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  • Writer's pictureAlison Cowell


If you are aged 50 or over, chances are you’ve got some ‘sludge’ in your gallbladder and quite possibly a few gallstones rattling around in there as well! They won’t cause you any harm and you won’t even be aware that they are there. They can break up, dissolve and pass through your system naturally without you noticing a thing. It’s only when they become large or numerous that they might become troublesome. In extreme cases, they can be very painful and even life-threatening. If you believe (or know) you have gallstones, get to know which type you have, their size and their location. It really helps put you in control to know how best to tackle them. If you opt for surgery, that’s fine, but surgery isn’t always necessary and I have seen far too many people who have had their gallbladders taken out needlessly, who are left coping with a new digestive issue on their hands.

Here are some typical Q&As on gallstones

* What are they? gallstones are the formation of crystalline deposits in the gallbladder.

* What causes them? they usually form when bile liquid hardens. The most common reason for this is due to a diet containing too much protein (Atkins followers beware!) but skipping meals also heightens your risk; when you eat, the gallbladder contracts and squeezes bile through a little duct to help emulsify fats and oils in your food. If you regularly leave longer than 3 hours a day between meals, you can expect a sludgy, if not stony, gallbladder. Some recent studies have also linked food intolerances to gallstone formation with common foods such as eggs, poultry, pork, corn, beans and nuts high on the list.

* What are the symptoms? most commonly, there is nausea (especially after eating a fatty meal) and vomiting. A severe attack is accompanied by intense pain in the right side of the abdomen and sometimes in the shoulder blade area.

* How can I prevent them? the number one rule is to eat regularly! Going longer than 3 hours will cause the bile fluid to solidify and weaken the function of the gallbladder – just as any muscle becomes weak when not used regularly. You should also avoid high fat foods.

Natural Supports Include:

Drinking warm water with lemon juice or apple cider vinegar to help dissolve any stones that may be forming

Olive oil and lemon juice together will support the health of your gallbladder and naturally flush away small deposits

Soy lecithin assists emulsificationof fats and oils you eat, reducing your risk of gallstones. Herbs such as Milk Thistle, Peppermint and Golden Seal also have proven benefits.

Gallbladder removal

When I first opened my clinic in New Zealand, I was utterly staggered by the amount of people I was seeing who had had their gallbladders removed. More staggering, and upsetting, was the fact that most of these clients told me that they had received no dietary advice before, during or after surgery. I was shocked to think this was so, so I set off to the hospital to speak with the dietician there. Apart from jumping out of her seat because someone had actually found her very remotely located office, she looked surprised that I had come to ask what advice was being given to gallstone patients. She disappeared into a cupboard and came back dusting off a very poorly photocopied one-sided A4 piece of paper and dangled it proudly in front of me. ‘There’s this - if they want it’ she announced. I gazed at the faded words and asked when she had last given this ‘advice’ sheet out. She simply shrugged and couldn’t recall. It had been a while she admitted because ‘no-one has asked for it’. Sigh.

I offered to prepare a (readable) fact sheet, but the offer was declined because I was running a private practice. Fair enough. How about I prepare it anyway, no logo, no name, and she could present it to the District Health Board for approval? No, that wouldn’t be a good idea. Hmmm. So what did she think we needed to do to resolve the situation to help educate people so that they were fully aware at all stages – before, during and after surgery - of their choices? She felt the existing fact sheet was good enough, it was being used all over the country, it would be ‘too hard’ to change it anyway and she wasn’t convinced that anyone would be interested in anything new as they weren’t even reading what had already been produced. Aaaghh! Because they didn’t know!

I wasn’t content to leave things at that, so I went to the local press. Not to point fingers or blame anyone (I didn’t mention my experience at the hospital), merely to raise awareness that surgery was an option - but there were other options to consider. The article proved incredibly successful and I was inundated with queries from people who had either already had their gallbladders removed or who were waiting for surgery.

If you have had your gall bladder removed, I encourage you to keep an eye on your liver function (in blood test results). Of course, you can certainly live without your gall bladder but there is a consequence to its removal. Bile is still being produced but instead of being held in your gall bladder, it is now being redirected to your small intestine. If you have no issue with soy, try two teaspoons of soy lecithin granules every day (lovely in porridge oats!) to help emulsify fats and oils in the absence of your gall bladder.

The pain from gallstones can be intense!

Just an interesting little fact to end on: The heaviest gallstone ever removed came from an 80year old English woman and weighed just under 6kg. Yikes!


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