Quick! Where's your gallbladder?
I bet a lot of you can't answer that. While we've all heard of gallstones, most of us have no idea what they actually are. I know - I asked around.
Well, this little organ is under your liver, and the stones are accumulated masses of cholesterol and other stuff found in bile. They can apparently be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, which I'm starting to think is the standard scientific scale for unusual things found inside your bod.
These can cause intense pain, often referred to as an "attack," which occurs most often after a fatty meal. Symptoms include pain in your upper abdomen and in your back between the shoulder blades or under the right shoulder, as well as nausea and/or vomiting, abdominal bloating and gas. Good times.
Because we're getting heavier, it's thought gallstones are becoming more common. Turns out fat morphs into rocks. Who knew?
What the experts say
"Like anything in the body that is an accumulation, gallstones don't happen overnight. Chinese medicine sees it as an accumulation of yin over time, often from lack of flow. You know the expression ‘to have the gall,' so say something. Often, if you have gallstones, you don't have the gall to speak up, so it stays in your body. It's like a backup of anger. There are herbs that break up gallstones and kidney stones. They don't work overnight, but take a few months. Diet changes can help, as can learning to have more gall or express your gall. Acupuncture works well at moving things, but again, not overnight."
KALEB MONTGOMERY, doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, Toronto
"Incidence of gallstone formation is higher in women, people over 40, individuals with Crohn's disease, women on oral contraceptives or other estrogen therapy and obese individuals. Gallstones also may arise following rapid weight loss. Predisposing factors include increased intake of sugar, trans fats and saturated fats, lack of essential fatty acids and fibre, dehydration and food sensitivities. If gallstones aren't too large, dietary and supplement measures can help avoid surgery. Naturopathic approaches, which should only be pursued under supervision, include eliminating food sensitivities, increasing dietary fibre from sources such as oat bran and ground flaxseeds and avoiding fried foods, refined sugars and simple carbohydrates. Herbs like milk thistle, dandelion root and turmeric help decrease cholesterol saturation. Supplements including vitamin C, fish oil and phosphatidylcholine are also helpful."
ALYSON MUNKLEY, naturopath, Toronto
"We accelerate the process of expelling stones by prescribing a drink of about half a glass of olive oil. As soon as the gallbladder detects a high level of fat in the duodenum, it goes into spasm, and anything it contains will then come out into the duodenum. Or we soften the stones. For that we advise drinking apple juice because it contains malic acid or taking phosphoric acid or malic acid capsules. This must be done for 15 days. It's also important to take Epsom salts to open up the ducts to allow free exit. It's most important that people be under the supervision of a practitioner."
GEORGE J. GEORGIOU, PhD, ND, DSc (AM), holistic medicine practitioner, Cyprus
"People who develop gallstones have too much cholesterol in their bile, though 80 per cent of people go through life never knowing they have them. Standard treatment is laparoscopic removal. Gallstones are more common because of the obesity epidemic and have very high occurrences in certain groups. The olive oil and juice remedy has been around for a century. It elicits a small hard stool but no stones. It's an old wives' tale. Bile salts (ursodeoxycholic acid) can dissolve these stones, but many do not respond, and 50 per cent recur within five years."
ELDON SHAFFER, professor of medicine, division of gastroenterology, University of Calgary