More than 500,000 Americans each year have their gallbladders removed because of painful gallstones. These small, hard pebbles form when cholesterol or salt depots in the bile harden. Some people with gallstones never experience any problems. Others, however, experience painful gallbladder attacks when stones inflame or obstruct the bile duct. Gallstones can also cause obstructions and infections in the liver and pancreas. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is the most common treatment.
Sudden, severe pain in the abdomen or back is the most common symptom. Many also experience indigestion, nausea, vomiting and pain near the right shoulder.
Age, obesity, rapid weight loss, a low-fiber diet, being pregnant, Crohn’s disease, taking birth control pills and hormone therapy are among the most common risk factors. Women and seniors are at highest risk. Though one of the primary, controllable causes is a high-fat, low-fiber diet.
Foods to avoid
Foods high in animal fat and low in fiber prevent the liver’s ability to absorb bile acids and cause gallstones to form. Those who’ve been diagnosed with gallstones need to be especially diligent about avoiding high-fat foods and increasing their fiber intake. To prevent a painful attack or new gallstones from forming, stay away from: - Whole-milk dairy products - All animal fats, including butter - High-sugar sweets and carbohydrates, including all desserts, candy and ice cream - Hydrogenated oils and fats found in most mayonnaises and margarines - Deep-fried foods - Caffeine, alcohol and carbonated beverages - Artificial sweeteners, additives and colorings - Eggs
Foods to choose
A diet high in fiber-rich foods is one of the best ways to prevent gallstones or a painful attack. Among the best choices: fresh fruits and vegetables, especially broccoli, spinach, carrots, beets, apples, lemons and watermelon. Low-fat, low-cholesterol proteins like turkey, chicken and fresh fish are also good choices, as are foods with high levels of calcium, magnesium and potassium. These include baked potatoes, brown rice, yogurt, and soaked or sprouted grains.
Health experts praise exercise as one of the best ways to prevent gallstones from forming. This is because in addition to regulating weight, exercise helps avoids high build-ups of blood sugar, called glucose, which can lead to gallstone production.