Gallbladder Guide: Natural Gallstone Treatments

Gallbladder Guide_Natural Gallstone Treatments

Optimal digestive health is critical to overall wellness, and the gallbladder plays a crucial role in this process.

Often overlooked until you experience pain or other symptoms associated with gallbladder dysfunction, this small organ significantly impacts the way our body handles fats and helps with liver detoxification.

Understanding the gallbladder’s functions and how it connects to liver health can help us appreciate its importance in digestive health.

In recent years, our understanding of the gallbladder’s role has expanded beyond its role in digestion.

Bile, produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder, is no longer seen as simply to help with fat digestion.

Research now recognizes bile salts as crucial regulators of metabolism, impacting not only fat digestion but also carbohydrate and protein processing.

This newfound knowledge links the gallbladder to a wide range of health issues, from inflammation to metabolic disorders.

The gallbladder is an important organ that we don’t want to have removed with surgery, which is the most common medical way of dealing with gallstones.

Read this article to help you understand natural gallstone treatments and prevention.

Understanding the Gallbladder

Anatomy of the Gallbladder

The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ situated beneath the liver in the upper right abdomen.

It has a hollow structure designed to store bile, a digestive fluid produced by the liver. 

The gallbladder is connected to the liver and small intestine through a network of bile ducts, forming the biliary tract.

The cystic duct connects the gallbladder to the common bile duct, which carries bile into the small intestine.

Gallbladder disease_gallstones_major functions of bile

Functions of the Gallbladder

Bile Storage and Concentration

The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver and concentrates it by absorbing excess water.

This concentrated bile is released into the small intestine during digestion to aid in the breakdown of fats.

Role in Fat Digestion

Bile emulsifies fats, breaking them into smaller droplets that enzymes can digest more easily.

This process is essential for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) and nutrients.

Contribution to Detoxification

Bile plays a role in eliminating waste products from the liver, including excess cholesterol, bilirubin (a byproduct of red blood cells), and toxins processed through liver detoxification.

*Improving bile flow and using binders is an important part in the treatment of mold toxicity.

Gallbladder Connection to Liver Detoxification

Liver-Detox-Phases-Oxidation-Conjugation-Transportation

Overview of Liver Function in Detoxification

The liver processes and neutralizes toxins, which are then excreted through bile or urine.

Bile serves as a vehicle for the liver to remove fat-soluble toxins and metabolic waste.

Phase One and Phase Two Liver Detoxification

  • Phase One: In this initial phase, enzymes (mainly cytochrome P450) modify toxins, often making them more reactive.
  • Phase Two: In this subsequent phase, toxins are conjugated with substances like glutathione, sulfate, or glycine to make them water-soluble for easier excretion.

How the Gallbladder and Liver Processes Interconnect

The liver and gallbladder work together to ensure efficient detoxification and fat digestion.

The liver secretes bile, which the gallbladder stores and concentrates until it is needed for digestion.

Proper bile flow ensures that detoxified substances are eliminated and that fats are adequately processed.

An impaired gallbladder, such as one affected by gallstones, can disrupt this balance, leading to digestive issues and compromised detoxification.

So you can see the gallbladder is not just for storage of bile but plays an important role in detoxification, it is important to take good care of your gallbladder otherwise problems can occur.

Common Gallbladder Problems

By the time that you start to experience gallbladder symptoms that send you to a doctor your gallbladder has probably been operating at suboptimal levels for quite some time.

Usually, it is the pain from gallstones or cholecystitis that sends you to the doctor, often the recommendation at this stage is to remove your gallbladder, but there are many things you can do to prevent this from happening.

Gallstones

  • Causes: Gallstones develop when substances in bile, like cholesterol or bilirubin, form solid particles. Cholesterol gallstones are the most common and occur due to excess cholesterol in bile or inadequate bile salts to dissolve it. Pigment gallstones form due to excessive bilirubin.
  • Risk Factors: Factors include obesity, high-fat diets, pregnancy, rapid weight loss, certain medications, and genetic predisposition.
  • Symptoms: Gallstones can be asymptomatic or cause pain (biliary colic) in the upper right abdomen, often after fatty meals. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, and jaundice. Symptoms will also depend on the size which can range from tiny pebbles to golf ball size!
Gallbladder disease, gallstone symptoms

Cholecystitis (Inflammation of the Gallbladder)

  • Causes: Cholecystitis typically results from gallstones blocking the cystic duct, causing bile buildup. Other causes include tumors, bile duct problems, or infections.
  • Symptoms: Symptoms include severe pain in the upper right abdomen, fever, and nausea. The pain may spread to the back or shoulder.
  • Diagnosis: Diagnosis is through physical examination, blood tests, and imaging studies like ultrasound or CT scans.

Biliary Dyskinesia

  • Overview: Biliary dyskinesia is a motility disorder where the gallbladder doesn’t empty bile effectively.
  • Impact on Gallbladder Function: This condition causes symptoms similar to gallstones, such as upper abdominal pain, nausea, and bloating, but without evidence of stones. It's often diagnosed via a HIDA scan that measures gallbladder ejection fraction.

Gallbladder Cancer

  • Rare but Important to Mention: Gallbladder cancer is relatively rare and often diagnosed late due to subtle early symptoms resembling other gallbladder conditions.
  • Symptoms and Risk Factors: Symptoms include abdominal pain, jaundice, and weight loss. Risk factors include gallstones, chronic inflammation, and certain hereditary conditions.

Causes and Risk Factors of Gallstones

While anyone can experience gallbladder problems, the 3 biggest risk factors are being over 40, being overweight and also females are at a greater risk because of estrogen levels.

Let's have a look at these in more detail.

Diet and Lifestyle Affecting Gallstones

  • High-Fat Diets: Diets high in unhealthy fats can lead to excess cholesterol in bile, increasing the risk of gallstones.
  • Low-Fat Diets: can also cause gallbladder problems because of reduced bile flow
  • Obesity: Obesity affects bile composition, leading to cholesterol supersaturation.
  • On the flipside rapid weight loss can also cause gallbladder problems
  • Lack of Exercise: Physical inactivity can contribute to obesity, a significant risk factor for gallbladder issues.
  • Vitamin D deficiency

Hormonal Imbalance and Gallstones

  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can increase cholesterol in bile and decrease gallbladder emptying.
  • Hormone Therapy: Estrogen-based medications like the contraceptive pill can increase cholesterol levels in bile leading to gallstones.
  • Estrogen dominance can decrease bile flow, and increase the amount of cholesterol relative to bile salts leading to the formation of gallstones.

Genetics and Age

  • Family History: Genetics can influence bile composition and gallbladder motility, increasing the risk of gallbladder disease.
  • Age-Related Risks: Gallbladder problems, especially gallstones, become more common with age.

Underlying Medical Conditions

  • Diabetes: Diabetes is linked to poor gallbladder function and gallstone formation.
  • Liver Disease: Liver dysfunction can alter bile production, impacting gallbladder health.
  • Other Conditions: Certain conditions, like Crohn’s disease, can affect bile metabolism and increase the risk of gallstones.
  • Celiac disease and gluten intolerance can increase the risk of gallbladder disease.

Diagnosis of Gallstones

While there are blood tests and stool tests that you can do to get clues that your gallbladder is not functioning well, the best place to start is to look at the different signs and symptoms of gallbladder problems.

Of course these signs can point towards other digestive problems which is why it is important to get a proper assessment from a health professional.

An ultrasound of the gallbladder and liver is usually the best diagnostic test.

Clinical Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Dysfunction

Cholestasis Symptoms

  • Jaundice: Yellowing of the skin and eyes occurs when a gallstone blocks bile flow.
  • Dark Urine: Caused by increased bilirubin in the urine due to blocked bile flow.
  • Pruritus (Itchy Skin): Occurs due to bile salts depositing in the skin.
  • Steatorrhea and Malabsorption: Fat malabsorption leads to oily, greasy, or clay-colored stools, and nutrient deficiencies.

Digestive Symptoms

  • Fatty Food Intolerance: Nausea or discomfort after consuming fatty meals.
  • Light or Clay-Colored Stools: A result of insufficient bile in the digestive tract.
  • Floating, Frothy, and Foul-Smelling Stools: Indicate fat malabsorption.
  • Oily Sheen on Toilet Water: Visible sign of fat not being absorbed.

Pain Symptoms

  • Pain in the right upper quadrant or Epigastric Tenderness: Pain can be episodic and range from mild to severe, often occurring at night or after meals.
  • Referred Pain: Pain can extend to the right shoulder or the area below the right shoulder blade.

Other Symptoms

  • Fever and Chills: Indicative of infection, especially in cases of acute cholecystitis or cholangitis.
  • Weight Loss: Unintentional weight loss can be a sign of chronic gallbladder issues or underlying conditions like gallbladder cancer.
  • Vomiting and Nausea: Common symptoms associated with biliary colic and gallbladder inflammation.
  • Lipoma: These fatty tumors may develop due to gallbladder dysfunction, particularly when associated with obesity, alcohol use, or liver disease.
  • Pinguecula: Yellowish or brownish lesions on the conjunctiva are linked to cholesterol metabolism and are influenced by genetic and environmental factors.
  • Xanthelasma: Fatty yellowish bumps around the eyes that suggest an underlying lipid metabolism disorder, often linked to hyperlipidemia and atherosclerosis.

Blood Testing To Assess Gallbladder Problems

Cholesterol Levels: Thickened bile and early fatty liver development can be indicated by:

  • Elevated total cholesterol, LDL, and triglycerides.
  • Low HDL levels.
  • ALT levels lower than usual can indicate liver congestion

Bilirubin:

  • Elevated bilirubin can indicate dysfunction in the liver, gallbladder, or biliary tract, or increased red blood cell destruction.
  • Indirect (Unconjugated) Bilirubin: Elevated in RBC destruction or Gilbert’s syndrome.
  • Direct (Conjugated) Bilirubin: Elevated in liver or biliary system dysfunction.
  • Fasting can cause a false elevation.

Liver Enzymes:

  • AST (Aspartate Transaminase or SGOT): Levels above the normal range suggest liver dysfunction, with very high levels indicating severe issues that might extend beyond the liver.
  • ALP (Alkaline Phosphatase): Elevated ALP can indicate cholestasis or biliary obstruction.

Gamma-Glutamyl Transferase (GGT):

  • Elevated GGT, particularly if significantly higher than ALT and AST, suggests biliary obstruction.
  • GGT is often significantly elevated in cases of biliary obstruction, especially when accompanied by elevated ALP.

Inflammation Markers:

  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP) and Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR): Elevated CRP and ESR indicate inflammation, which might suggest gallbladder inflammation or infection.
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): A high white blood cell count suggests inflammation or infection, which could point to cholecystitis or other inflammatory gallbladder conditions

Stool Testing

  • Steatocrit: Elevated levels indicate fat malabsorption, which can stem from gallbladder or bile duct issues.
  • Pancreatic Elastase 1 (PE1): Low PE1 in stool suggests pancreatic insufficiency, which may result from gallstones or other pancreatic conditions.
  • Beta-glucuronidase (b-glucuronidase): Elevated levels are associated with pigment gallstones, as this enzyme can deconjugate bilirubin. It also indicates potential bile duct inflammation.

These markers can be assessed in an advanced stool test like the GI-MAP test or Gut Zoomer test.

Imaging And Other Tests To Assess Gallstones

  • Ultrasound: First-line imaging for gallstones and other abnormalities.
  • HIDA Scan: Measures gallbladder function.
  • CT Scan and MRI: Provide detailed images of the biliary tract.
  • Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP): Visualizes and can sometimes treat bile duct obstructions.

Natural Gallstone Treatments

Early assessment is the key to preventing gallbladder problems and to avoid the need for gallbladder surgery to remove the gallbladder, as this can lead to long term symptoms.

While surgeons can be quick to remove the gallbladder it is an important organ that you want to try and keep!

Consult with your practitioner before trying any natural remedy, especially if you are already taking other prescription medications.

Diet and Nutrition

  • Foods to Eat: Incorporating high-fiber foods like whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables supports gallbladder health. These foods help regulate bile flow and prevent cholesterol buildup. Healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, seeds, and fish, can encourage proper bile production and utilization.
  • Foods to Avoid: Reducing intake of high-fat and processed foods, particularly those rich in trans fats, can help prevent gallstone formation. Such foods increase cholesterol levels in bile, leading to stone development and gallbladder inflammation.
Natural gallstone treatments

Lifestyle Changes

  • Regular Exercise: Engaging in regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, improves metabolism, and supports digestive health. Exercise can reduce the risk of gallbladder issues by promoting better bile flow and reducing cholesterol levels.
  • Weight Management: Maintaining a healthy weight can prevent the formation of gallstones and reduce the risk of gallbladder disease. However, avoid rapid weight loss, as it can increase the risk of gallstones due to bile imbalances.

Herbal Remedies and Supplements for gallstones 

  • Milk Thistle: Milk thistle contains silymarin, a compound that supports liver health and may improve bile production and flow.
  • Artichoke Extract: Artichoke extract can enhance bile production and aid digestion, improving gallbladder function.
  • Turmeric: Turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties that can support liver and gallbladder health, promoting bile flow.
  • Phosphatidylcholine: Phosphatidylcholine helps emulsify fats and aids in bile production, reducing the risk of gallstones.
  • Bile Salts: Supplementing with bile salts can help improve bile flow and digestion, particularly after gallbladder removal.
  • TUDCA: Gallbladder sludge and stones are often caused by an imbalance in the bile acids and this is where TUDCA can help

I would avoid a Gallbladder flush for treatment of gallstones as this can come with risks, for example a stone could get stuck in the bile duct leading to a medical emergency.

Natural Gallstone Treatments - Detoxification Support

  • Supporting Liver Detoxification Phases: Support liver detoxification by consuming foods rich in sulfur compounds (like garlic and onions), cruciferous vegetables, and antioxidants. These foods can enhance both Phase One and Phase Two detoxification processes, improving the liver's ability to process toxins and produce healthy bile.
  • Tips for a Healthy Liver-Gallbladder Connection: Drink plenty of water to support bile production, and consume small, frequent meals to stimulate bile release. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption, which can impair liver function and bile production.

Gallbladder Surgery For Gallstones

If you leave things too late and have a medical emergency it is possible that you may need your gallbladder removed, but don’t forget this comes with consequences.

The gallbladder's primary function is to store and concentrate bile, which helps digest fats.

When the gallbladder is removed (cholecystectomy), the liver still produces bile, but it flows directly into the small intestine, which can lead to several potential issues:

  1. Digestive Problems: Without the gallbladder to regulate bile flow, bile may continuously drip into the intestine even when no food is present, leading to potential irritation or diarrhea, especially after consuming high-fat meals.
  2. Reduced Fat Absorption: The absence of a gallbladder can impact the efficiency of bile release, making it harder to digest and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
  3. Increased Risk of Bile Duct Stones: After gallbladder removal, stones can still form in the bile ducts, which can lead to biliary obstruction or inflammation.
  4. Postcholecystectomy Syndrome: Some people experience ongoing symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, and nausea after gallbladder removal, which could be due to various causes including bile duct dysfunction or bile reflux.
  5. Potential Changes in Gut Microbiota: The altered bile flow could potentially affect the gut microbiota, which may impact overall digestive health.

Gallbladder disease & Treatment Summary

Natural treatment for gallstones is best started before you have serious health issues, but even if you need to have gallbladder removal surgery there are specific supplements and diet options that will help you.

At Planet Naturopath we can help with advanced stool testing, different natural treatment options including dietary advice and specific supplements to help with your situation.

Tests To Consider

At Planet Naturopath we offer a wide range of functional medicine testing to help you get to the root cause of your health concerns, or simply help you optimize your health.

Gut Zoomer

The Gut Zoomer panel is a detailed analysis of gut health, assessing pathogens, beneficial bacteria, and intestinal health markers for inflammation and absorption.

Organic Acids 

The Organic Acids panel is a comprehensive test designed to measure a selection of organic acids and uncover issues related to metabolic dysfunction. It provides insight into imbalances and nutrient needs and helps identify difficult-to-detect inflammatory root causes of disease.

DUTCH Hormone Test

The DUTCH test is another way to assess the sex hormones, with the main difference between this test and a blood test is that it also measures how hormones are getting metabolized. Plus it assesses adrenal function in detail.

References
1. Gallstones: Environment, Lifestyle and Genes:
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/51472333_Gallstones_Environment_Lifestyle_and_Genes

2. Bile Acids and Metabolic Regulation:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2811459/

3. The role of bile salts in digestion:
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21236400/

4. Association between Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Cholelithiasis:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5877058/

5. Bile acids in glucose metabolism in health and disease:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5789421/

6. The Role of Bile Acids in Glucose Metabolism and Their Relation with Diabetes:
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1665268119310397

7. Functional, Diagnostic and Therapeutic Aspects of Bile:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9309561/#:~:text=The%20Function%20of%20Bile%20in,mercury%20get%20excreted%20through%20bile.

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