*This post was updated Oct ’16 by†Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM
Gallbladder disease is a serious conditionóover half a million gallbladders are removed annually in the U.S. If you suspect that you are having a gallbladder attack and are in severe gallbladder pain, especially if you also have a fever, consult your doctor immediately or go straight to the emergency room. This post may serve to help you know the symptoms in advance and take precautions so a gallbladder attack might be avoided.
Remember no one, neither an MD nor a holistic practitioner, ever cures us of anything. Natural therapies simply provide the building blocks to help the body heal itself. Western medicine is great for emergencies, however, it falls short when it comes to chronic disease as it does not offer a forensic look at what led to the disease state in the first place, such as improper diet and nutritional deficiencies, unhealthy choices, such as smoking and abuse of pharmaceutical drugs and a stressful lifestyle.
What we find in western medicine is a one size fits all model and its goal is to make symptoms go away. This is kind of like pulling the fuse when the engine warning light goes off. We donít really want to just make symptoms go away, we want to get to the root or underlying cause of our “dis-ease” state.
With gallbladder disease, both western medicine and holistic alternatives can come together and provide the tools for actual healing. If a gallbladder removal surgery can be avoided by making some changes, for example in your diet, wouldnít that be the best possible outcome? Or what if symptoms persist after gallbladder removal, which often happens? This is a clear sign that the underlying cause of problem has not been resolved.
What Exactly is a Gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a sac that is approximately 4 inches and has a muscular wall. †It serves as a reservoir to hold a greenish fluid called bile. When the gallbladder receives the signal from a hormone known as cholecystokinin which indicates that bile is needed to aid in the digestion of fatty foods, the gallbladder secretes the bile into the small intestines. †Not only does bile aid in the digestion of fatty foods, it helps to ensure that fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K can be absorbed through the wall of the intestines into the bloodstream where they can travel anywhere in the body to where they are most needed.
What is Gallbladder Disease?
Gallbladder disease is the term used to describe a range of gallbladder conditions, which are largely the result of inflammation or irritation of the gallbladder walls. †Sometimes the inflammation is the result of gallstones or polyps. †Because gallstones may be involved, the terms gallbladder disease and gallstones are often used interchangeably, although gallstones are more of a symptom of gallbladder disease and it isnít necessary to have gallstones to have gallbladder disease.
Warning Signs that You Might Be Suffering from Gallbladder Disease
While not everyone experiences symptoms of gallbladder disease, many people experience the following warning signs:
Abdominal Pain (right-sided)
Burping, Belching, or Flatulence, especially after a meal
Constipation or Diarrhea
Headaches over the Eyes (particularly at night)
Pain after eating fatty foods
Upper Back Pain (right sided)
Signs of a Gallbladder Attack Caused by Gallstones
Sometimes bile buildup or gallstones can cause a duct blockage, which is a serious condition that needs immediate medical care. †The signs include:
Severe abdominal pain on the right side or in the back that lasts for days
Loss of Appetite
Nausea or Vomiting
Pain Under the Shoulder Blade or Breastbone
If you are having the above symptoms that are constant and acute, you should immediately go to the emergency room at your local hospital, since a gallbladder attack caused by gallstones can be serious.
Who is at Risk of of Gallbladder Disease?
While the reason isnít clear, women tend to be more vulnerable to gallbladder disease and gallstones than men; however, these conditions can still affect men. To help in the prevention and treatment of the condition, it is important to know the warning signs.
The diagnostic tool of choice for gallbladder disease is usually an ultrasound scan. Ask your doctor for a copy of the scan results so you can get a second opinion. You may want to explain to your doctor that you wish to use nutrition and nutritional supplementation as adjunct therapy and would like your progress monitored carefully. He or she might welcome learning about this. One of my own MDs was so impressed with Oriental Medicine and acupuncture that he took two years off from his own practice to become trained in it and now incorporates it into his practice. His entire paradigm shifted as a result of this exploration.
With your medical diagnosis in hand and blessing from your doctor, the first and perhaps most important rule to follow from now on is to eat a variety of fresh organic, raw and lightly steamed green vegetables, good fats (like avocados) and exclude sugars, and all processed and refined foods. It was most likely food choices that caused the gallbladder dis-ease in the first place.
Foods to Avoid for General Gallbladder Disease:
- Eggs (Research showed that eggs have caused symptoms in up to 95 percent of patients. We donít know if the eggs used in this research were factory-farmed or the better choice of free range and organic, but this is often the problem with clinical trials and tests. Here are some egg alternatives to try instead.)
- Fowl (turkey, chicken and again we assume the culprits are factory farmed, but again let’s err on the side of caution and avoid these foods for now)
- Dairy (pasteurized) milk, cheese and cream.
- Gluten and grains in general such as wheat, barley, rye, spelt, kamut, etc.
- Coffee, regular or decaf
- Oranges, grapefruit
- Trans fats, Hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated oils, vegetable oils
- Fried Foods
- Saturated fats (itís best to also avoid coconut oil since gallbladder disease is a sign that the gallbladder is struggling to keep up with the fat levels in the dietóeven healthy ones)
- Red meats
- Spicy foods
- Ice cream
- Black tea
- Alcohol, beer, wine, liqueur
- Fruit juice
- Carbonated water
- Tap water
- Cabbage, cauliflower
- Colas and all sodas
- Oats (for some people)
- Avoid all artificial sweeteners, sugar, preservatives, refined and bleached foods (like white flour)
- Avoid smoking as it can exacerbate the symptoms
- Avoid all possible food allergens
Are there foods good for our gallbladder? GallbladderAttack.com tell us that these dietary suggestions are not the food bible because we are all so different. You can try the foods on the next list, one a time, to determine what you can tolerate. Then take a look at the list above and experiment cautiously with what you may be able to introduce again without having a relapse.
Foods to try if you have†gallbladder disease:
Organic and locally grown foods from the list below are wonderful raw or lightly steamed, especially the green vegetables. Donít forget, we must include good fats (like avocados) too.
- Green beans – not the same as dried beans
- Sweet potatoes
- Vinegars – all types, but apple cider vinegar is best since it contains malic acid, which may help break down gallstones, if they are present.
- Garlic and onions help with liver cleansing but not processed types like flakes or powder. But some people have trouble digesting them so pay attention to what your own body tells you!
- Cold water fish – salmon, trout†(still in moderation to avoid excessive amounts of fat)
- Lemons (lemon juice in the morning with hot water helps to clean the liver)
- Apples, berries, papaya, pears
- Oils like flax or hemp should be used in minimal amounts for salad dressing with fresh lemon juice or vinegar.
- Vegetable juices – beet and cucumber are especially helpful to gallbladder. You can add other green vegetables like swiss chard, dandelion greens, beet greens, celery, carrots, (avoid the cabbage family); however, pay attention to how you feel after eating bitter greens like dandelion leaves since they stimulate the release of bile.
- Use baby mixed organic greens for salads just avoid too many bitter greens for now
- Soluble and insoluble fiber found in fruits and vegetables are also beneficial.
When gallbladder disease is suspected or has been confirmed, again it is critical to avoid fried foods, fatty foods and particular types of fats like trans fats, hydrogenated fats, partially-hydrogenated fats (read your labels) and saturated fats.
Gallbladder Healing Herbs
Globe Artichoke (Cynara scolymus)
Globe artichoke is often used by herbalists in the treatment of gallbladder disease and gallstones. It is typically found in capsule form, with doses ranging from 300 to 500 mg. Consult the package of the product you choose to determine the exact dosage.
Parsley (Petroselinum sativum)
While we often think of parsley as a garnish, it has been used by our ancestors in the treatment of gallstones. †You can add more fresh parsley to your diet through salads like tabbouleh or as an addition to your favorite fresh juice.
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Botanist and author of The Green Pharmacy recommends making a tea with peppermint as an aid in the elimination of gallstones. †He advises using peppermint along with a teaspoon of cardamom and brewing these herbs as a tea, drinking frequently.
If you have gallbladder disease and have made diet changes that have helped or hurt your symptoms, please share your experiences below.
*Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: †Be Your Own Herbalist: †Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty & Cooking.