Many people suffer from gallbladder problems during middle or late adulthood, especially women, in whom gallstones form much more than in men. Cholecystectomy, the operation to remove the gallbladder, is one of the most common surgeries performed on adults annually. However, it is common for those who have problems with the gallbladder to be better informed about what the gallbladder actually serves and how a diet can help prevent and treat certain gallbladder problems.
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located below the liver. Its main task is to store bile rich in cholesterol, which is excreted by the liver, helping the body break down fats and lipids in the diet. Of all the people who notice some gallbladder problem, approximately 70 percent of them face gallstones that form when the bile contains excessive cholesterol.
In addition to the formation of stones in the gallbladder, various gallbladder problems can occur, such as inflammation of the gallbladder called cholecystitis. What factors contribute to gallbladder disease or emergencies? Among them are obesity, intake of bad foods characterized by lack of nutrients, rapid weight loss, oral contraceptives (birth control pills), food allergies, and certain genetic factors.
Signs and warnings of gallbladder problems
Some of the warning signs that you have a gallbladder problem include pain and signs of swelling around the gallbladder or frequent problems with digestion due to poor fat absorption. Treatments that can help naturally prevent or solve gallbladder problems and, most importantly, do not require surgery include dietary foods, avoiding refined fats and foods that cause allergies, rinsing the gallbladder to get rid of painful stones, and taking supplements that include herbs that reduce inflammation and enzymes as part of the diet of people who are on a special diet due to gallbladder problems.
Prevention of gallstones, nutrition in case of bile problems as well as other natural treatments
Follow a special diet
The foods listed below can help reduce gallbladder stress, as it is generally easier for the body to digest, contains only natural fats, and supplies important nutrients such as antioxidants and fibers :
Foods rich in fiber
Intake of 30-40 grams of fiber per day can help reduce gallstones’ risk. Good sources of fiber that stimulate digestion are bean sprouts and legumes, nuts, seeds, and fresh vegetables and fruits.
Beets, artichokes, and dandelion leaves
Vegetables especially help maintain liver health, are credited with detoxification, and improve bile flow, breaking down fats. You can also consume fresh homemade products, vegetable juices, or smoothies. Try to eat foods rich in potassium, such as avocados, lettuce, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and bananas.
Unrefined healthy fats (including olive oil or coconut oil)
Coconut oil contains one of the easiest forms of fat to digest, called medium-chain fatty acids. It is recommended to consume healthy fats in small quantities during the day, only about one tablespoon of oil a day or about two tablespoons of nuts and seeds. This is because you do not want to consume too much fat, as this puts more stress on the liver and gallbladder. Extra virgin olive oil is another ointment that has anti-inflammatory properties offering many benefits.
Nuts of nuts and seeds
Sprouted flax, whose seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkins are easier to digest and reduce inflammation. But consume only one to two tablespoons of sprouts a day.
A diet rich in plants, including raw foods
People who follow a diet adapted to the gallbladder’s proper functioning and who consume large amounts of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds have a weaker tendency to develop gallstones. This food is naturally rich in water, electrolytes, antioxidants, and fiber but has low salt and fat percentage. A vegetarian diet is also associated with reducing the risk of gallstones and avoiding processed meat or allergenic dairy products.
Including organic protein sources in a diet adapted to the proper functioning of the gallbladder can relieve stress. Consider chicken, turkey, beef, buffalo meat, wild fish, and organic protein powder, including cooked bone protein in powder form.
Foods to avoid include:
- Fried Foods and Hydrogenated Oils – Fast foods, processed oils, and fatty meats or cheese can be some of the most difficult foods to digest properly. To reduce the number of unhealthy fats in your diet, reduce your meat intake, foods such as chips and biscuits, salami and other meat products, pork products, processed dairy products, and animal meat.
- Sugar and simple carbohydrates – Sugar can increase gallstones’ likelihood due to weight gain and inflammation.
- Foods You May Be Allergic to – Gallstone problems can be linked to food allergies. Potential allergens include dairy products, gluten, shellfish, peanuts, or vegetables.
- Common dairy products – This food is pro-inflammatory and can cause your body to produce gallstones. These foods include cheese, ice cream, pizza, and the like.
- High-fat meals – Gallbladder attacks are often accompanied by a heavy meal and usually occur in the evening or during the night. Any fat-rich food can potentially worsen gallbladder problems. This mostly applies to refined vegetable oils (such as sunflower, safflower oil, rapeseed oil, corn oil, etc.). Still, in some cases, it can even include healthy oils, such as olive oil – or even things like almond butter. While healthy fats are essential, it is crucial to control the amount ingested. If your symptoms worsen when you eat even healthy fats, further reduce the amount you eat or try another fat type.
Use herbs, acids and enzymes that help the gallbladder
In addition to dietary changes, other natural supplements help reduce pain and inflammation, and that should match a diet tailored to the proper functioning of the gallbladder:
- Guja grass (150 milligrams twice a day) – Guja grass increases bile flow and helps liver and gallbladder detoxify. Research has found that guinea fowl is naturally hepatoprotective and acts in some ways: it has antioxidant activity, blocks toxins at the membrane level, improves protein synthesis, has antifibrotic activity, and can also produce anti-inflammatory or immunomodulatory effects.
- Lipase enzymes (two capsules with a meal) – This enzyme improves the digestion of fats and the use of bile.
- Bile salts or ox bile (500-1,000 milligrams with a meal) – Bile salts and ox bile can help improve fat breakdown and significantly improve the gallbladder’s condition.
- Turmeric (1,000 milligrams per day) – turmeric and its most active compound, curcumin, have anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce gallbladder swelling and improve bile flow.
- Dandelion root (500 milligrams with a meal) – Dandelion has been used for centuries to improve multiple digestive processes, support liver health, and regulate bile use.
- Laurel – An extract of this plant can help treat gastrointestinal problems, fight infections and cleanse the liver and gallbladder.
- Rosemary Oil – Mix three drops of rosemary oil with a quarter of a teaspoon of coconut oil and rub the gallbladder area twice a day to help cleanse and reduce inflammation.
Maintain a healthy body weight without rigorous diets
Being overweight or obese can increase your chances of developing gallbladder problems, such as gallstones. This is especially true for overweight middle-aged women due to the effects of hormonal changes (especially estrogen) on the liver. Obesity has been shown to contribute to higher cholesterol levels in the liver and contribute to many different digestive dysfunctions.
Research also shows that people who do not maintain a healthy body weight may notice more inflammation and swelling inside the gallbladder, especially if they have large amounts of fat around the waist called visceral fat. Tips for safely achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight (without excessive stress on the digestive organs due to rigorous diets) include:
- Avoid “yo-yo” diets (gaining and losing weight repeatedly). Most of the “yo-yo” effects are due to diet. Research shows that people who lose more than three kilograms a week may be more likely to gain gallstones than those who lose weight more slowly and without drastic measures.
- Malnutrition due to other health problems, recovery from weight loss surgery, or other reasons for rapid weight loss can contribute to nutrient deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances that negatively affect the liver.
- Lose weight safely by focusing on eating more fiber as part of a gallbladder diet, drinking water instead of sugary drinks, eating carefully, being more active, and controlling stress that can contribute to hormonal imbalance or emotional overeating.
Stay active throughout your life and even in old age to protect yourself from gallstones’ formation. This is very useful for hormonal balance, reduces inflammation, improves overall digestive health tract, and helps maintain healthy body weight without the need for dramatic calorie reduction. The general recommendation is 30 – 60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every day, plus demanding training several times a week.
Talk about medications with your doctor
If you are taking medications, including oral contraceptives, hormone replacement medications, or cholesterol-lowering medications, then talk to your doctor about whether they may be contributing to gallbladder problems. Studies have shown that hormonal drugs increase estrogen storage in the body, which affects the production of cholesterol.
Common problems with the gallbladder
About 10 to 20 percent of all adults have gallstones, whether they understand it or not. It is believed that every fifth adult over the age of 65 has at least one gallstone. A gallstone that does not cause any symptoms is called an asymptomatic gallstone. Gallstones (cholelithiasis) are actually small, solid parts of matter made up of things like calcium and cholesterol deposits that can coalesce and settle inside the gallbladder. The gallbladder usually contains only liquids and is not intended to store solid matter, which is why even the presence of small stones in the gallbladder can cause pain and inflammation.
When there is not enough bile to saturate cholesterol, cholesterol begins to crystallize and form solid stones. Risk factors for the development of gallstones include women over the age of 40, pregnancy or other hormonal changes, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and a history of gallstones in the family.
Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
Cholecystitis is usually caused by stones in the gallbladder that block the passage leading to and from the gallbladder, which leads to the accumulation of bile, problems with the ducts, and sometimes the appearance of tumors. Problems with the bile ducts can contribute to problems in the gallbladder’s functioning, but this rarely happens and is recorded in only 1% of patients who need gallbladder surgery.
Some signs that can lead to the gallbladder’s inflammation are severe pain in the upper right part of the abdomen, pain that extends to the right shoulder, along with nausea or fever. The biggest risk associated with cholecystitis is that the gallbladder becomes so inflamed that it leads to rupture, which leads to surgery, hospitalization, and sometimes the use of antibiotics and painkillers in combination with a few days of fasting.
Do you need gallbladder surgery?
It is estimated that 750,000 surgeries are performed each year in North America alone to remove gallstones that cause pain and cure cholecystitis. Surgery is most often needed for inflammation of the gallbladder or the development of large stones that become very painful. However, most stones do not need to be removed, especially if they do not cause symptoms (which is often the case).
Facts about gallbladder surgery:
Because cholecystitis may occasionally recur in some patients, gallbladder removal surgery is the last resort. After removal, the gallbladder is not actually needed for survival or digestion of food because bile can be carried into the small intestine. Therefore, the gallbladder is considered not to be an essential organ.
- “Gallbladder attack” in patients is one reason doctors choose to perform surgery. Usually, one big attack means that more of them will happen in the future.
- Gallbladder removal surgery is called cholecystectomy, and it is performed either invasively or non-invasively. The operation is usually called a laparoscopic cholecystectomy and is performed using a tiny camera attached to a tube inserted through small incisions in the abdomen.
- In high-risk patients, gallbladder surgery is usually performed within 48 hours of entering the hospital. Recovery may involve a hospital stay for a few days.
- NOTES surgery (surgery through natural openings) is a newer, non-invasive way to remove the gallbladder that leaves fewer scars and brings with it less discomfort. It is still considered an alternative way to remove the gallbladder, so it is not available yet, but we can expect it to change over time.
- Each operation poses a risk for complications or side effects, but in general, research shows that side effects in gallbladder surgery are rare. Sometimes there can be an injury to the bile duct, which leads to bile loss and possibly infection.
- Some other methods, such as ERCP, are sometimes used by doctors to remove stones in people who cannot have surgery. Gallstones can be removed using certain medications, but it has been shown that this often does not provide a long-term solution without other lifestyle changes, and often the stones return within five years after non-surgical treatment.
If you want to avoid surgery (and who doesn’t want to?) In overcoming gallbladder pain, what needs to be done is to prevent gallbladder problems in the first place. It is also beneficial to follow a diet that contributes to the gallbladder’s proper functioning, regardless of the option you choose, what works best when consumed in the long run, and helps prevent a recurrence.
Precautions for problems related to the gallbladder and diet
Always take your doctor’s opinion into account if you suspect that you may have gallstones or gallbladder inflammation. Although rare, complications can include bile duct obstruction and infections or inflammation that spread to other organs such as the pancreas. These serious complications can affect 10 to 15 percent of people with gallstones. Pay attention to symptoms, such as severe pain and swelling, a soft area above the gallbladder, and symptoms that indicate a high temperature.
Concluding facts about the diet important for the proper functioning of the gallbladder
- Gallbladder problems most often occur due to gallstones, heavy particles that develop in the gallbladder due to bile accumulation, and too much cholesterol.
- Adults at greatest risk for gallbladder problems are women over 40, obese or overweight, anyone who eats junk food, women who take birth control pills, those who take cholesterol-lowering drugs, and those who already have a family history—cases of gallstone formation.
- Gallstones usually do not require surgery, they do not even give any symptoms, but sometimes surgery is needed if the gallbladder becomes inflamed.
- To prevent the formation of gallstones, “gallbladder attack,” or the need for gallbladder surgery, it is important to follow a diet that ensures proper gallbladder function, maintains a healthy weight, and exercises and uses digestive supplements if necessary.