The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that sits on the right side of our bodies just beneath the liver. Its primary function is to store and secrete bile. Bile is a yellow-brown fluid produced by the liver, which helps us digest fats. Our liver produces up to three cups of bile a day. Our gallbladder can store up to a cup of bile as it awaits a fatty meal.
When we eat, our gallbladder contracts and pushes bile into the small intestines where it helps with the digestion of fats. Bile is made up of water, cholesterol, fats, bile salts, proteins and bilirubin. Under certain conditions, substances in the bile, especially the cholesterol or bile pigment (bilirubin) can harden into stones – gallstones.
Gallstones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. We can develop one large stone or a multitude of smaller ones. Many people with gallstones have no symptoms at all. Others go through life relatively symptom free, experiencing minor symptoms such as abdominal bloating, intolerance to fatty foods, belching, intestinal gas and indigestion. For others, however they may suffer what is called a gallstone “attack”. Gallstone attacks often follow a fatty meal. Symptoms of an attack include steady, sever pain in the upper abdomen that can last from 30 minutes to several hours. Sufferers may also experience pain in the back between the shoulder blades or under the right shoulder. A gallstone attack is often accompanied by nausea or vomiting. If symptoms such as sweating, chills, a fever or a yellowish color to the skin or whites of the eyes occur, it is important to seek medical assistance.
There are a number of factors that increase your risk of having gallstones. Those at a higher risk include women, especially women who are pregnant, on hormone therapy or taking birth control pills, people over 60 years of age, Native and Mexican Americans, overweight individuals and individuals who fast or go on crash diets and lose a lot of weight quickly.
It is important to recognize that if the gallbladder is loaded with stones, there is very little room to store bile and fat digestion may become impaired. In turn, the unused bile can back up into the liver causing liver congestion. If this is the case, it is important to evaluate your liver’s health prior to cleansing on your gallbladder.
Recommendations For Wellness
The traditional treatment for gallstones is to have your gallbladder removed. There are, however, a number of things you can do to reduce your risk of producing gallstones or experiencing a gallstone attack.
- Reduce your consumption of saturated fats typically found in red meat and pork, while increasing the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables you consume.
- Start a diet and exercise program, but avoid crash dieting which can increase your risk of gallstones. Both diet and exercise can help you reduce your risk of producing gallstones.
- If you are taking birth control pills or are on hormone replacement therapy, speak with your doctor regarding your risk of forming stones or have them check your gallbladder for the presence of gallstones regularly.
- Studies indicate that coffee increase the flow of bile and may help to decrease the risk of gallstones. If you decide to add a little coffee to your health plan for this reason, make sure you only consume organically grown coffee beans.
- Supplement with vitamin C. Vitamin C is needed by the body to convert cholesterol to bile acids in the body.
- Lecithin has been shown to help break down and transport fat molecules and may help dissolve gallstones. Studies indicate that it is helpful in protecting us from gallstone formation.
- Safflowers can be used to thin body fluids as well as aid in the digestion of oils.
- Nature’s Sunshine Gall Bladder Formula can be used to help stimulate circulation, improve liver function & aid in the production of digestive fluids.
- Do a gallbladder flush. During a gallbladder flush, 1-2 cups of olive oil are consumed to simulate the gallbladder into releasing bile. This increased demand on the gallbladder to release bile works to push the stones out.
- If you think your liver is congested, or if you have been having minor symptoms of gallstones for a long period of time, it is important to support and cleanse your liver for a period of time before doing a gallbladder flush. Try taking herbs such as milk thistle, dandelion or a liver cleanse formula.