Gallstones are solid pieces of matter that found inside the gallbladder, a small organ located behind the liver on the right side of your abdomen. They can vary in terms of size from smaller than a grain of sand to bigger than a golf ball. Either one large gallstone, hundreds of little stones, or almost any combination can be formed by gallbladder.
Approximately 80 percent of gallstones are made of hardened cholesterol particles that happen when there is too much cholesterol in the gallbladder (1). Other causes of gallstones are high levels of bilirubin, not having enough bile salts and a concentration of bile in the gallbladder. Gallstones are primarily made of cholesterol, which isn’t solid, so they are usually softer when compared to kidney stones.
Causes of Gallstones
There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing gallstones, including diet, age, gender, body composition and genetics. Gallstones are most common in:
Possible causes of gallstones include:
- Family history of gallstones (5)
- High triglycerides levels (6)
- Low HDL (good) cholesterol (7)
- Pregnancy (8)
- Diabetes (9)
- Liver disease (10)
- Certain kinds of anemia (11)
- Eating a poor diet, especially a high fat diet (12)
- Losing weight too quickly (or fasting and long periods without eating) (13)
- Lack of physical activity (14)
- Hormone replacement therapy (15)
- Birth control pills (16)
Symptoms of a Gallbladder Attack
Symptoms of a gallbladder attack may include:
- High tension around the stomach, intestines and other organs, especially after meals (including those high in fat and protein)
- Pain in the back between the shoulder blades
- Steady pain in the upper abdomen which especially increases rapidly
- Pain under the right shoulder
- Abdominal bloating
- Repetitive intolerance of fatty foods
- Clay-colored stools
Gallstones cause pain and this pain may last for a few minutes to several hours. Pressing down below on your last rib on your right side is an easy way to determine whether your pain is related to the gallbladder or not. If you feel pain when you press, it is a good chance that you have a gallbladder problem.
Home Remedies for Gallstones
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
The acidic nature of apple cider vinegar prevents the liver from producing more cholesterol which is the main reason for forming gallstones. To dissolve gallstones and to alleviate the gallstones related pain, apple cider vinegar plays a key role.
Add one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in a glass of apple juice. Consume it immediately whenever you have a gallstone attack. This mixture will significantly relieve the pain within 15 minutes.
Alternatively, you can mix two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar and one teaspoon of lemon juice in a glass of warm water. Consume it directly on an empty stomach in the morning. If you do this regularly for weeks, this mixture can dissolve gallstones and prevent pain.
2. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is another good home remedy for keeping gallstone attacks under control. It helps your liver produce less cholesterol, which aids in faster recovery. Lemon juice contains pectin which is believed to help get rid of gallbladder pain related to the stones (17). In addition, thanks to vitamin C in lemon juice, cholesterol becomes more water soluble, which promotes faster elimination of waste products.
You can drink four tablespoons of lemon juice mixed in a glass of warm water every day on an empty stomach. Keep drinking this mixture for several weeks until the gallstones are eliminated from your body.
Peppermint helps digestion by activating the flow of bile and other digestive juices (18). In addition, it contains a compound called terpene, which can effectively dissolve gallstones (19). Plus, it also helps relieve spasms and acute gallbladder pain.
Boil one cup of water and add one teaspoon of dried peppermint leaves. Take it from heat, cover and brew for five minutes. Then, strain and add one teaspoon of honey. Drink the tea while it is still warm and consume it twice a day for 4-6 weeks. For good results, drink it between meals.
4. Vegetable Juice
If you are suffering from gallstones, you should stop eating fried and fatty foods. You can follow a strict diet based on fruit and vegetable juices for a week or two. A mixed vegetable juice made of beet root, cucumber and carrots is a good remedy to get rid of gallstones (20).
Beet root helps detoxify the liver and strengthens the gallbladder. Cucumber’s high water content is beneficial for cleansing the liver and gallbladder. Carrots are high in vitamin C, vitamin A and other nutrients that are beneficial for the immune system.
You can extract the juice from one beet root, one cucumber and four medium-size carrots. Mix them together and consume this vegetable juice twice a day. Use this remedy for two weeks and you will get a significant improvement in your condition.
5. Dandelion Root
Dandelion is another precious herb for the cure of gallstones (21). It contains taraxacin that aids in bile excretion from the liver. It also helps cleanse and metabolize fat accumulated in the liver. If the liver starts functioning properly, it can help in gallbladder functioning.
Put one teaspoon of dried dandelion root in a cup. Add hot water in the cup, cover it and allow it steep for five minutes. Then strain and add honey, if you need. Consume this tea twice a day for 1-2 weeks.
Alternatively, you can consume the fresh dandelion greens by adding them to your salad or steaming them.
Note: Consult your doctor before consuming dandelion.
6. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is another effective home remedy to get rid of gallstones (22, 23). This herb has a bitter substance called silymarin that activates bile production (24). Increased bile production helps flush out gallstones. Milk thistle also helps in liver functioning.
To use this remedy, grind one tablespoon of milk thistle seeds in a coffee grinder or crush them in a mortar and pestle. Add the crushed seeds in three cups of water and boil. Remove from the heat and then allow it steep for 20 minutes. Finally, strain the tea and consume it three times a day for one week.
If you do not want to consume this herb as a tea, you can also take it in supplement form. For proper dosage, talk with your doctor. Generally, it is recommended to take 420 mg regular standardized milk thistle extract three times a day. However, if the extract contains phosphatidylcholine then the standard dose is 100 to 200 mg, two to three times a day.
Pears can help relieve gallstone pain and other symptoms. Pectin in pears helps soften cholesterol-filled gallstones, which in turn get flushed out of your body easily.
Mix half a glass of pear juice with half a glass of hot water. Then add two tablespoons of honey to make it tasty. Consume this juice three times a day for two weeks.
Alternatively, peel one medium-sized pear and separate the seeds. Slice it into small pieces and cook the pieces in distilled water for about 20 minutes. Then eat them and apply this remedy twice a day for two weeks.
According to a study done by researchers from the University of East Anglia, wine can actually help prevent gallstone attacks. They conducted a research on diets of 25,639 people over 10 years. People who drank two units of wine (a medium-sized glass of wine) daily decreased their risk of having gallstones by one third.
If you suffer from gallstone pain, you can consume half a glass of wine and your pain will be relieved within 20 minutes. Moreover, daily consumption of half a glass of wine can also decrease the amount of gallstone attacks by around 40 percent.
Dietary and Lifestyle Changes for Gallstones
To get rid of gallstones, there have to be certain changes in your diet and lifestyle. Here are some suggestions:
- Drink 8-10 glasses of water every day. Water helps keep bile in the gallbladder and supports the body in breaking down fat. Otherwise that could make your condition worse.
- If you are overweight, reduce your weight. Also stay away from fatty foods. Eat smaller meals and spread it over the day. Eat 5-6 smaller meals instead of eating 3 big meals.
- Limit your fat intake to 25 percent of daily calories. Also limit your dietary cholesterol consumption.
- Limit your sugar intake.
- Increase your fiber consumption and try to consume soy protein instead of animal protein.
- Try to exercise regularly and be more active. Those who are more active during daytime tend to have better protection against gallstones.
- Avoid constipation.
- Have coffee everyday but avoid drinking it in excessive amounts. One or two cups a day will be enough. Coffee activates the flow of bile and this prevents gallstones.
- Try to consume enough amounts of vitamin C during the day. For this, include citrus fruits in your diet like lemon and orange.
- Consume spices and herbs that stimulate the liver as well as gallbladder such as turmeric, dried ginger, black pepper, long pepper, and asafetida.
- Rethink taking birth control pills and unnecessary medications. Birth control pills and some hormonal medications increase estrogen levels, which has an effect on cholesterol production, storage and also body weight.
When to See Your Doctor
While most gallstones may not lead to serious problems, in some cases they may require surgery. Sometimes they can lead to so much pain and issues that the entire gallbladder needs to be removed. If you think that you have gallstones, you should consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment. They will probably use an ultrasound or X-rays. Ultrasounds are seemed to be the best way to detect them. However, if they are not fully solid or made of bone, they won’t always show up on a CT scan. Doctors usually wait for a couple of months on average to warrant noninvasive surgery or medical therapy.