A Functional Medicine Approach to Gallstone Treatment

treatment for gallstones

Last week we wrote about gallstones and why they develop. In this week’s part 2 on gallstones, we will discuss solutions and ways to prevent gallstones. Please read on!

TREATMENT For Gallstones:

Surgical removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy) is the most common way to treat gallstones. Cholecystectomy has a low surgical risk and is the most common elective abdominal surgery performed in the US (Di Ciaula, 2018). Despite this, complications are possible, ranging from bile leak, bile duct injury and, in rare cases, death (Di Ciaula, 2018). Therefore, we would recommend focusing on the prevention of gallstones.

SOLUTIONS and Treatment For Gallstones:

Lifestyle changes are the best way to intervene and prevent gallstones.

Change Your Diet:

  • The risk of developing gallstones is observed to increase with certain dietary habits such as excess caloric intake, low fiber content, highly refined sugars, high fructose and fat intake and low vitamin C intake (Di Ciaula, 2018).
  • The risk of gallstones decreases with other habits such as olive oil consumption, omega 3 fatty acids, high intake of monounsaturated fats, fiber, vegetables, vitamin C supplementation, fruit and moderate alcohol consumption (Di Ciaula, 2018).
  • A study published just last year shows vegetables and fruits consumption is correlated with a significantly reduced risk of gallstone disease (Zhang JW, 2019). This study correlation indicates that gallstone risk was reduced by 4% and 3% for every 200 g per day increase in vegetables consumption and fruits consumption respectively (Zhang JW, 2019). 
  • In a large French study, the Mediterranean diet was linked with a significantly lower risk of gallstones (Di Ciaula, 2018).
  • We recommend an anti-inflammatory diet, removing gluten, processed foods and sugar. Include dietary habits which reduce the risk of gallstones such as a low-carbohydrate diet with ample vegetables, proteins, nuts and moderate alcohol intake.
  • Switch to an organic diet to avoid pesticides, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors and other toxins which can contribute to gallstone development (Di Ciaula, 2018) and are detrimental to optimal health generally.
  • Beets contain betaine and may help with bile flow. Regular consumption of beets in the diet may help with sluggish bile.

Improve Gut Health: Find an experienced Functional Medicine practitioner to help improve your gut health. It is critical to fix leaky gut and its root causes (see here), as well as any other digestive issues you may have.

Increase Physical Activity. Exercise and aim to maintain a normal body weight (Di Ciaula, 2018). Regular physical activity positively influences several metabolic disorders, including cholesterol gallstone disease (Di Ciaula, 2018).

Improve & Reverse Metabolic Syndrome:

  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Balance blood sugar & insulin levels
  • Lose weight
  • Exercise
  • Quit smoking

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Improve Detoxification Function: Enhancing your ability to detoxify will keep your toxic burden down and your liver functioning well. This is important as a high toxic burden is related to the risk of gallstones (Di Ciaula, 2018). Please get in touch with us today on how to improve detoxification here.

Balance Hormones: High estrogen levels have been found to be associated with gallstones formation (Di Ciaula, 2018). Therefore, we would recommend avoiding endocrine disruptors and exogenous sources of estrogen, including medications with a high estrogen content. It is also important to check that your hormones are in balance, which we can do via DUTCH testing. Ensuring healthy insulin levels is also a factor and we can help you to do that by balancing blood sugar and testing for and addressing insulin resistance.

Supplements to add for the Treatment of Gallstones: There are a number of supplements that can help with bile flow and gallbladder health. An increased secretion of bile acids produces an increase in bile flow. Having a healthy level of bile flow keeps the gallbladder functioning well and helps to digest fats and absorb fat soluble vitamins and minerals.

  • Cholagogue herbs or Bitters: Cholagogue herbs include Aloe vera, Barberry, Boneset, Burdock, Centaury, Dandelion, Ginger, Goldenseal, Milk Thistle, Mountain Grape, Olive,  Peppermint, Turmeric, Vervain and Wild Yam. 
  • Curcumin & Ginger: Roots like curcumin (Lelo, 2001) and ginger (Yamahara J, 1985) stimulate bile flow. They can be taken in food form, as supplements or consumed as tea.
  • Glycine and Taurine:  Bile acids require taurine (Yamanaka Y, 1986) and glycine. By supplementing with these two amino acids, you can help stimulate bile acid synthesis to ensure a good level of bile flow, and improve overall gallbladder function.
  • Choline & Betaine: Choline can be found in eggs, liver and peanuts or in supplement form. Betaine is found in sugar beets, spinach, quinoa, brown rice, sweet potato, turkey breast, beef, veal and shrimp or as a supplement.
  • Ox bile: If you are having trouble with fat digestion or have had your gallbladder removed, supplementing with bile is very helpful. Ox bile increases your own production of bile from a sluggish gallbladder or replaces internal bile production in the case of gallbladder removal. If you do still have your gallbladder, then take ox bile until normal bile flow is restored. It is best to take your bile supplement before meals. You may want to increase dosage somewhat before a particularly fatty meal. NOTE AND CAUTION: there are people who have had gallbladder removed who get Bile Acid Diarrhea (BAD). In those cases, the liver is producing bile but because there is no gallbladder to store the bile, it is dripping slowly into the intestines. Bile without food in the intestines can trigger diarrhea in some cases. This is easily treated with bile acid sequestering drugs or supplements. Best to work with a practitioner if experiencing a symptom like diarrhea post gallbladder removal and not to take ox bile in this case.
  • It may be helpful to try to dissolve gallstones: Certain supplements such as beet root, phosphatidylcholine (Kasbo J, 2003), lemon, peppermint and vitamin C (Gustafsson U, 2003) have all been shown to reduce the impact of or even dissolve gallstones.

Thank you for tuning into this article about the treatment of gallstones.

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