Gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ located below the liver on the right upper abdomen. This organ is sort of storing place that contains bile – the liquid which helps body in digesting fats. When the bile is needed for digestion, gallbladder pushes is into a tube that carries it further to aid digestion in the intestine.
Bile consists of number of substances among which are water, cholesterol, fats, bile salts, proteins and bilirubin. The bile salts, for example, are responsible for breaking up fats, while bilirubin (a waste product) gives stool a yellowish-brown color. If too much salts, cholesterol or bilirubin is accumulated in the bile, it leads to the formation of gallstones. These pebble-like substances are nothing but liquids hardened into stone-like substances that can block the normal flow of bile.
Typically, there are two kinds of gallstones classified according to the substance they are formed of. Cholesterol stones are made of corresponding substance and are usually yellow-green. This type of gallstones is more frequently diagnosed than the second one – pigment stones. These are small stones made of bilirubin and they are usually dark.
The stones of both types vary in sizes and shapes and can be several millimeter in diameter or reach the size of an egg. The combination of stones in a gallbladder is also a frequently occurring phenomenon. If not paid attention to, gallstones can provoke inflammation of pancreas, liver and gallbladder.
As described above, gallstones form out of hardened substances in the bile that is chemically unbalanced. The formation of cholesterol stones is often triggered by the incomplete or not full release of bile and the pigment stones tend to develop as a result of liver cirrhosis, hereditary blood conditions or biliary tract infections.
Some other factors that contribute to the gallstones formation include hormonal misbalance that leads to increased production of cholesterol in bile, obesity, diet high in fat and cholesterol and low in fiber, diabetes and family history of the gallstones. Cholesterol-lowering drugs also have controversial action – while they decrease the blood cholesterol levels, they actually increase the concentration of cholesterol in bile.
Usually gallstones move into the bile ducts and create blockage, increase pressure in the gallbladder and provoke occurring of the symptoms that notify the patient of the disorder. Some people may not have symptoms at all and doctors call this kind of stones “silent stones”. They do not require any medical attention.
Once stones reach certain size, usually around 8 mm, they cause gallbladder “attacks” called so due to the sudden outbreak. The symptoms include pain in the right upper abdomen that can last up to several hours, pain in the back between the shoulder blades and even pain in the right shoulder.
These attacks usually pass after the gallstone moves further, but the gallbladder can become infected. The worsening of the condition is accompanied by nausea and vomiting, fever, yellowish color of the skin, and clay-colored stools. These should be a sign to immediately seek for medical assistance.
To alleviate the abdominal pain at the start of an attack drinking a full glass of water may be helpful since it will regulate the bile in the gallbladder. If this doesn’t help, it is recommended to take magnesium followed by any bitter liquid (coffee or Swedish bitters) an hour after, it is proved that bitter flavors stimulate bile flow.
Traditional medicinal approaches to treating gallstones include a variety of surgical operations. Open cholecystectomy is a traditional procedure of stones removal. This procedure has been used for over 100 years now and is quite safe and easy. Laparoscopic cholecystectomy is a relatively new technique. A tiny video camera is inserted through several incisions in the abdomen and the gallstone is removed with little pain and easy post-healing.
Non-surgical procedures are used when a patient cannot have a surgery due to other medical condition preventing it. The methods include oral dissolution therapy (drugs containing bile acid for dissolving the stones) and contact dissolution therapy (injecting a drug directly to gallbladder to act locally).
To handle gallstones herbalists has a lot to offer too. One of the best remedies for promoting the flow of the bile is barberry bark. Barberine, the major chemical of this herb, activates the white blood cells that inhibit harmful microelements. Barberry is both effective for gallbladder inflammation and gallstones.
Ginger root enhances cholesterol absorption and stimulates the production of bile acids to cleanse the gallbladder and liver. Also, hot compresses made with ginger tea relieve pain of gallbladder attacks.
Peppermint leaf(as well as other mints) is proved by clinical trials to dissolve gallstones. The herb aids in reducing the gallstones’ size and in this way many patients may avoid surgery.
Turmeric is beneficial for both treating and preventing gallstones. The action of curcumin in the herb is able to drop the volume of the stone up to 45 percent within five weeks. This chemical increases the solubility of the bile and aids digestion in general.
Gold coin grass (chin-chien tsao) is effective against gallstones and also the urinary tract stones. It is able to relieve fever and other related symptoms of inflammation.
Known for the rich content of the compound silymarin, milk thistle is used for liver protection. As studies have shown, silymarin also increases bile solubility, thus preventing or alleviating gallstones.