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Gallstones are small stones mainly made of cholesterol that form in the gallbladder. In the vast majority of individuals, gallstones do not cause any symptoms. However, sometimes gallstones can become trapped in ducts, or irritate the gallbladder, and cause symptoms, such as:
- A sudden intense pain in the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
The scale of the issue
Gallstones are very common. It is estimated that 6-22% of the population in Europe have gallstones1. However, 80% of individuals with gallstones will not suffer any symptoms linked to their presence, and the outlook for patients with gallbladder disease is extremely positive as the mortality rate is very low2.
There are three main stages of gallbladder disease:
- Asymptomatic gallstones: gallstones are present but do not cause any symptoms.
- Uncomplicated gallstone disease: usually caused when gallstones block the bile duct. This can lead to episodes of abdominal pain that last several hours but occur infrequently.
- Complicated (symptomatic) gallstones, or gallbladder disease: gallstones cause serious complications, e.g. inflammation of the gallbladder. Symptoms can include a high temperature, jaundice and constant abdominal pain.
The treatment for gallbladder disease is the removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy), though not everyone will require surgery if their symptoms are not frequent or severe2.
- Several studies3,4,5 show that habitual coffee consumption is associated with a reduced risk of developing gallbladder disease.
- There is some evidence that coffee triggers the contraction of the gallbladder.
- It appears likely that caffeine is largely responsible for the effect of coffee, since consumption of decaffeinated coffee is not linked to a reduced risk of developing gallbladder disease in all studies.
- An increase in plasma cholecystokinin* levels, resulting in gallbladder contraction, has been reported after drinking both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. This would suggest coffee components other than caffeine may be responsible.
- Coffee may have different effects depending on the stage of gallbladder disease progression. Increased gallbladder contraction may prevent small crystals becoming large gallstones in early disease, but if large gallstones are present, gallbladder contraction may cause pain.
*Cholecystokinin is a gastrointestinal hormone produced in the duodenum in response to the ingestion of fats and other food substances. It stimulates the release of bile from the gallbladder and digestive enzymes from the pancreas, facilitating the digestive process.
References1 Aerts et al. (2003), The burden of gallstone disease in Europe. Aliment Pharmacol Ther 18(Suppl):349-353.2 Everhart et al. (2009), Burden of digestive diseases in the United States. Gastroenterol 136(2):376-386.3 Misciagna G. et al. (1996), Epidemiology of cholelithiasis in Southern Italy. Part II: risk factors. Eur J Gastroentero Hepatol, 8:585-593.4 Leitzmann M.F.et al. (1999), A prospective study of coffee consumption and risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in men. JAMA, 281:2106-2112.
5 Leitzmann M.F. et al. (2002), Coffee intake is associated with lower risk of symptomatic gallstone disease in women. Gastroenterol, 123:1823-1830.
Avoid Fad Diets:
Try to avoid rapid weight loss and fad diets, for example, low calorie diets. The rapid weight loss can trigger nutritional deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances, both of which can lead to the formation of gallstones. It is best to maintain a healthy diet, comprised of plant-based foods, and avoid processed foods, meat, dairy products, fried foods, sugars, and salty foods to help maintain a healthy bodyweight
Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods:
It can be beneficial to eat anti-inflammatory foods, as well as foods that help promote optimum kidney and gallbladder health. The anti-inflammatory foods help regulate your body’s cholesterol and reduce overall inflammation. Green leafy vegetables, celery, beets, blueberries, pineapple, walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, turmeric, ginger, and coconut oil are great anti-inflammatory foods to incorporate into your diet.
Apple Cider Vinegar:
Apple cider vinegar is a great home remedy because it can stop the liver from making the cholesterol that comprises most gallstones. If you have a gallstone attack, mix 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of fresh apple juice, which you juice yourself. Alternatively, you can mix 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of warm water with 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice and consume it once or twice a day.
Drink Peppermint Tea:
Drinking peppermint tea can be helpful because peppermint aids healthy digestion by stimulating bile flow. It also contains a compound that can help dissolve gallstones. It is best to drink a cup of peppermint tea twice a day if you have gallstones, or immediately after you feel a sharp pain near your gallbladder.
Use A Castor Oil Pack:
It may be beneficial to place a warm castor oil pack on your upper right abdomen, where your gallbladder is, to help relieve pain or the number of gallstones you have. You can purchase a castor oil pack, or you can make your own. Apply the castor oil pack four times a week for one month, or until symptoms subside.
Be More Active:
You can help yourself by being more active. As well as contributing to overall health, exercise helps to promote better circulation, proper digestion, and keeps your weight in check. It is optimal to exercise for about 30-60 minutes, three or four days a week. Beneficial and moderate exercises include swimming, walking, cycling, Tai Chi, yoga, or Pilates.
Women…Avoid Birth Control Pills:
If you are a woman, you may want to reconsider taking birth control pills because these can cause the formation of gallstones by changing your hormonal balance. Birth control pills increase the body’s estrogen stores, which increases cholesterol production as a result. Non-hormonal birth control pills may be worth looking into.