The gallbladder is a digestive organ located in the upper right portion of the abdomen, directly underneath the liver. It is responsible for storing and concentrating bile that is produced by the liver. Bile is a greenish-yellow color and is composed of bile acids, water, electrolytes, bilirubin, cholesterol, and phospholipids. As food enters the small intestine, hormonal and nervous system activity causes the gallbladder to con- tract and sends bile through the common bile duct into the beginning portion of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. Bile has several different functions, which include the digestion and the absorption of fats, and the absorption of fat-soluble nutri- ents, the retention of water in the colon to promote bowel movements, the excretion
of bilirubin (degraded red blood cells), the elimination of drugs and other compounds in the body, and the secretion of various proteins involved in gastrointestinal func- tion. As you can see, dysfunction in bile production and secretion can result in many different health problems.
The most common problem associated with the gallbladder is gallstones. It is esti- mated that 20 percent of people over the age of sixty-ﬁve have gallstones. Every year, more than 500,000 people have surgery to remove their gallbladders. The symptoms of gallstones can greatly vary, from person to person. Most people with gallstones often have no symptoms throughout their lives, as the stones pass without problems. Symptoms may include right-sided abdominal pain (or pain anywhere in the abdomen) and radiating pain that goes to the right shoulder blade. Abdominal bloating, gas, belching, and recurrent pain are common, too. Most often, gallstones have been found with a routine exam, and if they are causing no symptoms, they are left alone. Gall- stones that cause pain and other symptoms are treated conventionally, with surgery (often using laparoscopy), bile acids taken orally (for stones that are noncalciﬁed), or, more commonly, lithotripsy, the use of shock waves to fragment the stones so that they will pass.
Gallstones are formed as a result of the bile becoming saturated with cholesterol. This can be due to an increase in cholesterol secretion or decreased bile and lecithin secretion. This then causes other particulate matter to attract cholesterol and sets the stage for stone formation. As you will read in this chapter’s treatment section, there are natural ways to decrease the saturation of cholesterol in the bile via diet and nutri- tional supplementation.
Risk factors for gallstones include
Sex: Women are two to four times more likely than men to have gallstones. This, in part, may be due to the use of oral contraceptives and synthetic hormone replacement.
Race: Gallstones are more common in women of North American Indian ethnicity. Obesity causes an increased secretion of cholesterol into bile. Also, it should be
noted that rapid weight loss (during the initial phases) can contribute to gallstone
Age: The frequency increases with age. A Western diet is a contributing factor.
A positive family history predisposes one to this problem.
Digestive tract diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, increase one’s risk.
A persistent obstruction of the bile duct can also result in fever, nausea, and vom- iting. At this point, the condition is termed acute cholecystitis. This is an acute inﬂam- mation of the gallbladder wall as a response to the gallstone obstruction. In rare cases, infection and pus may ﬁll the gallbladder or cause perforation of the gallbladder wall. These situations are dangerous and require immediate surgery. While most cases of acute cholecystitis are surgically treated, people who improve greatly within one to two days may not require surgery if the gallstones are small enough to pass through into the intestinal tract. Ultrasound and X-rays are used to diagnose gallstones and acute cholecystitis.
The natural approaches in this chapter are highly successful in preventing further gallstone formation and gallbladder inﬂammation/attacks, as long as the present stones are not too large. People with asymptomatic or “silent” gallstones should not require surgery, if the proper diet and supplemental measures are followed.
SYMPTOMS (GALLSTONES AND ACUTE CHOLECYSTITIS)
• Right-sided abdomen pain (or pain anywhere in the abdomen) and radiating pain that goes to the right shoulder blade
• Drugs, such as oral contraceptives and synthetic hormone replacement and some cholesterol-lowering drugs
• Race (more common in women of North American Indian ethnicity)
• Rapid weight loss
• Western diet (high in saturated fat, low in ﬁber, alcohol)
• Food allergies/sensitivities (root cause for gallbladder attacks)
• Positive family history
• Increased risk from digestive tract diseases, such as Crohn’s
Fiber-rich foods are important in reducing the likelihood of gallstones. A variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and oat bran is recommended. Include ﬁve to seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Regularly eat beets, globe artichokes, and organic dandelion greens, as they improve bile ﬂow.
Olive oil has historically been used by nutritionists and naturopathic doctors to improve bile ﬂow. Use it on salads regularly.
Flaxseeds are a highly concentrated source of essential fatty acids, the “good” fats that reduce inﬂammation. Add ﬂaxseeds to juices, salads, or fruit plates, or use the oil as a salad dressing.
Studies have shown that vegetarians are at a lower risk for gallstones. This does not mean you need to be a strict vegetarian if you have gallstones, but you should greatly increase the amount of plant foods in your diet.
Food to Avoid
Avoid the use of fried foods and foods with a high percentage of saturated fat (dairy products and red meat).
It is important to limit your intake of simple carbohydrates and sugars. Researchers have found that gallstones are rare in countries like Africa, where the diet is low in reﬁned sugars and high in ﬁber. In one study, 13 people with gallstones ate a diet con- taining reﬁned carbohydrates for 6 weeks, then consumed a diet of only unreﬁned car- bohydrates for an additional 6 weeks. The cholesterol-saturation index of bile (indicating a tendency to form gallstones) was higher in 12 of the 13 people during the period of time they ate reﬁned carbohydrates.
Food allergies or sensitivities can be a root cause of gallbladder attacks. Since the
1940s, James Breneman, M.D., the former chairman of the Food Allergy Committee of the American College of Allergists, reported that food allergies can initiate
gallbladder attacks and gallbladder disease. One study found that 100 percent of a group of patients were symptom free after following an elimination diet that included beef, rye, soy, rice, cherries, peaches, apricots, beets, and spinach for one week. Foods that were most likely to cause gallbladder symptoms in this study included eggs, pork, and onions. Other common triggers included fowl, citrus fruits, milk, coffee, corn, beans, and nuts. Dr. Breneman believes that food allergies cause inﬂammation and swelling of the bile duct, which restricts bile ﬂow from the gallbladder.
One study found that men who drank coffee had a lower risk of gallstones than men who did not drink coffee. However, coffee initiates gallbladder contractions, so peo- ple with known gallstones should avoid its use.
The following tests help assess possible reasons for gallstone attacks: Food allergy/sensitivities—blood or electrodermal
Stool analysis—analyze fat digestion
Essential fatty-acid balance—blood test
Super Seven Prescriptions—Gallbladder Problems
Super Prescription #1 Wild yam root (Dioscorea villosa)
Take 2 to 3 ml or 500 mg of the capsule form every hour for the relief of gallblad- der spasms and pain. Wild yam root has an antispasmodic effect on the bile duct.
Super Prescription #2 Milk thistle
Take a milk thistle extract standardized to contain a daily total of 420 mg a day. Milk thistle increases bile ﬂow and decreases bile cholesterol saturation.
Super Prescription #3 Lipase enzymes
Take 1 to 2 capsules of lipase enzymes with each meal to improve fat digestion.
Super Prescription #4 Homeopathic China
Take a 30C potency twice daily for two weeks and then stop using it, unless symp- toms return. This remedy is helpful for people with gallstones and gallbladder dis- ease that causes bloating, nausea, ﬂatulence, and diarrhea, as well as gallbladder pain.
Super Prescription #5 Dandelion root (Taraxacum ofﬁcinale)
Take 2 ml of tincture or 500 mg of the capsule form with every meal. Dandelion root improves bile ﬂow.
Super Prescription #6 Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
Take a product standardized to contain 150 mg of curcumin with each meal. Turmeric has anti-inﬂammatory properties, improves bile ﬂow, and relaxes the bile duct.
Super Prescription #7 Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
Take 1 to 2 ml of the tincture or 500 mg of the capsule form with each meal. Globe artichoke improves bile ﬂow.
Bile salts are particularly helpful for someone who has had his or her gallbladder removed. Take 1 to 2 tablets of bovine bile salts with each meal to improve digestion and the absorption of fats.
Vitamin C is required to convert cholesterol into bile. Take 500 to 1,000 mg three times per day with meals.
Phosphatidylcholine is a component of lecithin that helps increase the solubility of cholesterol. Take 1,000 mg twice daily.
Fish oil reduces inﬂammation, and animal studies show that a deﬁciency of essen- tial fatty acids predisposes you to gallstones. Take a daily dosage of an enteric-coated ﬁsh oil product containing at least 480 mg of EPA and 360 mg of DHA twice daily.
Full-spectrum digestive enzymes aid in the digestion of food and make food sen- sitivities less likely. Take 1 to 2 capsules with each meal.
A probiotic supplies friendly bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and biﬁdus. These good bacteria are involved with cholesterol and bile acid metabolism. Take a product containing at least 4 billion active organisms daily.
Pick the remedy that best matches your symptoms in this section. For acute gallstone pain, take a 30C potency four times daily. For chronic gallstone pain, take a 6x, 12x,
6C, 12C, or 30C twice daily for two weeks to see if there are any positive results. After you notice improvement, stop taking the remedy, unless symptoms return. Consul- tation with a homeopathic practitioner is advised.
Berberis Vulgaris is for sharp, stitching, or colicky pains that radiate from the gall- bladder to the stomach or the shoulder. Abdominal pain makes you double over in pain.
Calcarea Carbonica is a good remedy for people with a predisposition to gallblad- der problems. The abdomen feels swollen on the right and is sensitive to pressure. The person feels worse from standing, worse from exertion, and better from lying on the painful side. People requiring this remedy are usually overweight and chilly and tire easily. They also tend to feel anxious and overwhelmed. There is a craving for sweets, eggs, and dairy products.
Chelidonium Majus is used when there is pain in the right upper abdomen that radi- ates to the right shoulder blade. Symptoms are worse from eating fatty foods and bet- ter from warm drinks.
China Ofﬁcinalis is a remedy that is helpful for people with gallstones and gall- bladder disease who experience bloating, nausea, ﬂatulence, and diarrhea, as well as gallbladder pain.
Colocynthis is for cramping pains that make a person double over or lie down and apply pressure on the abdomen. Symptoms may come on after anger or suppressed emotions.
Dioscorea is a speciﬁc remedy for when people bend backward to relieve the gall- bladder pain. Their symptoms are worse from lying down or bending forward. This remedy is indicated when abdominal pain from gallstones is relieved by bending back- ward and is worse when the person bends forward or lies ﬂat.
Lycopodium is a remedy for gallbladder pain accompanied by bloating and a dis- tended abdomen that feel better from warm drinks or warm applications and from rub- bing the abdomen. Gas often occurs in evening (4 to 8 P.M.). People requiring this remedy are often chilly and crave sweets.
Magnesia Phosphorica is helpful for right-sided abdomen pain and gas pains that feel better with warm drinks or warm applications. It is also used for gallbladder spasms.
Nux Vomica is for stitching pains and cramps, accompanied by nausea or heart- burn. Symptoms may come on after the consumption of spicy foods, coffee, alcohol, or other stimulants. The person feels chilly, impatient, and irritable.
Pulsatilla is speciﬁc for gallbladder pains that come on after eating rich or fatty foods like ice cream. The person feels better in the fresh air and desires consolation when not feeling well.
• Work Stomach 36 to improve digestion.
• Liver 21 and 34 improve gallbladder function.
Work the gallbladder and the liver area to reduce pain and spasm.
Constitutional hydrotherapy is excellent for improving and reducing gallbladder pain and spasms. It can be used for acute bouts and for long-term prevention.
Chamomile and lavender are antispasmodic oils that relax abdominal cramps. Dilute some in a carrier oil and use in a massage, or add a few drops to a warm bath. Each oil is also a pleasant stress-reducer.
General Stress-Reduction Therapies
For some people, anger and anxiety worsen existing gallbladder problems. Take time to meditate and relax.
Bach Flower Remedies
If none of the following suggestions apply to you, consult the chart on pages 648–650 to ﬁnd the remedy best suited to your individual needs. Once you have chosen a rem- edy, place 10 drops of the liquid under your tongue. Hold the drops in place for thirty seconds and swallow. Use as often as needed.
If you are prone to panic attacks or high levels of anxiety, keep a bottle of Rescue Remedy on hand. It will help calm you down in an emergency and keep the emotional problem from affecting your intestines. Rescue Remedy is also useful when you have an acute attack of the disease itself, as it can stave off the tension often produced by extreme physical distress.
Vine is for people whose strong drives and ambition lead to an intolerance of others. If you have suffered much and are bitter and resentful as a result, Willow will help
you regain an appreciation for life.
White Chestnut helps to quiet minds that are plagued by constant, repetitive worries.
Mimulus will help people who are plagued by very speciﬁc fears.
For a more generalized anxiety, caused by fears you can’t name, take Aspen.
Exercise should be part of a program to prevent gallstones.
In a study of over 60,000 women, an average of two to three hours per week of exer- cise reduced the risk of gallbladder surgery by approximately 20 percent. Choose an exercise system you like and be consistent with it.