22.02.2014 Naturopathy

Saving Your Gallbladder

Natural treatments can be very effective in restoring gallbladder health, says naturopath Margaret Jasinska,

The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ situated directly under the liver in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. Its main function is to collect and concentrate the bile that the body uses to digest fats. Problems with the gallbladder and biliary system are very common; in fact, gallbladder removal is one of the most frequently performed hospital procedures.

In many instances, patients are rushed into surgery prematurely, when a more natural solution exists. In many cases, diet changes and nutritional supplements can restore the health of the gallbladder, preventing the need for surgery. Of course, this depends on how severe the problem is and how long the gallbladder has been unwell.

Unfortunately, gallbladder removal leaves some patients much worse off. Some people experience chronic discomfort and digestive problems after losing their gallbladder. This not only negatively affects their quality of life but it may lead to health problems.

What are gallstones?

Gallstones form when bile stored in the gallbladder hardens into stone-like objects. This process usually takes several years. Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.

There are several types of gallstones:

Cholesterol stones – these are the most common type of stonesPigment stones – these are formed from calcium bilirubinate (a component of bilirubin) and appear black or brown.Mixed stones – some people have both types of stones in their Gallbladder

Common symptoms of gallstones

The most common signs and symptoms of gallbladder dysfunction include:

  • Indigestion, particularly after eating rich fatty meals or dairy products
  • Abdominal bloating or a feeling of excessive fullness after meals
  • Reflux or heartburn, also known as GERD
  • Diarrhoea or loose, urgent stools after some foods
  • Abdominal cramps or other pain after a meal
  • Discomfort behind the right shoulder blade, or top of the right shoulder
  • Moody, irritable disposition
  • Low tolerance to alcohol
  • Sweating feet or excess sweating in the body in general
  • Bad breath and coated tongue

Interpreting your symptoms

Sometimes symptoms of a sluggish liver and/or sluggish bile flow can be interpreted incorrectly as gallbladder disease and the solution is to improve liver function. There may be excessive pressure inside the bile ducts within the liver and this occurs before the bile ducts get to the gallbladder. This increased pressure inside the bile ducts can be caused by thick toxic bile or an inflamed liver.

A fatty liver is swollen and congested with fat; this can cause bile flow to be sluggish, resulting in increased pressure and discomfort over the liver. If the increased pressure remains in the bile ducts this can result in back pressure in the bile ducts, which can cause liver cysts. These cysts are small to begin with, but if nothing is done, these cysts can grow in size and become painful.

Natural Treatments

How do we to treat gallbladder problems naturally? Follow these important steps:

  • Consume plenty of foods specific for helping the liver and gallbladder. They include beetroot and beetroot leaves; green leafy herbs such as mint, parsley, coriander and rocket, as well as all vegetables. Try to eat a mixture of raw and cooked vegetables; in summer ideally you'd eat two large salads each day.
  • Increase the amount of sulphur-rich foods in your diet, such as garlic, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.
  • Drink raw vegetable juice regularly. The juice needs to be predominantly made of vegetables. You can add an apple to the juice for a little sweetness. Vegetable juices have a cleansing effect on the liver and they help to make the bile thinner. Thick bile is a predisposing factor for bile sludge and gallstones.
  • Find out if you have any food sensitivities. In most cases, food intolerance aggravates gallbladder problems far more than oily food does. The most common problematic foods are gluten, wheat, dairy products, eggs, soy and nuts. You can try an elimination diet or you can see a naturopath to help you identify problem foods and come up with alternatives.
  • Sip one tablespoon of organic apple cider vinegar mixed in a quarter of a glass of warm water before meals. The malic acid in apple cider vinegar helps to make the bile thinner and can even help dissolve gallstones in time. Sipping some apple cider vinegar before meals should also help improve nutrient absorption and make you feel more comfortable after eating.
  • It is important not to follow a low fat diet, as consuming too little fat promotes bile stasis, which leads to thicker bile that can promote stones. Healthy fats to include in your diet include oily fish, avocados, olive oil and coconut oil. Eating good fats regularly keeps the gallbladder contracting properly and has a flushing effect on the organ.
  • Taking digestive enzymes with meals may reduce symptoms of gallstones and indigestion.
  • Avoid constipation. Constipation is a major promoter of gallstone formation because it reduces the ability of your body to excrete excess fats, bile, cholesterol and toxins. Therefore these wastes get reabsorbed back into the body and place a strain on the liver. It is important to have between one and three thorough bowel movements each day if you want to dissolve gallstones and heal your gallbladder. So you will need to drink plenty of water, and have adequate amounts of the right fibre in your diet to achieve this. Grains are the foods best known for their fibre content, but they are a common cause of irritable bowel syndrome and so you may be better off avoiding them. Grains are also a common cause of food sensitivities, and in that way can impair normal gallbladder function. In fact, people with a gallbladder problem are actually better off avoiding most grains, and getting their fibre from other foods such as vegetables.
  • There are herbs, which help to reduce symptoms of gallbladder disease and help to thin the bile, thereby slowly dissolving stones. These herbs include St Mary's thistle, turmeric, dandelion, globe artichoke and mint.

Margaret Jasinska is a Naturopath and co-author of Save your Gallbladder Naturally RRP $19.95), now available at good book stores and online at www.cabothealth.com.au

Margaret Jasinska

Sydney-based naturopath Margaret Jasinska has co-authored seven books with Dr Sandra Cabot