If clients come in with suspected gallbladder problems I always ask them if they’ve lost weight recently, been on a fat-free diet, or regularly consumer sugary drinks. By asking the right questions, the answers I get can point right to the heart of the problem.
In my observation, the main factors leading to gallbladder attacks and dysfunction are:
- rapid weight loss – for example 1 pound a week
- “fat-free” diets are especially bad
- poor dietary habits – especially too much/many:
- fatty and fried foods
- dairy food like cheeses and full cream milk
- refined sugars and starches
- high protein foods (in excess)
- food allergies
- long-term use of birth control pills
- a sedentary (couch potato) lifestyle.
Remember that Atkins diet craze? Well that caused a lot of gallbladder problems.
Once these factors are operating, bile produced in the liver and flowing through the biliary ducts into the gallbladder becomes too thick, the bile ducts may then become obstructed, gravel and stones may form (90% of all gallstones are cholesterol), and the whole biliary system may become clogged.
Other causative factors include:
- insufficient water consumption
- a weak immune system (increases likelihood of infection in the gallbladder)
- as well as diabetes and various liver diseases.
What does the gallbladder look like?
Treatment for Gallbladder problems
Prevention of gallbladder problems lies in controlling obesity, diet and adequate intake of consuming water, and the use of appropriate physical exercise.
Louise Hay, an interesting lady who wrote the famous book ‘Heal Your Life’ way back in 1976 with regard to how emotions can trigger physical problems, mentions that anger, aggressiveness, and bitterness can result in gallbladder problems. Keeping the immune system strong and the liver and small intestine healthy is very important too.
Let’s look now at some non-medical alternatives once gallbladder problems are evident, and also how to prevent this problem in the first instance.
Food allergies and gallbladder pain
Often finding and eliminating food allergies can stop frequent attacks of gallbladder pain and prevent unnecessary surgical removal. In one study, avoidance of allergens relieved symptoms in 100% of 69 patients with symptomatic gallstones or post-cholecystectomy (after the operation) syndrome (uncontrolled trial commented on by Dr. Alan Gaby, USA).
I’m not convinced just testing for antibodies in terms of food allergies is the way to go, try also: muscle testing, you may know somebody who does do electro-dermal testing. Either way, try going on an elimination or allergy diet, it may be the answer to your problems.
For recurring gallbladder pain – suspect food allergies in just about 100% of patients. On average I find that they are reactive to 4 or 5 foods, and according to Dr. Jonathon Wright, one of America’s most experienced natural medicine doctors, egg is generally one of the prime food allergens involved.
There are over 800,000 cholecystectomies (gallbladder operations) performed in the USA per annum, they cost US$5,000 to perform. If you do the math here, effective preventative natural medicine treatment could spare US$4 billion with gallbladder conditions alone.
I can imagine how many of the operations are performed needlessly in New Zealand each year, and it is truly amazing how many people I have seen who have their gallbladder out only to find that it did not fix up the problem they originally went to the doctor for in the first place.
Other medical methods of handling gallstones in the gallbladder include attempts to fragment them with sonic shock waves (lithotripsy). Of course there are other times when surgery may become necessary, such as in perforation of the gallbladder (often from gangrene) or where for example non-benign tumours and cancers are present.
All this is what I call “crisis medicine,” so common in the orthodox medical procedures used in the hospital system. Does it not make sense to prevent a gallbladder condition in the first place rather than waiting for disaster to strike and then to take action?
How is your back?
See your Chiropractor; you may have mid-thoracic vertebral subluxations. If you have back issues, your fourth thoracic vertebrae may a bit ‘dodgey’. You could be looking at a subluxations which means a slight dislocation (misalignment) or biomechanical malfunctioning of the vertebrae (the bones of the spine).
These disturbances may irritate nerve roots and the blood vessels which branch off from the spinal cord between each of the vertebrae, and if this is what is happening around the middle of your back it could be affecting your gallbladder.
Having your gallbladder removed? Take bile salts
I always recommend that a patient who has had their gallbladder removed take bile salts (digestive enzymes) because fats and oils are not properly digested and absorbed by these folk.
I always give bile salts when I give them fish-oil, or Vitamin A. Digestive enzymes are essential for those who have had their gallbladder removed, they will feel a lot better for taking them regularly. Their digestion will improve, their bowels will work better and they will feel less full and bloated.
For patients who do not improve their diet following surgical removal of the gallbladder the removal leaves the person with an increased risk of colon cancer. Although fast relief of some symptoms can follow this surgery, the relief is often short-lived and the basic causes are still present.
If you have lost your gallbladder, the regular use of bile salts at the start of meals can help substantially, including better processing of the fat-soluble essential nutrients such as essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Probably the best way to tell if you are using enough bile salts is to monitor the colour of the stool. If the colour is lighter than the normal brown colour, or is even a light beige or yellow, this implies insufficient bile flow; with it’s under absorption of essential nutrients, and a need for more bile salts. Such a need for more bile salts will be greater after a meal with greater amounts of fats and oils.
Talk to your Naturopath more here, he or she can recommend a product which should work well.
I generally find that the digestive enzymes prescribed by your Naturopath to be stronger and much more effective than the retail (health-food shop) products. That is why they are classified as ‘practitioner-only’ products.
Useful herbal supplements with liver and gallbladder complaints : Swedish bitters, milk thistle, chamomile, peppermint, greater celandine, gymnema, gravel root, dandelion leaf & root, chicory, rhubarb, burdock, cramp bark, ginger root, fennel, and turmeric.
Homeopathic medicine: one of the most specific homeopathic medicines is Chelidonium 30C, and I recommend this remedy for patients who complain of right-sided pains radiating through the back, pains radiating to the right shoulder blade region. It is mainly thought of as a liver remedy, but I find it fantastic for gallbladder disorders as well.
Diet and gallbladder problems
Eliminate refined sugar and other refined carbohydrates, because it is these foods which in particular increases the cholesterol saturation of bile.
Gallbladder problems don’t generally happen in under developed countries, they are a phenomenon of the Western developed world. We call these sorts of health problems the “diseases of modern civilisation”. You will find that our Western diet is the highly refined one, most people eat foods from the supermarket and our diets are the ones high in the refined sugars, starches and flours.
Foods and drinks to strictly avoid
One of the worst beverages to drink with gallbladder issues is coffee whether decaffeinated or not, it aggravates symptoms by causing the gallbladder to contract along with sugar. So, sugar and coffee is not a good idea! I also tell patients to avoid chocolate, deep fried foods and saturated animal fats in general. Most tell me that they cannot tolerate these foods anyway, so listen to your body and avoid what makes you feel unwell or sick.
Gallbladder foods which have a particular favourable effect include:
- brussels sprouts
- granny smith apples
- the bitter foods such as rocket, endive, chicory, and capers.
Consume a little olive oil daily
One way to prevent build-up of gallstones is to eat some oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, daily; this encourages the gallbladder to contract and to daily “sand dump” its contents into the small intestine, preventing sludge from accumulating and forming gallstones.
Naturopathic treatments for gallbladder issues
Warm castor oil packs
All you need is 200ml castor oil (try the chemist or supermarket), and old saucepan, an old cloth, and an old towel. Just warm the old cloth in the pot of oil until it is quite warm, squeeze it out and apply it over the region of the gallbladder – central a little to the right just near where your ribcage finishes.
Cover with the old towel, place a hot water bottle on top for added warmth and lie down for 15 to 20 minutes, then rub the area for 2 minutes with an ice cube in a cloth–repeat 3 times once daily for a week can sometimes dislodge gallstones, and is especially a powerful treatment if used in conjunction with the flush and dietary approach. Careful with castor oil, it can stain.
Liver and gallbladder flush
There are many different gallbladder and liver flushes that will work if you have had recurrent gallbladder problems and your diet has been typically Kiwi. You really need to work in with your health-care professional like your naturopath here.
I have guided many patients through this procedure the past twenty years and have never experienced a problem, and to be honest have very rarely found somebody with a ‘gallstone too big to pass’ as some may fear.
For a gallbladder ‘attack’ try these recipes
Here are a couple of tips to try with acute pain; if the pain doesn’t subside, seek medical opinion.
- Drink 1 tbsp of apple cider in a glass of apple juice (warmed). This should relieve the pain quickly.
- In a small glass add ¼ tsp turmeric, ¼ tsp cumin, and ½ tsp Manuka honey – top with boiling water, stir to dissolve and mix together, drink when warm. Take 3 times a day.
- Citrus tea: have 3 glasses daily of tea made by boiling for 20 minutes in water the rind of a grapefruit.
Recommendations for stopping future gallbladder attacks
1. Each morning, drink a “gallbladder attack flush”; 300mls Apple juice (or dilute with water), 3 cloves of raw finely chopped garlic, 1-2 inches of raw finely chopped ginger root, mix well in blender. This drink helps soften sludge and helps prepare your gallbladder to dump rubbish.
2. Liver & gallbladder flush. One simple flush is to drink 3 Tbs of extra-virgin olive oil with the juice of a lemon before retiring and on awakening for at least 3 days, or until no more stones pass. I have other flushes but tend to use them in a consultation with the patient only. This is one procedure in my opinion you are best not to do yourself at home without any guidance, but get the advice from a qualified Naturopath, preferably one with experience in this area.
3. Eat a well balanced diet of 50% raw or partially steamed foods and fresh juices, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts/seeds. This low saturated fat, high fiber diet is a must for healing gallbladder disorders. Flaxseed and olive oil are great additions to your diet for repair and prevention of gallstones. Bitter foods (see below) are a great addition, and will help prevent a build up in future. The two top foods to consume? – Lemon juice and olive oil.
4. Increased your intake of Vitamin C can help with gallbladder ailments. Replenish your vitamin C stores by eating plenty of vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Good sources include capsicums (red/green/yellow), berries, lemons, and broccoli/green leafy veg. I recommend a high grade Vitamin C powder daily for the prevention and maintenance of many conditions in the body.
5. Herbal detoxification products may be helpful in stopping and reversing a gallbladder attack. I suggest using formulas that use organic, whole herbs. There are some excellent products available, just ask your herbalist or naturopath.
3 tips for after the gallstones have passed
- Dr. Dick Versendaal, a Chiropractor from America recommends his “carotid-umbilicus technique”. For the best results, it is to used every 15 minutes for 1-3 hours as follows (it’s easier if someone else does it on you than you try to do it yourself ): using the index finger, apply a steady pressure into the belly button for 5 minutes, such as to depress the belly button 1-1 ½ inches (but avoiding pain). Do this once a day for up to 12 weeks after the stones are passed, it will help your gallbladder a lot.
- Firm rubbing for at least 30 seconds1-2 times a day of the neuro-lymphatic reflexes (these points may feel quite tender if you have gallbladder issues) between ribs 3 and 4, and ribs 4 and 5, just to each side of the breastbone, and between ribs 5 and 6 just under the nipple of the right breast can be quite helpful.
- Also softly holding (not pressing or rubbing) for at least one minute the neurovascular reflexes at the anterior fontanel (front of head the baby’s soft spot near crown of head – locate at tip of middle finger when the wrist crease of either hand is placed on the eye brows and the middle finger extended onto the midline of the skull) and at the hairline on the forehead directly above the outer corner of each eye. Look for the “tender spots”, you will find them.
You may not have to have your gallbladder out; it is possible in many (read most) cases to save your gallbladder.
It is possible to get significant relief with gallbladder and liver dysfunction by following many of my hints and tips, but like any health complaint If you have any concerns regarding your gallbladder or liver’s function, please see your health-care professional and fully discuss your options.
Now that you have more information on gallbladder dysfunction, if you need further expert health advice, check out our Health and Wellbeing section.