The gallbladder is an important part of the digestive system, despite not being an essential organ. Its primary task is collecting and storing a liquid known as bile, which aids in fat digestion. In some people, bile deposits harden and form gallstones, which do not typically cause symptoms. However, if a gallstone tries to entire the bile duct, it can cause intense pain, nausea, and vomiting. The only cure for gallstones after symptoms begin is a cholecystectomy or the removal of the gallbladder. Although many factors that influence the buildup of gallstones are out of your control, like genetics and gender, there are still many steps you can take to encourage a healthy gallbladder.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
The most important step you can take to encourage a well-functioning gallbladder is to maintain a healthy weight. This means having a body mass index measurement in the normal range, rather than being overweight or obese. Excess weight has been linked to an increase in risk for developing gallstones. Also, being overweight also increases your risk of complications during surgery, even though cholecystectomies are usually relatively minor procedures. To maintain a healthy weight, you should eat a nutritious, low-fat diet and exercise regularly. Doing so will help you to keep the pounds off and lower your risk for gallbladder disease.
Eat More Fiber
Research has also shown that eating more fiber can help to reduce your risk for gallbladder complications. Fiber helps to move the digestive process along, making it easier for your body to process foods. Because fiber results in the food being in your system for less overall time, the gallbladder does not need to release as much bile to digest it. This reduces your risk of developing gallstones and other gallbladder diseases. To add more fiber to your diet, consider foods like oats, beans, and lentils. Some fruits and vegetables, like apples, berries, and green leafy veggies, are also good sources of fiber.
Avoid Extreme Diets
Even though losing weight can help to reduce your risk of developing gallbladder problems, you should take care when selecting a diet plan. Losing too much weight suddenly or developing a pattern of so-called yo-yo dieting can actually have the opposite effect. Before choosing a diet, you should work with your physician or a nutritionist to come up with a plan that will work for you. Typically, doctors advise aiming for no more than two pounds per week, especially for those who are only moderately overweight. Make sure to focus on both diet and exercise, since neither component is as effective without the other.
Reduce Fat Intake
Gallbladder problems are much more common in those who consume high amounts of fat. This is especially true of saturated and trans fats, which are common in processed foods. Researchers believe that this is because bile is stored in the gallbladder, and consuming more fatty foods increases the use of bile to aid in digestion. Although you do not have to avoid fat completely, you should choose lean meats and add fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet rather than eating unhealthy alternatives. Preparing your own food instead of dining out can also help to decrease fat intake since most restaurant options are cooked with added butter and oils.
One benefit of reducing your fat intake is that it will lower your cholesterol, which is also important for gallbladder health. Cholesterol occurs in the same types of foods that are high in saturated and trans fats. These include dairy products like cheese, butter, eggs, and cream, as well as red meats and processed meats, such as sausage or lunchmeats. Processed foods, fried foods, and foods that are high in sugars can also be sources of LDL cholesterol. Although changing your diet is the best way to reduce cholesterol, you can also talk to your doctor about pairing healthy eating habits with cholesterol-lowering medication.
Stick to Lean Meats
Lean meats are a great source of nutrients, and they can help you to keep your gallbladder healthy. Unlike red meats and processed meats, leaner choices don’t contain as much saturated fat or cholesterol – two primary causes of gallbladder problems. Instead of ground beef, hot dogs, or bacon, look for healthier options like grilled chicken breasts and low-fat cuts of pork and beef. Another option is to add a few vegetarian nights to your monthly meal plan, using alternative sources of protein and fiber like nuts and grains instead of animal products. This will help to improve your overall health, including your gallbladder.
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables
Another simple way to improve the health of your gallbladder is to eat more fruits and vegetables. This may mean swapping out unhealthy sides like fries and coleslaw for salads and steamed veggies or replacing sugary breakfast cereal with fresh-cut fruit. You can also keep chopped vegetables handy for quick and healthy snacks. By doing this, you will lower your cholesterol intake and put yourself on the path to losing weight. Of course, you should also make sure that your accompanying food choices are healthy, too. For example, eating a salad topped with bacon, fried chicken, cheese, and creamy dressing can be just as unhealthy as a meal without vegetables.
Perhaps one of the most surprising suggestions on this list is to drink more coffee. Some research indicates that coffee can help to encourage gallbladder health, in large part due to its high caffeine quantities. The caffeine triggers contractions in the gallbladder, which can help prevent gallstones and other diseases. Of course, if you already have gallstones, you may not want to drink coffee until after your gallbladder is removed because these same contractions can cause painful symptoms in patients with existing gallstones. In addition to coffee, other naturally caffeinated beverage like green tea can also have this effect on the gallbladder.
Eat Whole Grains and Nuts
Along with vegetables and lean meat, people who want to keep their gallbladder healthy should rely on a diet that is high in whole grains and nuts. Some initial research has shown that people who eat these foods regularly are less likely to develop gallstones. Whole grains, which consist of products like whole wheat, oats, and brown rice, are easy to incorporate into your meal plan. Unsalted nuts also make a great healthy snack throughout the day. For those who like to drink, there is even more good news. Grain-based alcohols can also help to reduce the risk of gallbladder disease, so drinking moderately is actually good for you.
Talk to your Physician
For most people, gallbladder-related pain is sudden and debilitating, typically resulting in an emergency room visit. However, if you noticed any unexplained pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen, you should talk to your physician about it. Although gallstones usually require removal of the gallbladder, other conditions like cancer can be treated if caught early enough. Even for healthy patients, annual checkups can help to keep your gallbladder and other organs healthy. Your physician can help you to decide whether things, like lowering your cholesterol or losing weight, are necessary, and can provide you with information on how to do so safely.