Gallbladder Attack! A Very Painful but Preventable Condition

On the same day I thought it might be time for a chiropractic adjustment, I noticed a sharp, intense pain in the upper right side of my body, underneath my ribcage. Along with that, my upper right back muscles and lower right hip felt painful and stiff. I went to see Dr. Joe Givan, one of the best chiropractors (with relatively inexpensive rates) here in my Colorado Springs, CO, area, and he quickly told me I was having a gallbladder attack! (Dr. Givan has no website, but you may contact his office at 719-578-9543.)

I immediately realized that I hadn’t even thought of getting my annual gallbladder/liver cleanse in the past two years! My regret was immediate. Even though I’d recently discovered a short, easy-to-read book by Dr. Richard and Catherine Sarchenko titled Gallbladder Matters: Keep Yours for Life, which stresses the importance of the gallbladder, I hadn’t done my due diligence. Now I was a victim of what this handy book describes so well. I’d recommend it to anyone, whether they’ve had their gallbladder removed or not.

Personal note: After doing the thorough research I outline in this article, I learned that since this is my first gallbladder attack ever, I may no longer need to do the annual cleanse! I’ll tell you why, and what you can do to have a healthy gallbladder year-round, so that you too will possibly never need to do the exhaustive cleanse (smile).

Even though my background and studies are primarily in the nutritional area, I nevertheless feel that I should have been able to avoid this very painful situation. I’d apparently forgotten that a focus on food alone is not enough to keep us healthy! We must also remember that prevention, which may include food grade supplements and other remedial practices, is truly paramount, and we must add it to all other things we do on a daily basis to help keep our internal organs healthy.

I’m resolved to do better in the future. Let me now say a few words about the gallbladder. It’s a small but extremely vital organ that you DO NOT want to lose merely from a lack of knowing enough about it, especially how to keep it healthy.

The Role of the Gallbladder

“The gallbladder is a small storage organ located inferior and posterior to the liver. Though small in size, the gallbladder plays an important role in our digestion of food. The gallbladder holds bile produced in the liver until it is needed for digesting fatty foods in the duodenum of the small intestine. Bile in the gallbladder may crystallize and form gallstones, which can become painful and potentially life threatening…

Gallstones are hard masses of bile salts, pigments, and cholesterol that develop within the gallbladder. These solid masses form when the components of bile crystallize. Growing slowly over many years as more crystallization occurs, gallstones may reach up to an inch in diameter.

“Most gallstones remain in the gallbladder and are harmless, but they can be pushed out of the gallbladder along with bile and potentially block the neck of the gallbladder or one of the bile ducts. Blockage of the gallbladder or cystic duct may result in cholecystitis, a painful inflammation of the gallbladder. Even worse, blockage of the common bile duct may result in jaundice and liver damage, while blockage of the ampulla of Vater can lead to pancreatitis. Both liver damage and pancreatitis are potentially life-threatening conditions.”
—Excerpted from InnerBody.com

According to WebMD.com, there are two main types of gallstones.

  • Cholesterol stones. These are usually yellow-green in color. They’re the most common kind, accounting for 80% of gallstones.
  • Pigment stones. These stones are smaller and darker. They’re made up of bilirubin, which comes from bile, a fluid your liver makes and your gallbladder  stores.

The Consequences of Surgery

“Whenever the gallbladder is surgically removed, the acute gallbladder attacks disappear, but the bursitis, other miscellaneous pains, and digestive problems remain. Those who have had surgical removal of their gallbladders frequently continue to get bile-coated stones elsewhere that are identical to the supposed gallstones described by medical literature. Doctors virtually never mention this to patients, and promote the surgeries as a permanent cure [emphasis mine].

“For the sake of long-term health, gallbladder surgery should be avoided, if at all possible. Therefore, it is unwise to go to a hospital for gallbladder issues, unless the problem becomes truly unbearable.”
—Excerpted from HealthWyze.org

To help open up an honest discussion with your doctor about the consequences of losing your gallbladder, read Gallbladder Matters. And even if your gallbladder has already been removed, this great little book will tell you how to prevent negative outcomes and maintain your health with proper nutritional support.

 Prevention first: As I did my research for this blog post, I learned that we all have gallstones (though the majority of us remain asymptomatic), and many factors contribute to the formation of these pesky rocks, which I discuss below.

Causes to consider: One of the more interesting discussions I found on gallstone formation comes from Dr. Eric Berg. Learn more, and access his YouTube channel, at DrBerg.com. (Personal note: Dr. Berg markets various vitamin formulas. However, I cannot recommend them as they are NOT whole food supplements. I discuss the vitamins I use for my healing process below.)

Part I: The Cholesterol Connection

The majority of gallstones (80 percent) are made up of cholesterol. However, stones don’t form because we eat too much cholesterol. Rather, stones form when we don’t have enough bile to properly digest fat. (Bile is the detergent-like substance that breaks down the cholesterol stones into smaller particles. The pancreas then delivers lipids—a type of enzyme—that further breaks down the fat for easy elimination.)

Now, you may think that eating a low fat diet would be the answer. I address why this is wrong below.

You can learn more about the importance of cholesterol and its efficacy in healing gallstones from this article by Dr. Tom Cowan (who recommends Standard Process Cholacol). Here is an excerpt:

“So what should you do? First, do not believe that your gallbladder is diseased! Second, give your body what it needs, in this case more cholesterol. Once your body is convinced that you are serious and will provide it with a steady stream of cholesterol, which it desperately needs to stay alive, it will give up the flawed strategy of storing extra, the stones will dissolve and you will be well again.”

The wisdom in these words is clear when you realize that the gallbladder is a use-it-or-lose-it organ. A low fat diet, for instance, will slow the liver’s bile production so much that there won’t be enough bile to dump toxins from the liver. Fat digestion will also be greatly impaired, preventing critical fat-soluble vitamins from being absorbed.

Part II: Low Bile Production

So now that we know what bile is, let’s look over some of the major causes of low bile production:

  • Excess estrogen. This can result from pregnancy, birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy, or simply from being estrogen dominant.
  • Excess cortisol. We produce too much cortisol when we’re consistently overstressed or anxious, and/or from being sympathetic dominant.
  • Excess insulin. Because insulin depletes the bile reserves, diabetics are therefore more prone to gallstones.
  • Low fat diet. The very thing that makes bile is cholesterol, otherwise known as saturated fats! If you limit your saturated fat consumption, you’re in danger of bile deficiency. Also remember that coconut oil, although a nutrient dense food, has no cholesterol. Therefore, you should also include good animal fats (lard, butter, etc.) in your diet along with coconut oil.
  • Constipation. This is oftentimes caused by low bile production as bile lubricates the colon. Without sufficient bile you are more at risk of laxative dependency.
  • Impaired liver function. The liver can become toxic, impaired, or diseased for many reasons, including alcohol consumption, infection, nutritional deficiency, etc.

Gallbladder attack protocol: I attest to the fact that you can find as many remedies for dissolving gallstones online as you can find stars in the sky. That being the case, I will only document what worked for me. But first, a caution: what worked for me may not be the best for you. Checking with your holistic practitioner first is always a safe bet. (Personal note: This blog post is a keeper. You won’t need it unless it happens to you, but if it does, you’ll wish like heck that you’d kept it on hand! Gallstones can truly be a very painful condition.)

I developed the following protocol based on my visit with Dr. Givan and my consultation with Joseph Antell, a Standard Process mentor. I incorporated what I learned from both of them with my own knowledge of the nutritional qualities of foods such as beets, beet kvass, beet juice, and Braggs apple cider vinegar.

A note on foods to avoid during the episode: Refined sugars, grains, and all nuts are especially harmful during the episode. Do not eat them to avoid further inflammation.

Night 1: Before going to bed, I did a mini-Epsom salts cleanse. Epsom salts relax the cystic bile duct and allow the stones to pass into the intestines to be evacuated the next morning. You must be at home the following day, and close to a bathroom.

Recipe: 3 teaspoons Epsom salts in 1 cup of warm water. Hold your nose and drink it down fast as it’s not pleasant. I immediately rinsed my mouth and then sucked on a peppermint lozenge.

Afterwards, I went to bed and laid on my right side for about 45 minutes. I then applied a castor oil pack over the gallbladder area for an hour. I did not do the Epsom salts cleanse daily, but I did do the castor oil pack for the next 6 nights, and the pain finally began to subside. During those 6 days, the pain remained sharp, and bending or doing any of my regular tasks was next to impossible. By day 7, I could tolerate the pain and knew I was on my way home! (Here is a good video on castor oil packs.)

Days 2–6: In spite of the fact that everything I read online stated it was essential to avoid fats—especially saturated fats and all dairy products—I ignored that advice after reading the article by Dr. Cowan. This course of action might not be right for everyone, but I did okay with limited saturated fat in my chicken soup and a small amount of raw milk. I did, however, cut down my portions substantially. I also stopped eating coconut oil until I was over the episode because it contains no cholesterol, and I ate only breakfast and a mid-afternoon bowl of soup (see beverages and supplements below).

Morning meal: I ate ½ a baked sweet potato with a ¼ teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon and about 1 teaspoon each of raw butter and raw honey.

Afternoon (3:00 p.m.) meal: About 1½ cups of my homemade chicken soup with mixed vegetables (chew-chew-chew) and my homemade chicken broth. (I didn’t remove the saturated fat from the broth.)

After each meal: I also ate one organic apple as they contain malic acid, which is known to dissolve gallstones. Avoid apple juice, however, as it contains excessive amounts of sugar. No snacks in between those two meals.

Beverages: During the day I drank ample liquids, ranging from the following three beverages (each serving was 16 oz.):

  • Beet kvass (or beet juice if you don’t have beet kvass)
  • Vinegar water (2 tablespoons organic Braggs apple cider vinegar combined in 16 oz. water)
  • Plain filtered water

All three of these are highly recommended for dissolving and flushing the stones. My total intake was approximately 8 (16 oz.) glasses per day. Learn to make beet kvass with my Cook Your Way to Wellness DVD and booklet.

Additionally, now that I’m convinced of the importance of cholesterol in making the extra bile I apparently need, I revamped my fat intake to include much more saturated fat in the form of butter, lard, and tallow. One huge mistake I’d made was using coconut oil almost exclusively! We must include animal fats in our diets. I will also start including higher cholesterol foods (as shown in this chart from the USDA).

Standard Process supplements: The following supplements were recommended by Dr. Given and Joseph Antell. I hadn’t been taking these on a daily basis, but now I plan to add them to each meal going forward. They’ve proven to be powerful allies in my quest to increase the bile production in my liver, maintain a healthier gallbladder, and encourage general digestion. Ask your chiropractor to test you for the proper dosage.

  • Zypan: This is an HCL supplement that assists protein digestion and supports the environment in the G.I. tract.
  • Cholacol: Contains purified bile salts. It is for bile stasis and gallbladder relief.
  • A-F Betafood: This supplement is uniquely formulated for gallbladder and liver congestion and supports fat metabolism and thinning and mobilization of bile, and assists in the conversion of blood fat to sugar.
  • Enzycore: A comprehensive enzyme blend that can help digest a wide variety of foods when enzyme deficiencies and the consequent digestive distresses are present.
  • Choline: This supplement assists in fat metabolism in the liver. It supports the action of bile salts by reducing the surface tension of fat particles, making them more easily emulsified by the bile salts.
An Afterthought from the Traditional Cook…

Beet Recipe

Coarsely grate 1 large organic beet or beetroot (raw), not peeled if organic.

Add juice of lemon to taste or apple cider vinegar and 1 to 2 tablespoons flax oil (be sure to get flax oil from the refrigerator at your local health store as flax oil goes rancid quickly. If you can’t get flax oil or are insulin resistant, use cold pressed, organic, extra virgin olive oil. It is always best to buy oils in small containers and have a back bottle of fresh to open. Oils go rancid very easily and I recommend keeping them in the fridge after they are opened. If your oil congeals just set the bottle in a bowl of hot water and then let it soften back to its liquid state.)

You can take one teaspoon of the beet mixture every hour if need be, and it will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, then make a fresh batch.

This mixture is great for everyone to add to salads as beets in any form are great for the gallbladder because they keep the bile thin and moving.
—Celeste Yarnall, “Was That a Gallbladder Attack

AUTHOR’S NOTE

To choose your organically grown and fresh ingredients wisely, use the following criteria:

  • chemical- and hormone-free meat
  • wild-caught fish
  • pasture-raised, organic eggs
  • whole, unrefined grains
  • virgin, unrefined, first-press organic oils
  • whole-food, unrefined sweeteners
  • pure, clean, spring water
  • sea salt
  • raw and/or cultured milk and cream products

Note from Maria: I am a Certified Natural Health Professional, CNHP, not a medical doctor. I do not diagnose, prescribe for, treat, or claim to prevent, mitigate, or cure any human diseases. Please see your medical doctor prior to following any recommendations I make in my blogs or on my website.

Images from iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz (main image), umdash9 (gallstones),  iko636 (chicken broth). 

Maria Atwood, CNHP

Maria Atwood is a semi-retired Certified Natural Health Professional and Weston A. Price Chapter Leader in Colorado Springs, CO. Her website, Traditional Cook, offers the The Lee Household Flour Mill, originally invented by Royal Lee, inventor of Standard Process Supplements. She also carries the WonderMix mixer as well as the Wondermill grain mill. Also check out Maria’s “Cook Your Way to Wellness” DVD (also available on Vimeo). Be sure to join the Selene River Press newsletter to follow Maria’s Tips from The Traditional Cook blog.

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