1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Natural Remedies for Gallstones

3 Ways to Protect Against Them

By

Updated April 28, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What are Gallstones?

Gallstones (also known as cholelithiasis) are pebble-like substances that form in your gallbladder (the organ responsible for storing bile).

Bile is a fluid that helps your body digest fat. When bile contains too much cholesterol or other materials, it can harden into gallstones. These gallstones can then block the normal flow of bile from the gallbladder, which can lead to pain.

Natural Remedies for Gallstones

Although research on the use of alternative medicine in treating or preventing gallstones is limited, the following natural substances may help protect against gallstones:

1) Fiber

Research suggests that following a diet rich in fiber may help prevent gallstone formation. Fiber sources include whole grains, legumes, psyllium seeds, and flaxseeds.

2) Vitamin C

In a study of 13,130 adults published in 2000, researchers found that women with higher levels of vitamin C were less likely to develop gallstones. Vitamin C, which is essential for converting cholesterol to bile acids, is available in a number of fruits and vegetables (including citrus, berries, broccoli, and kale), as well as in supplement form.

3) Milk Thistle

Silibinin (a compound found in the herb milk thistle) has been found to reduce cholesterol levels in bile, which may in turn keep gallstones from forming. However, the data on this is very limited.

Symptoms of Gallstones

In many cases, gallstones produce no symptoms. However, symptoms can arise when gallstones block the bile ducts (tubes that transport bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine for use in digestion). These symptoms, collectively referred to as biliary colic or a "gallbladder attack," may develop suddenly. They may include:

  • Pain in the right upper abdomen that builds rapidly and lasts from 30 minutes to several hours
  • Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
  • Pain under the right shoulder
  • Since blockage in bile ducts can be complicated by a serious infection or rupture in the gallbladder, you should contact your doctor if you think you've suffered a gallbladder attack. If your symptoms are accompanied by prolonged pain (lasting for hours), nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, yellowish coloring in the skin or whites of the eyes, and/or clay-colored stools, seek immediate medical attention.

    What Increases Your Risk of Getting Gallstones?

    The following conditions increase your risk of developing gallstones:

  • Use of hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills
  • A family history of gallstones
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating a diet high in fat and cholesterol and low in fiber
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Being over age 60
  • Use of cholesterol-lowering drugs
  • Diabetes

    Treatment

    Standard treatment may include medication to dissolve gallstones. If biliary colic or biliary infection recur frequently, surgery to remove your gallbladder may be performed.

    If gallstones do not produce any symptoms, treatment may not be not required.

    Sources:

    Gaby AR. "Nutritional approaches to prevention and treatment of gallstones." Altern Med Rev. 2009 14(3):258-67.

    Nassuato G, Iemmolo RM, Strazzabosco M, Lirussi F, Deana R, Francesconi MA, Muraca M, Passera D, Fragasso A, Orlando R, et al. "Effect of Silibinin on biliary lipid composition. Experimental and clinical study." J Hepatol. 1991 12(3):290-5.

    Simon JA, Hudes ES. "Serum ascorbic acid and gallbladder disease prevalence among US adults: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III)." Arch Intern Med. 2000 10;160(7):931-6.

  • Related Video
    Natural Stress Relief
    Natural Remedies to Brighten Your Mood
    1. About.com
    2. Health
    3. Alternative Medicine
    4. Healing Common Conditions
    5. Natural Remedies for Gallstones - Protect Against Them

    ©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

    We comply with the HONcode standard
    for trustworthy health
    information: verify here.