Cholesterol gallstones are among the most common gastrointestinal disorders in Western societies. Individuals with gallstones may experience various gastrointestinal symptoms and are also at risk of developing acute or chronic cholecystitis. There is evidence that dietary factors influence the risk of developing cholesterol gallstones. Dietary factors that may increase risk include cholesterol, saturated fat, trans fatty acids, refined sugar, and possibly legumes. Obesity is also a risk factor for gallstones. Dietary factors that may prevent the development of gallstones include polyunsaturated fat, monounsaturated fat, fiber, and caffeine. Consuming a vegetarian diet is also associated with decreased risk. In addition, identification and avoidance of allergenic foods frequently relieves symptoms of gallbladder disease, although it does not dissolve gallstones.
Nutritional supplements that might help prevent gallstones include vitamin C, soy lecithin, and iron. In addition, a mixture of plant terpenes (Rowachol) has been used with some success to dissolve radiolucent gallstones. The gallbladder flush is a folk remedy said to promote the passage of gallstones.
You can reduce your risk of gallstones if you:
Don’t skip meals. Try to stick to your usual mealtimes each day. Skipping meals or fasting can increase the risk of gallstones.
Lose weight slowly. If you need to lose weight, go slow. Rapid weight loss can increase the risk of gallstones. Aim to lose 1 or 2 pounds (about 0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week.
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and being overweight increase the risk of gallstones. Work to achieve a healthy weight by reducing the number of calories you eat and increasing the amount of physical activity you get. Once you achieve a healthy weight, work to maintain that weight by continuing your healthy diet and continuing to exercise.
A sensible diet is the best way to prevent gallstones. Avoid crash diets or a very low intake of calories (less than 800 calories daily). Seek out good sources of fiber — raw fruits and vegetables, cooked dried beans and peas, whole-grain cereals and bran, for example — and avoid eating too much fat. A high-fiber, low-fat diet helps keep bile cholesterol in liquid form. However, don’t cut out fats abruptly or eliminate them altogether, as too little fat can also result in gallstone formation.
Recent studies have shown that moderate consumption of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons a day) may actually lower your chances of developing gallstones. An ingredient in olive oil evidently helps reduce cholesterol levels in the blood and gallbladder. Researchers have found that the incidence of gallstones is relatively low among people who live in areas where olive oil consumption is high.
There is no guaranteed way to prevent gallstones, but there are many things you can do to lower your risk. By maintaining a healthy weight, you may be able to prevent gallstones and other gallbladder problems from occurring.
“Obesity is a dominant factor in a person’s health and increases the risk of stone formation. If you are overweight or obese, the best thing you can do for your health and to prevent gallstones is to lose weight.
Preventing Gallstones: Control Your Weight
However, avoid rapid weight loss such as occurs with crash diets, as that can actually trigger gallstones. Weight loss should be slow and steady — focus on losing a pound or two per week until you reach your goal.
In addition, weight cycling — frequent weight loss followed by weight gain — can also cause gallstones, so do your best to keep your weight off once you lose it. Tab. Ursodiol (Udiliv) 300mg twice daily, usually used to dissolve gallstones, may be prescribed for people who need to lose weight rapidly, in order to prevent the formation of gallstones. Similarly, orlistat (Xenical), which is used to treat obesity, may help prevent gallstones during weight loss by reducing bile acids, which can contribute to gallstone formation.
Even patients undergoing Bariatric and Metabolic surgery have a greater propensity to develop gallstones, either due to rapid weight loss and might be due to vagotomy.
Preventing Gallstones: Eat Healthfully and Exercise
Diet and exercise play an important role in gallbladder disease. But to prevent gallstones, you don’t have to subsist on fruits and veggies alone. Here is a rundown on the good and the bad when it comes to diet, exercise, and gallstones:
- Fat. Fat tends to get a bad rap, but not all fat is bad. Monounsaturated fats, found in olive oil and canola oil, and omega-3 fatty acids, found in avocados, canola, flaxseed, and fish oil, may lower the risk of developing gallstones. Fish oil may be especially beneficial to people with high levels of triglycerides, as it helps the gallbladder empty. But stay away from saturated fats found in fatty meats, butter, and other animal products, as these fats can increase your likelihood of gallstones and high cholesterol, among other health risks. If you do eat animal products, choose low-fat alternatives — lean chicken instead of red meat, skim milk and low-fat yogurt instead of whole milk. Try one of the many healthy butter alternatives (make sure it does not contain trans fats or saturated fats).
- Fiber. Found in whole-grain breads, cereals, and vegetables, fiber in your diet can help you lose weight and may prevent gallstones.
- Fruits and veggies. There are lots of reasons to eat these wonder foods, and here’s one more: Consuming lots of fruits and vegetables may prevent gallstones.
- Nuts. Peanuts and tree nuts, such as almonds and walnuts, may prevent gallstones. Plus snacking on almonds is a healthy way to ease hunger and help you lose weight.
- Sugar. Too much sugar in your diet may cause gallstones, so stay away from sweets, and choose low-sugar food alternatives when possible.
- Carbs. Because carbohydrates are converted into sugar in the body, diets filled with pasta, white bread, and other carbohydrate-rich foods may increase your risk of gallstones.
- Alcohol and coffee. You don’t have to give up your morning cup of Joe or evening cocktail to prevent gallstones. Studies suggest that moderate consumption of alcohol and coffee may actually prevent gallstones.
- Exercise. Getting regular exercise can help you keep your weight down, which may prevent gallstones. Thirty minutes, five times a week is all that is needed to make a difference.
Preventing Gallstones: Avoid Certain Medications
The following types of medications can also increase your gallstone risk:
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs. Some drugs used to lower blood cholesterol, such as gemfibrozil (Lopid) and fenofibrate (Tricor), can put you at higher risk of developing gallstones. That’s because these medications increase the amount of cholesterol released in bile — which can lead to gallstone formation — at the same time that they lower blood cholesterol. If you are taking one of these drugs, talk to your doctor about switching to another type of cholesterol-lowering medication, since not all cholesterol drugs have this effect.
- Hormone therapy. Hormone replacement therapy can increase a woman’s risk of developing gallstones since estrogen causes the body to make more cholesterol. If you are taking hormone therapy or are on high-dose birth control pills, talk to your doctor about your risk of gallstones, and ask if there are other hormone medications that may be better for you.
While it isn’t always easy to adhere to a healthy diet and exercise regime, it is the best thing you can do to prevent gallstones. If you find you are truly struggling with your weight, talk to your doctor. There are options available to help you along your path to good health.
For advice please contact :
Dr Sreejoy Patnaik