Most people never give a thought to the health of their gallbladder. The pear-shaped organ does have an important job, collecting and storing bile – the fluid that helps the body digest fats. Even when it isn’t working as well as it should and gallstones develop, most people are unaware that there is a problem until the gallstones block the bile duct and cause pain. Technically gallstones are not actual stones, they are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that form in the gallbladder.
A person carrying gallstones might not even know they have them until they block the bile duct, causing pain.
Types of Gallstones
There are two major kinds:
- Cholesterol stones: These are usually greenish-yellow in colour. They are the most common kind of stones found, 80% of all gallstones are cholesterol stones.
- Pigment stones: Pigment stones are relatively smaller and darker. They are made up of bilirubin, which comes from bile, a fluid our liver makes and our gallbladder stores.
Symptoms of Gallstones
At times gallstones are silent and do not show any symptom, but at times it does show symptoms as listed below:
- Sudden and intense pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen or the breastbone.
- Back pain between the shoulder blades
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Nausea or vomiting
- At times diarrhoea or steatorrhea
The pain of gallstones may last several minutes to a few hours.
Causes of Gallstones
There are several reasons that may cause gallstones, including:
- Excess Weight
- Gallbladder infection
- Rapid Weight Loss
- Taking certain medicines such as the contraceptive pill
- Bile issues (when bile has too much cholesterol in it)
Pigment stones are more common in people with medical conditions, like liver cirrhosis or blood diseases such as sickle cell anaemia.
Although the diet does not directly cause gallstones nor will it cure them but watching what you eat and keeping a healthy weight might help you prevent gallstones from forming and avoid some discomfort if you do develop gallstones. Technically gallstones can only be prevented or else removed by surgery. So prevention is the key.
One can reduce the risk of developing gallstones by:
- Eating vegetarian proteins like soy, tofu, beans, and pulses.
- Avoiding foods that are rich in cholesterol like red meat, saturated fats etc.
- Eat fewer refined grains and less sugar.
- Increasing the fibre intake by adding for soluble fibre foods (oats, brown rice, whole grains, nuts, beans etc.) and other fibre foods like fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Eating nuts like almonds and walnuts.
- Increasing dietary calcium by including more of skim milk and milk products, green leafy vegetables
- Include healthy fats, like olive oil and fish oil, to help the gallbladder contract and empty on a regular basis.
- Increasing vitamin C intake. Foods rich in Vitamin C are citrus fruits like amla, oranges, papaya, berries and vegetables like bell pepper and other green leafy vegetables.
- Exercise often to maintain an ideal body weight.
Research states that certain foods have the potential to prevent gallbladder stones or reduce the symptoms. For example, few researchers have indicated that drinking caffeinated coffee lowers the risk of gallstones in both men and women. Moderate amounts of alcohol intake have also been linked to a reduced incidence of gallstones. However, keep in mind the evidence is too preliminary at this time to recommend any of the given foods solely for the purpose of preventing or treating gallbladder problems.