the cholesterol separates from its solution, forming the crystals around which gallstones develop. The presence of certain proteins in the liver and bile can work to promote or inhibit cholesterol crystallization into gallstones.
Scientists believe the cause of gallstones is multifaceted, including factors such as diet, body weight, gallbladder movement, and genetics. While no indisputable evidence exists linking diet to gallstones, it is believed by many researchers that diets high in starchy foods, low-fiber intake, and high-cholesterol contribute to the formation of gallstones.
It is also believed that increased levels of estrogen – brought on by birth control pills, pregnancy, or hormone replacement therapy – may elevate the levels of cholesterol in bile and decrease gallbladder movement, providing an environment for the development of gallstones. Hereditary blood cell disorders, cirrhosis, and biliary tract infections are risk factors for the formation of pigment stones.
Interestingly, many people develop gallstones that remain “silent,” causing them no difficulties whatsoever, while others, of course, suffer debilitating discomfort.
Where do gallstones develop?
Gallstones can form anywhere within the biliary tree, which includes the gallbladder, and common bile duct. These are housed in the bodily system known as the gastrointestinal system (GI), which also includes the colon, the entire GI tract, and the liver.
The function of the gallbladder, located beneath the liver on the right side of the abdominal cavity, is to store the bile secreted by the liver until it is needed in the small intestine for digestion – especially important for fat digestion.
Gallstones – signs and symptoms
- An intense, steadily increasing pain in the upper part of the abdominal area, that persists for 20 minutes, up to several hours
- Back pain, usually between the shoulder blades
- Pain under the right shoulder
- Vomiting or nausea sometimes occurs
- In rare cases, pain can develop close to the pelvis, in the lower region of the stomach
- Abdominal bloating
- Intolerance to fatty foods
Treatment for gallstones
Gallbladder surgery is an effective way to eliminate gallstones. Surgical options include a standard procedure called an open cholecystectomy – major abdominal surgery with several weeks of recovery time – and a less invasive procedure called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy, which is less painful and requires substantially less recovery time.
However, some experts say that surgery does not always end the pain and discomfort; a significant number of surgery patients develop post cholecystectomy syndrome, which involves gastrointestinal distress and persistent pain in the upper right abdomen.
Life without a gallbladder requires many adjustments, one of which is the fact that without it, the liver cannot necessarily secrete enough bile for adequate digestion.
In addition, research shows that gallstones return in 50 percent of surgery cases. Even with liver cleanses and gallbladder flushes, unless dietary changes are made, it is difficult to prevent the reoccurrence of gallstones.
Prevention, treatment, and long-term gallbladder health
The gradual implementation of an assortment of lifestyle changes is the best way to protect the health of your gallbladder, as well as ensure that your entire digestive system is operating at peak capacity.
- Activated charcoal helps sequester bile acid
- Avoid refined carbohydrates, including sugar and white flour
- Avoid saturated and trans fats
- Diets high in fiber, including lots of vegetables
- Diets low in fat
- Digestive enzymes 15 minutes prior to each meal
- Do not overeat
- Drink half your body weight in ounces of filtered water each day – about six cups
- Exercise for 30 minutes each day, especially walking
- Omega 3 oils and other polyunsaturated fats
- Liver flush every three or four months
- Parasite cleanse twice a year
- Reduce meat and dairy – lean meat only, and free-range, organic, and hormone-free products
- Reduce the load on your liver by eliminating processed foods, toxic personal care products (including those with phthalates such as coal tar hair dye, alpha hydroxy acids, and fragrance)
- Slowly shed excess weigh
- Supplemental bile salts and bile thinning agents
How can a liver cleanse help?
One of the most vital liver functions is the production of bile – crucial to proper digestion. The presence of gallstones can disrupt bile production, which in turn may lead to increased cholesterol levels.
Highly porous, gallstones act as breeding ground for bacteria, cysts, viruses, and other parasites. As the size and number of stones increase, they can choke the biliary tubing, and impair the liver’s ability to function.
Gallstones can lodge in the cystic duct, the channel that allows bile to enter and leave the gallbladder. The gallbladder may become inflamed, a condition known as cholecystitis, if gallstones are left blocking this channel for a long period of time. Gallstones can also block the flow of digestive fluids from the pancreas, leading to inflammation of the pancreas.
With half-a-million chemicals in the environment today, and over 5,000 new ones introduced each year, the body is constantly battling to rid itself of processed food chemicals and toxins. They can become trapped in deposits of hardened bile, and may never get flushed out of the body.
Some doctors recommend a periodic flush of developing gallstones through liver cleansings, which can also help to purge various toxins from your liver before their presence develops into chronic problems. Liver cleansing can help remove these unwanted pollutants, and enable the liver to function properly. A healthy liver can increase your energy, improve metabolism, and help you burn excess fat.
Detoxification and cleansing can go a long way toward ridding the body of toxins, both those we ingest as well as the ones our bodies produce as byproducts of various functions. Why not do everything you can to ensure that all your bodies’ systems are a go?