• Is Gallbladder Surgery the Answer?

    Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems – Acute pain in the upper abdomen, pain in the back between the shoulder blades, nausea, bloating, frequent burping, loss of appetite, fatty stools that float, skin itching, pain often following a fatty meal. Do these sound familiar at times? They could be signs of gallbladder problems and incomplete fat digestion. More than 20 million Americans are affected by this problem yearly.

    What is the Gallbladder and is it necessary?

    The gallbladder sits next to the liver and acts as a storage unit for bile made by the liver. When fat is consumed, the stomach signals the gallbladder that fat is on the way. The gallbladder in turn contracts, sending bile into the small intestine to emulsify the fats. Bile also helps the absorption of fat soluble vitamins of A, D, E and K. Another use of bile is that it helps the gastrointestinal tract reabsorb cholesterol, and increase peristalsis.

    For those who eat the Standard American diet of excessive hydrogenated oils and fatty diets of French fries, fried foods, salami, pastrami, pepperoni, chicken skins, marbled beef, greasy hamburgers, etc., the bile can concentrate and thicken. This creates inflammation at the bile duct which is terribly painful. Even baked foods are offenders. Crackers and cookies are not fried foods, but the oil in the cracker or cookie has been heated to a high temperature because it has been baked. Highly heated oils initiate destructive free radical cascades, stressing and aging the liver. When the liver is subjected to this dietary stress over time, the bile becomes thick and forms sludge, which can form small clay-like balls and stones which lodge in the bile ducts, liver, and elsewhere. This is why “baked” over “fried” choice is not any better a solution.

    Doctors believe stones form when there is an imbalance in the bile. It may contain too much cholesterol or not enough bile salts. Or, stones may form if the gallbladder does not empty correctly. Gallstones form in the gallbladder and are composed primarily of cholesterol, which have separated out of solution in bile and formed crystals, much as sugar may form in the bottom of a jar of honey. Gallstones may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, and the gallbladder may contain any- where from one stone to hundreds. With these gallstones, bile flow is reduced and much less cholesterol leaves the body. Consequently, cholesterol levels may rise. The typical allopathic solution to this is statin drugs. A consequence of these bile salt binding medications results in deficiency of bile salts, or a reduction in gallbladder contractions which causes incomplete emptying of bile—leading to stone formation. A vicious cycle.

    Gallbladder problems are common in people who are on non-fat diets. If the body doesn’t have the good, healthy fats, then bile is not produced. If there is not adequate bile, then the essential fatty acids won’t be absorbed. Women over 40 and who are often overweight are also more likely to experience gallbladder problems. Studies also show that women on HRT have an increased risk of gallbladder problems.

    What are the Gallbladder treatments?

    Traditionally, the treatment of choice has been surgery. Some doctors believe that once the gallbladder disease is rampant and the gallbladder is filled with gallstones that the gallbladder isn’t needed and surgery is the only answer. According to the American Gastroenterological Association, even with surgery abdominal pain can persist in up to 50% of patients. Other complications may occur. Stones could be left over in the bile duct. Bile could leak from the gallbladder bed in the liver which could cause abscess formation requiring further surgery. A cystic duct “stump” could be left behind becoming a mini-gallbladder and still form stones later.

    According to the Journal of American College of Radiology, from 1994-2009 annual gallbladder surgeries increased 567%. By 2011, this amounted to nearly 800,000 surgeries at a cost of $6 billion annually. This statistic is astounding. But given the fact that so many Americans consume a large amount of fatty foods, it is not surprising and yet largely preventable. Diet and lifestyle play a key role in prevention of gallstones.

    Are there alternatives?

    There are alternative approaches that are just as effective and correct the underlying problem. One approach is Traditional Chinese Medicine, or TCM. This is an ancient system of medicine that originated in China thousands of years ago. Acupuncture, which uses hair-thin needles to stimulate points throughout the body to unblock energy channels, has been shown to be effective at relieving pain, a common symptom associated with gallstones. Acupuncture also may be helpful to patients whose gallbladder issues cause spasms or inhibit bile flow to the liver.

    Another approach for gallbladder support is using herbs. Herbs come in a variety of forms, including dried extracts dissolved in glycerin and tinctures. Although many herbs are generally considered safe, patients should discuss all forms of herbal therapy with their health care provider before consumption.

    One well known herb for liver and gallbladder diseases is milk thistle, or Silybum marianum. This flowering herb from the Mediterranean region, is thought to provide gallbladder detoxification support.

    Another herb that may be beneficial for gallbladder problems is turmeric. Officially named Curcuma longa, turmeric is an herb that’s native to India and other parts of Asia. It has been used for centuries as an anti- inflammatory, but needs to be used with caution and with supervision in those with gallstones. Other herbs with bile salts, hydrochloric acid, plant enzymes, as well as pepper- mint oil are also beneficial to support the gallbladder.

    Another alternative and preventative approach to dealing with gallbladder problems involves food. People with gallstones or other gallbladder conditions should avoid any suspected food allergens such as dairy, wheat, soy, corn and eggs. Food allergies and sensitivities can cause inflammation and swelling of the bile duct. Those looking to reduce gallstone symptoms also should not only avoid overeating, but also avoid:

    • Fried foods

    • Foods that contain saturated fats or trans-fatty acids

    • Commercial oils such as canola, cottonseed, margarine, mayonnaise, salad dressings and peanut oil

    • Soft drinks

    • Onions

    • Coffee

    • Tobacco

    • Pork

    • Beans

    • Alcohol

    • Sugar

    Instead, patients should eat foods that are high in B- vitamins and iron (whole grains and dark leafy greens), as well as those high in antioxidants, like fruits and vegetables. The more fiber from vegetables the better, and remember to cook with healthy oils such as olive oil or coconut oil. Certain foods are known to improve bile flow. These include beets, fresh artichokes, radishes, cucumber juice, carrot juices, organic apple juice, organic dandelion greens and olive oil. Flaxseeds help reduce inflammation in the gallbladder. There is also sufficient evidence to suggest that eating a diet with plenty of vitamin C rich foods and rich in calcium such as dark greens may decrease the risk of forming gallstones in the first place.

    Dehydration is also a contributing factor in gallbladder problems, so it is essential to drink plenty of fresh filtered water daily.

    In addition, another alternative remedy is castor oil packs, which can help ease gallbladder pain and abdominal swelling. According to Robert Marshall, PhD, the castor oil is theorized to induce a high frequency resonant effect which allows the castor oil to deeply penetrate through the skin, helping to trigger a release of waste particles.

    An ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure. Gallbladder pain can be severe, and can lead to complications if it persists. If a patient has any gallbladder problems, most likely the liver is toxic and not working efficiently as well. It is advisable to see a healthcare practitioner knowledgeable in digestive disorders for an accurate diagnosis before considering any surgery or alternative therapies.