Diet for Gallstones: What Causes Gallstones and How to Prevent Them?

Author: Henrik Aulbach



Lesezeit: 3 min

Gallstones are solid small clumps that can form in the gallbladder. Overweight and an unhealthy diet are often responsible for the development of gallstones. Since they can be very painful, it's worthwhile to start the appropriate therapy early on.

Definition of Gallstones

Gallstones are solid deposits in the gallbladder that can also form in the bile ducts. Their size can range from that of cherries to golf balls. They consist of components of bile that should normally be dissolved in the bile. About 20% of adults carry gallstones within them.

Causes of Gallstones: How Do Gallstones Form?

Gallstones contain dissolved components of bile. They form as stones when the bile becomes too thick and its components can no longer stay dissolved. Over time, a milky to granular paste transforms into solid gallstones, which then accumulate in the gallbladder. 

Most gallstones are composed of cholesterol. Our body needs this substance for fat digestion, which is why cholesterol is produced in the bile. Consequently, a high-fat diet promotes gallstones since it stimulates cholesterol production. Besides cholesterol, the bile pigment bilirubin is a common component of gallstones. It forms as a breakdown product of hemoglobin. 

Symptoms of Gallstones

Gallstones often go unnoticed because they do not necessarily cause specific symptoms. Gallstones can trigger abdominal pain, bloating, or flatulence. However, these symptoms can also result from various digestive issues, not just gallstones.

Gallstones are typically discovered later due to painful gallbladder attacks. This sensation of pain occurs when a gallstone blocks a bile duct, leading to an accumulation of bile. Episodes of pain ensue, which can radiate from the upper abdomen to the back and shoulders. These attacks can last for minutes or hours. Vomiting is a common symptom during prolonged and painful attacks. In the long run, gallbladder attacks can lead to gallbladder inflammation due to irritation of the gallbladder and expansion of bile.

Proper Diet for Gallstones

Typically, gallstones are managed through dietary changes. Besides genetic predisposition, poor dietary habits are major contributors to gallstone formation. Specifically, the following foods can promote gallstones:

  • High-calorie foods
  • Low-fiber foods
  • Quick-digesting carbohydrates
  • Processed foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods

Instead, focus on the following foods:

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Legumes

In essence, avoid simple carbohydrates and opt for high-fiber foods like whole grains. Complete elimination of fatty foods is not recommended, as bile is necessary for fat digestion. Reduced fat intake can lead to decreased bile production, increasing the risk of gallstones. Industrial trans fats should be avoided, while natural plant-based fats are better. It's worth noting that the impact of dietary cholesterol on gallstone risk is not definitively established.

Moreover, there's some evidence that alcohol consumption might reduce the risk of gallstones. However, this is not conclusively proven, so we recommend following your doctor's advice in this matter.

It's important to note that dietary changes cannot dissolve gallstones. Gallstones cannot be naturally dissolved. Only specially designed medications can achieve that. However, dietary changes can help prevent the formation of new gallstones and halt the growth of existing ones.

Gallstones: Are There Other Treatment Options?

When gallstones cause problems such as painful attacks, they are usually surgically removed. Modern minimally invasive methods require only tiny incisions in the skin using the keyhole principle, without the need for large abdominal incisions. If the symptoms of gallstones are still moderate to mild, they can also be treated with medication to avoid surgery. Medication, such as ursodeoxycholic acid can dissolve gallstones without surgery. You should discuss with your doctor which treatment is best suited for your case.

Diet for Gallstones: Frequently Asked Questions

How Do Gallstones Form?

Gallstones are favored by genetic factors and poor dietary habits. Apparently, it's low-fiber and calorie-dense dietary patterns that promote the formation of gallstones. With gallstones, dissolved components from bile escape and form small stones, which can grow larger over time and subsequently block bile ducts.

Which Foods Are Bad for the Gallbladder?

The following foods should be avoided as much as possible with gallstones:

  • Sugary foods
  • Foods with simple carbohydrates like white flour
  • Animal fats
  • Industrial fats
  • Processed meats and processed meat products
  • Alcohol in larger quantities

What to Do for Gallbladder Pain

If you experience gallbladder pain, you should definitely consult a doctor. Gallbladder pain often starts mildly and worsens over time, for example, due to the enlargement of gallstones. Mild to moderate symptoms are often treated with medication. Sometimes, for painful blockages of the bile ducts, the only option left is surgical intervention, with minimally invasive procedures requiring only small incisions in the skin. You should discuss the treatment options with your doctor to find the right approach for you.

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