gallstone prevention

Gallstones, causes, risk factors, prevention

This is part three on a series that I have been doing on your gallbladder.  Your gallbladder is an incredible organ – we can live with out it if need but but ideally it’s not the best option to have it removed.  In part three of our series I’m going to be talking about everything that can contribute to and raise your risk of gallstones and gallbaldder disease.

If you’re unfamiliar with your gallbladder, it’s a small organ in the right upper side of your abdomen that helps with digestion. Part one covered everything you need to know about your gallbladder. If your gallbladder becomes ill, there’s quite a few complications that can go wrong from it – you can lose your gallbladder, parts of your pancreas and liver, and even die from an infected gallbladder caused by gallstones. You can learn more about all the how gallstones are formed and what can potentially happen to you if you get them. If you’ve never had gallstones before, here are some things to take into consideration if you’re trying to prevent gallstones.

Gallstones: Are you at risk for developing gallstones?

As with any illness, it comes along with certain risk factors.  There are some risk factors which you can control and others which you cannot.  Here are some risk factors for developing gallstones that you can control:

  • Your weight:  the heavier you are the more likely you are to have gallstones.  Even being moderately overweight causes the gallbladder to increase cholesterol production.
  • Rapid weight loss:  While rapid weight loss might not always be your fault (cancer), very low calorie diets associated with rapid weight loss can increase the risk for gallstones.  Rapid weight loss triggers your liver to produce more cholesterol which can increase bile concentrations and form stones.
  • Physical activity:  Physical activity – or lack of.  You guessed it, inactivity can cause increased cholesterol levels.
  • Estrogen therapy:  Those women taking estrogen hive higher rates of gallbladder issues.
  • Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) Deficiency:  In humans, a study showed an association with people who were deficient in vitamin C was associated with a higher risk of gallstone formation.  While it’s only an association, it could be related to the fact that vitamin C helps to breakdown cholesterol.

However, there are some things you can’t change when it comes to the risk of if you will get gallbladder disease or not:

  • Race:  Hispanics, Native Americans, and  Caucasions are the most likely to develop gallstones.  African-Americans have the lowest risk of developing gallbladder disease.
  • Sex:  Sorry ladies, the risk of having issues with your  gallbladder is just higher for you than it is dudes.
  • Age:  The older you get, the more likely you are to have issues with your gallbladder.  Age forty seems to be the age where the risk goes from very low (under age forty) to very high.  So for those of you over the age of forty, keep an eye on your gallbladder in the event it starts to give you issues.
  • Pregnancy:  Hormones related to pregnancy cause bile to become more saturated with cholesterol which increase the risk of bile forming gallstones.
  • Genetics:  If you have a family history of gallstones and gallbladder issues then you’re more likely to develop gallstones as well.

Other things that increase your risk for gallstones:

  • Diabetes:  With insufficient insulin in the body certain hormones that react to give your body more energy also increase cholesterol production.
  • Surgical Therapy To Reduce Obesity:  Rapid weight loss associated with these types of surgeries attributes to the development of gallstone formation.
  • Cirrhosis and Hemolytic Anemias:  These two conditions are associated with gallstones formed from billirubin – a byproduct of broken blood cells.
  • Hypertriglyceridemia:  High fat levels in your blood make your bile thicker
  • High cholesterol:  High concentrations of cholesterol make it easier for gallstones to form in your bile.
  • Medications:  There are quite a few that can increase the risk of gallstones.  Two common ones are octreotide and ceftriaxone.  Oxtreotide is a medication commonly given to reduce stomach acid production to hospitalized patients with severe gastric bleeds.  Ceftriaxone is a common intravenous antibiotic used to treat everything from urinary tract infections to pneumonia.  Certain cholesterol lowering medications can increase your risk of gallstones too.  Especially if the medication reduces cholesterol by having your body remove cholesterol through your stool.   Remember, you are ultimately the one responsible for being aware of side effects caused by medications you’re taking.  Ask your doctor or nurse.  You can find a complete list of side effects for any medication online by searching for them.   

Gallstone Prevention: How Do You Prevent Gallstones?

After taking a look at what can cause gallstones you might think it’s hard to NOT get them.  The good news is there are certain things you can do in your life to help prevent gallstones.  Surprise!  It essentially revolves around healthy life choices.

  • Coffee:  There is pretty significant research out there to show that coffee decreases the risk of gallstone formation.  Interestingly, those who drank more coffee had lower incidents of getting gallstones – four to six cups of coffee a day.  In fact, those who drank six cups of coffee a day had the lowest risk!  The reasons for decreased gallstone formation is not exactly known.  What is known however, is that decaffeinated coffee does not have a protective effect.
  • Vegetables:  As with all other major diseases, the more vegetables you eat the less likely you are to have gallstones form.  The risk is reduced by as much as twenty percent with even moderate vegetable consumption.  A vegetarian diet is associated with a decreased risk of gallstones (lower cholesterol).  So if you do eat meat and get saturated fat in your diet, the more vegetables you eat, the less of an impact saturated fat will have on your body.
  • Nuts:  In men, daily consumption of nuts are associated with a reduced risk of gallbladder disease.
  • Poly and mono-saturated fats:  In the context of a calorie appropriate diet, both types of fats (oils), were reduced with a reduced risk of gallbladder disease.  These types of healthy fats help to keep cholesterol gallstone formation from forming in animals.  In humans the mechanism is likely the same.
  • Physical Activity:  Physical activity not only helps to reduce cholesterol levels but it also helps to stimulate gastric movement (which helps to keep things moving in your stomach), and can also help keep you from gaining weight.  All of these things are benefitial to your overall health.
  • Stay Hydrated:  Staying well hydrated will help keep everything in your body more lubricated – this includes keeping your bile in your gallbladder from becoming too concentrated.
  • Avoid Crash Diets:  Avoid extreme fasting or having diets that are extremely low in calories.  The most important thing you can do is eat a well balanced meal.
  • Keep Your Blood Sugar In Check:  If you’re a diabetic, one of the most important things you can do (and I know this isn’t always easy) is to keep your blood sugar levels in check.


The Truth About Fat and Gallstones

Fat tends to get a bad rap when it comes to the development of gallbladder disease.  This is partially true because high fat diets are associated with higher levels of cholesterol, obesity, and high triglycerides in the blood – all of which can increase your risks of gallstones.  But, as mentioned above, some fats are healthy such as poly and mono-saturated fats.  What about saturated fats?  Saturated fats are generally associated with high cholesterol.  That’s because it’s also generally attributed to an overall poor diet.  The biggest thing that you can do is make sure you are staying hydrated and eating bountiful amounts of fiber through vegetables and healthy fruits.  The higher your intake of fiber through vegetables the less of a negative impact saturated fats and cholesterol as a whole will have on your body.  You NEED saturated fats and fat in general so don’t be afraid of it.  It’s not an issue as long as your diet is well balanced.  Skip the starch and opt for some vegetables instead.  If starch is a must, try a non-gluten grain high in fiber like quinoa, buckwheat, or wild rice.

Now that we’ve covered gallbladder basics, gallstone causes, and gallstone risks and prevention, our next topic on the gallbladder will include what to expect when you have a gallbladder issue. Is surgery the only option? Stay tuned.

1. Afdhal, N.H. “Epidemiology of and Risk Factors For Gallstones.” UpToDate. August 2016. Web. 9 September 2016.
2.  Gaby, A. “Nutritional Approaches To Prevention and Treatment of Gallstones.” Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal Of Clinical Therapeutic.” September 2009. Web. 9 September 2016



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