As a service to the general public, I provide information to your own personal health questions. Writing articles is great, but providing specific information regarding your own condition is far superior. I am a medical student - not a licensed medical doctor so take this as information - not advice. Ask your medical doctor any question you have and tell them what you are doing in terms of supplementation and lifestyle. Do not proceed with any changes without discussing with your doctor first! Print this out and bring it to them if you want.
Today we received the question:
I'm looking for alternatives to gall bladder removal surgery. I would appreciate any suggestions you might have.
The quick answer: Yes there are alternatives - dietary and lifestyle changes for some cases. No for those who do not want to do dietary and lifestyle changes. This may seem accusatory but it is not meant to be in the slightest. It is up to you and what you deem most important. Some people would rather not have to worry about gallstones any longer - just take it out. Taking out the gall bladder is the better alternative to trying to surgically remove the stones. Why? Risk of perforation of the gall bladder for one. Others - if stones formed once, they will likely form again if dietary and lifestyle changes not happening. Another - surgeons are better at complete removal than removal of stones only. It is much easier to snip and tie than it is to go in and cut, tease out, look around for more and stitch up.
How is your life affected if the gall bladder is gone? Not too bad. Can't eat high fat meals anymore - that's a good thing anyhow. I for one am more of a proponent of avoiding the removal of what we came into this world with (ended a sentence with a preposition - bad me).
However, as stated above, if dietary and lifestyle changes are not a priority - and a quick fix is - then by all means, remove the gall bladder. It is less risk to you in the long run. The last thing you want is a gallstone lodged in the biliary tree causing your pancreas to blow up. Sounds bad doesn't it? It is.
If your gall bladder is not too bad - you have some stones in there but they are not lodged in the biliary tree - and you want to try dietary and lifestyle changes, then the information below is for you.
Hear this though: Listen to your doctors. But not all doctors are right so get a second, third or even fourth opinion. One of those will be right - hopefully. If it is a medical emergency - read no further - remove it. You'll be fine the rest of your life without a little storage pouch. Just don't eat a block of cheese with bleu cheese dressing. Don't do that anyway.
Also - do not go out and do a Liver and Gall Bladder Flush. You see them all over the net and hear about them all the time. Why not? Without proper preparation and guidance from a licensed physician, the likelihood of a gallstone lodging in the biliary tree and causing a medical emergency is likely. Do not risk it. You read that? Do not risk it. Seek professional assistance if you are wanting to do it. A gall bladder flush can be effective if done properly under trained supervision. It takes months of preparation.
Now for the dietary and lifestyle changes for alternatives to gall bladder removal - as coming from a medical student - not a licensed professional:
My first thought is what caused the gall bladder to become an issue? In school we were taught the 4 F's - it is such a crude way to go about it but I will state them anyhow. Gall bladder 'dis-ease' is more common in Female, Fat, Forty, Fertile. Offensive? I think so. Accurate? Yes.
A more tactful way of explaining the cause of gall bladder dysfunction:
Overweight, Standard American Diet (appropriately named SAD) and Family History.
Now to explain each one quickly.
Dr Russel Marz puts it very well in his outstanding book, Medical Nutrition:
"Supersaturation of cholesterol in the bile solution of the gall bladder is necessary for gall stones to form. People who fast often have supersaturated cholesterol; that is why extreme weight loss programs increase the possibility of gall stones and gall bladder attacks."
Point: Avoid extreme weight loss programs. Lose weight by altering dietary intake and exercise. Overeating can be an emotional issue as well. Balancing the emotions are vital in restoring proper eating habits. Chinese medical philosophy defines obesity as a blockage in the flow of the spleen's blood and energy. The spleen also houses the emotion of worry according to the Chinese. How many times do you find yourself eating while worried? Balance the spleen qi and begin to address the cause of overeating.
Overeating also puts stress on the liver. The liver has a multitude of functions. Converts protein into stored glycogen (long chains of glucose), converts glucagon into glucose, makes loads of hormones, processes excess hormones and removes them from the bloodstream, detoxifies the body by processing chemicals with its phase I and II detoxification processes and many others. Overeating bogs the system down as the liver can optimize only a few functions at a time.
Bottom line: Do not overeat. Chew thoroughly and eat more slowly - this will allow you to feel full before you find yourself standing up for seconds or thirds.
Do not eat late at night. Night is the time for the liver to cleanse your body. Allow it to do that rather than process protein and sugars.
Eat your highest calorie meal at lunch and lowest calorie meal at dinner. Why? When are you most active? During the day. If you eat high calories during the day, you are more likely to burn them off. Eat a high calorie meal at night what are you doing? Laying down and dreaming of flying monkeys. Your liver will store all of those excess calories somewhere while your flying monkeys lose weight. You want to lose the weight - not them. Dont eat your big meals at night. Period.
Standard American Diet
What is that? Decreased fiber intake, high intake of refined carbohydrates and high fat intake. All sounds good and you've heard it before - but what does it mean?
Fiber comes in two forms - soluble and insoluble. One finds soluble fiber in apples, oranges, oat bran and legumes to name a few. Soluble fiber soaks up fat like a sponge and draws it out of the digestive tract. So if apples are consumed, cholesterol is bound to the insoluble fiber thereby preventing its absorption back up into the gall bladder. Insoluble fiber is found in the bran moiety of whole grains and woody structure of plants. Insoluble fiber is essential in providing bulk to the stool, providing a 'nesting' place for beneficial bacteria and decreases the time stool is in your digestive tract. So in brief, insoluble fiber allows the cholesterol-bound soluble fiber to pass from the digestive tract more easily. It is a joint effort.
Refined carbohydrates are basically processed foods. What one eats out of a can or a fast-food joint is likely refined. Refined carbs are without fiber. No fiber is no binding of cholesterol and increased constipation. Want some good fiber in your smoothy in the morning? Use frozen or fresh berries along with a physician-grade fiber supplement.
High fat intake is simple to understand. However what is not so simple to understand is that there are good fats and bad fats. Good fats are the anti-inflammatory omega 3 fatty acids. This is a whole discussion in of itself so I wont go further. Good fats are found in cold water fish - wild only! Do not buy farm-raised fish. Huge mistake - again another discussion. Bad fats - other animal products and a number of nuts. These are inflammatory fatty acids. These acids are required for our body to function but not in the typical ratio with which we consume them. Ideally, the ratio between omega 6 fatty acids and omega 3 fatty acids: 1:3 There is much debate over this but 1:3 to 1:6 is a good area to be in. Where are the Americans with this? 1:20
We eat 20 times more bad fats than good fats. Ouch. You can decrease this ratio pretty quickly with a high-grade cold water fish oil.
Bottom line: Increase whole food in the diet. How? No more fast-food and do not eat anything that comes in a can. Buy raw ingredients and prepare simple meals with healthy fats. A dietary change is needed. The standard American lifestyle does not allow this to happen easily. Believe me, as a medical student, father of 2, remodeling our home and running 2 businesses, I am just as guilty as the next person. But I do eat well. That is what keeps me afloat.
Take your time with this transition and plan your meals and snacks well. We all want to snack so choose healthy alternatives. Balanced meal-replacement bars are handy during those cram sessions at work or running late. If you find yourself at Denny's or some other processing plant, it's alright. Plan on a long-term transition - say 6 months or a year. Ease into it with a plan. A good book: Diet and Nutrition, A Holistic Approach.
Hypercholesterolemia - a genetic defect leading to increased cholesterol in blood. Must eat more fiber and take specific supplements to help prevent the buildup of excess cholesterol. Advice of a trained naturopathic physician is essential here if you want to avoid pill popping. In some cases, it may be necessary but a good physician has many tools to naturally decrease cholesterol. One such tool is a supplement which processes fats better thereby lowering your cholesterol and increasing the health of your gall bladder - and overall health.
One more thing:
Exercise is vital. You've heard that so much you've already turned a deaf ear to me. But let me tell you why it is vital.
Exercise increases energy consumption. Energy consumption requires energy refueling. The liver gets cholesterol from the bloodstream when in need of energy. It does this by sending out HDL - good cholesterol. The HDL picks up LDL - bad cholesterol. The bad cholesterol (LDL) is converted biochemically into a useable fuel for the body. But wait - exercise increases metabolism so the liver must get more LDL faster to keep the machine running. So what does it do? It makes more HDL. Why? To pick up more LDL's which are then burned and removed from the bloodstream. Make sense?
In brief: Exercise increases the need for fuel. LDL is converted to a useable fuel. HDL is required to get LDL. HDL goes up and LDL goes down. Cholesterol goes down. Go run, swim, dance, play hoops -
Why didn't anyone explain that before? Who knows. It's a very simple concept.
That about sums it up. This dietary and lifestyle change is not only useful for alternatives to gall bladder removal. It is useful for numerous conditions. However, it is tailored more towards gall bladder issues. I provided supplement suggestions which help the gall bladder's health improve.
Clarification needed? Drop in a comment. Or email me. See the column on the upper right - there are links to my Contact Us page.
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