In Western countries, gallbladder sludge and the incidence of gallstones are common phenomena. In fact, 10% of the population may have gallbladder sludge or gallstones. We don’t know for sure, as these conditions often don’t cause any significant symptoms. This means many people are unaware they have a potential problem with a build-up of sludge in the gallbladder.
The formation of bile
The liver is one of the largest organs in your body. It has several essential tasks such as detoxification and bile production. The liver produces bile, to help break down fats that you eat.
Normal bile composition includes water, bile acids, phospholipids, cholesterol and small amounts of other substances such as pigments and electrolytes.
Fluid bile flows through channels in the liver and eventually into your small intestine. A portion of this bile is stored in the gallbladder until it is needed.
Stored gallbladder bile becomes more concentrated over time. When you eat, the gallbladder contracts, squeezing out its contents into the small intestine. This concentrated bile mixes with food in the small intestine and helps to break down fats for absorption into the blood stream.
What is gallbladder sludge?
The gallbladder concentrates bile by removing water and electrolytes. If bile stays in the gallbladder for too long, otherwise known as bile stasis, it can become thick and stagnant. This makes gallbladder sludge formation more likely. As the bile thickens it becomes supersaturated with cholesterol. The waxy cholesterol begins to form particles or crystals of cholesterol. The cholesterol crystals mix with calcium salts and mucous from bile, forming bile sludge.
Gallbladder sludge is a necessary precursor to gallstones. And the presence of biliary sludge makes gallstone formation likely. The biliary sludge particles can grow in size and increase formation of gallstones. There are also other types of gallstones but these are the most common.
Risk factors for developing gallbladder disease
Women have a higher risk of gallbladder disease than men. This is because women have higher levels of oestrogen. Oestrogen increases the amount of cholesterol in the liver. The oral contraceptive pill, hormone replacement therapy and pregnancy all increase the risk. This is because oestrogen increases the amount of cholesterol in bile.
Genetics plays a role. Certain populations are more likely to develop gall stones. For example, Western Europeans, Hispanics and Native Americans are at higher risk. People from Eastern Europe, Japan and African Americans are less likely to develop gallstones.
Lifestyle and dietary choices are also important factors. A high-carbohydrate diet and a sedentary lifestyle are known risk factors. People that are overweight or have insulin resistance are at higher risk of developing gallstones. However, fasting and rapid loss of body weight also increase risk. So, people wishing to lose body fat should do so slowly. Losing no more than 1.5 kg per week to avoid biliary stasis.
Natural medicine treatment options
In general, the aim should be to prevent gallstones from forming. Providing there are no gallstones causing obstruction, it is imperative to keep the bile dilute and moving. Free-flowing bile can flush the ducts of the liver and gallbladder. I encourage fluidity and hydration by drinking plenty of water or herbal teas.
In people with gallbladder sludge, avoiding fat in the diet can reduce symptoms but causes bile to stagnate. Eat healthy fats with each meal, little and often. This can ensure that the gallbladder squeezes out bile regularly and reduces bile stagnation. A Mediterranean diet is the healthiest diet. This type of diet is rich in colourful vegetables, fruits and healthful fats.
People with gallstones tend to consume less fibre, fish and fruit. They also tend to eat more calories, sugar and cereal products. If you have gallstones it is often better to start with a plant-based diet, that is low in fats. Avoid any foods that provoke acute symptoms. This can help prevention of relapses. However, try to avoid rapid weight loss.
Keep blood sugar levels stable by minimising refined sugars and carbohydrates. A low-glycemic index diet can help to keep serum insulin low and keep cholesterol levels down.
Exercise regularly. This helps to lower cholesterol levels and has a beneficial effect on glucose metabolism.
Castor oil pack
Make a castor oil pack and use it for 4 consecutive days for 4 to 6 weeks. Castor oil is anti-inflammatory and can help to relieve pain. Place the castor oil pack on the right side of the abdomen below the lower ribs.
Milk thistle is a tonic remedy for the liver improving its overall function. Taking milk thistle regularly increases the production of bile and therefore helps to prevent bile stagnation in the gallbladder.
Spices such as turmeric, red pepper, fenugreek seeds, garlic and onion reduce gallstone production in animal studies, even with a high cholesterol diet. Researchers also report a reduction in gallstones that had been present at the beginning of the clinical trial. They attribute the reduction in gallstones to the ability of these spices to lower cholesterol.
Chelidonium 200C is a popular homeopathic remedy for disorders of the liver and biliary pain. So, homeopathic chelidonium can be used to reduce the pain of gallbladder conditions, that occurs on the upper right side of the abdomen.
Other remedies that protect against gallstone formation
A number of other foods, drinks and supplements protect against gallstone formation in clinical studies. Olive oil, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel, nuts, filter coffee and vitamin C supplementation all have a protective role in clinical studies.
Conventional treatment for recurrent gallstone formation is the surgical removal of the gallbladder. But many people would prefer to avoid this if at all possible. This means trying to prevent gall stones or biliary sludge from forming. There are anecdotal cases where this has been achieved in people. And there are relevant clinical animal studies that provide evidence-based ways to do it with natural medicine.