Diet to help prevent and treat gallstones

Although not directly causing gallstones, the right diet can help prevent gallstones from forming and help reduce uncomfortable symptoms if you have gallstones.

1. What are gallstones?

In the gallbladder, a small, pear-shaped organ that stores bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver, crystals gather in the form of gallstones. The main function of the gallbladder is to store bile to help the body break down fats.

These deposits can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Whether hard or soft, smooth or jagged, they can vary in form. A person can have several gallstones or only one.

However, most cases of gallstones have no obvious symptoms and probably won’t hurt your body, gallstones simply float around inside the gallbladder often causing no symptoms and doing no harm.

These “silent” stones usually go unnoticed unless they are detected by ultrasound examination. However, the longer a stone stays in the gallbladder, the more likely it is to become a problem. People with gallstones without symptoms have a 20% chance of having an episode of pain.

When symptoms do occur, it is usually because gallstones have moved and become trapped in a bile duct, such as the cystic duct, a small tube that connects the gallbladder to another tube called the common bile duct. The typical symptom is abdominal pain, which may be accompanied by nausea, indigestion, or fever.

The pain, caused by the gallbladder’s contraction against the stone, usually occurs within an hour of eating or in the middle of the night. Stones can also block the common bile duct, which carries bile into the small intestine and the hepatic ducts, and carries bile out of the liver.

Obstructions in the bile ducts can cause the bile ducts to become inflamed and possibly infected. Obstruction of the common bile duct, which fuses with the pancreatic duct in the small intestine, can also lead to pancreatitis (gallstone pancreatitis).

2. The relationship between diet and gallstone disease

The main function of the gallbladder is to store bile, which helps the body break down fatty foods. When you eat, the gallbladder releases its stored bile into the cystic duct. The fluid then passes through the common bile duct and into the small intestine, where it condenses with food.

Chief among the components of bile are cholesterol and bile acids. Normally, the concentration of bile acids is high enough to break down the cholesterol in the mixture and keep it liquid. However, a high-fat diet can upset this balance, causing the liver to produce more cholesterol than bile acids can handle.

As a result, some of the excess cholesterol begins to solidify into crystals, known as gallstones. About 80% of gallstones are called cholesterol stones and are created this way. The remaining 20% ​​consists of calcium mixed with the bile pigment bilirubin and is known as pigment stone. The disease sickle cell anemia and other conditions where red blood cells are destroyed can contribute to pigment gallstones

However, researchers have also found that an extremely low-fat diet can also contribute to gallstone formation. With less fatty food to digest, the gallbladder works less often than usual, so cholesterol has more time to solidify.

Other factors that can decrease activity in the gallbladder, which can lead to gallstones, include: cirrhosis of the liver, use of oral contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy, pregnancy, family history, disease Diabetes, sudden weight loss, frequent fasting, physical inactivity and taking cholesterol-raising drugs… can also increase the risk of gallstones.

3. Diet helps prevent and treat gallstones

3.1. Healthy Food for Gallbladder

Whether you are at risk for gallstones or not, you should always stay at a healthy weight and eat a diet low in fat and cholesterol, moderate in calories, and high in fiber.

All of the following foods are healthy for the gallbladder and other organs of the body:

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Whole grains (whole bread, brown rice, oats, whole grains).
  • Lean meat, poultry, and fish.
  • Low-fat dairy products.
  • Good fats like olive oil.

Certain foods have also been studied for their ability to prevent gallbladder problems or reduce symptoms. For example, some studies have shown that drinking caffeinated coffee reduces the risk of gallstones in both men and women. Moderate alcohol intake has also been linked to a reduced incidence of gallstones.

In one study, women who ate at least one serving of peanuts per day had a 20% lower risk of having their gallbladder removed than women who rarely ate peanuts or peanut butter. In any case, there is not yet conclusive evidence to suggest that any of these foods can prevent gallbladder problems.

3.2. Foods to Avoid When Having Gallbladder Problems

Researchers say a diet high in refined carbohydrates and saturated fat is important in causing gallbladder symptoms. When a person has symptoms of pain due to gallstones, it is because the gallbladder is trying to contract because some of the stones are blocking the flow of bile. If you eat fatty foods, it will cause the gallbladder to contract even more.

So, changing your diet with healthy foods, with a balance of nutrients, and limiting your intake of saturated fat and foods high in cholesterol can help ease the symptoms of gallstones.

Patients should try to avoid or limit the following high-fat foods in their diet:

  • Fried food.
  • Highly processed foods (donuts, cakes, cookies).
  • Whole milk products (cheese, cream, butter).
  • Fatty red meat.

At the same time, it is not advisable to follow a very low-calorie diet. If you’re overweight, aim to lose weight slowly by following a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly to prevent gallstones.

Alfie Theo
Alfie Theo
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