A friend of mine is in hospital having his gall bladder removed today - probably at this very moment as I write. Gall stones can be tiny like a grain of salt but they can be as big as a golf ball. In Europe and north America around one quarter of the population will be effected by them some time in their life and almost half will need medical intervention - often surgical.
Gallstones are made up of components of bile, largely pieces of hardened cholesterol. Risk is partially heriditary but the main cause is being overweight and then attempting to lose weight quickly, often through fasting. Women are particularly at risk during and following pregnancy, due to birth control pills or through hormone replacement therapy following menopause. Women are twice as likely to develop gallstones as men.
The biggest single cause is clearly diet and statistics show that many crash diets and fasts lead to gallstone production. This is because the body is unable to produce enough bile to deal with cholesterol. Therefore one needs to maintain a healthy diet and instead of fasting try eating very low calorie foods which are good for you such as vegetables or fruit. You will lost weight more quickly by eating a green pepper or tomato rather than nothing. Furthermore gallstones are impeded by fibre in the diet. Another thing which prevents their formation is vitamin C - another reason to eat more fruit and vegetables. At the same time, one needs to limit the amount of added sugar - or better still - to completely stop using it.
As far as weight loss is concerned anything more than 700 grams per week is asking for trouble.
As always one needs to drink plenty of water. This is as though it were the cure for everything. A modern fad? Maybe it is, but it seems to work.
There appears to be an important difference between men and women on calcium intake where women need twice as much as men. Calcium appears to help bind bile acids and decrease the risk of stone formation. Nonetheless too much calcium can be negative for men and they should limit calcium consumption to 600 mg per day. A calcium supplement may be good for her but not for him! Lack of foliate and magnesium also probably can cause gallstones.
There seems to be some dispute on the role of fat in the diet. A high-fat diet can trigger the gallbladder to release bile and set off an attack, on the other hand a low fat diet will promote the formation of stones as it will not stimulate normal gallbladder contraction and flow of bile. Fat causes the gall bladder to empty. In any case, one possibly should concentrate on eating positive fats such as olive oil and avocados although we are no longer as negatively disposed as we once were to animal fats and on that subject the jury is being asked to reconsider its verdict.
Like many things in life, diet and exercise play a clear role. The bottom line is that if one is careful, has a healthy life style and eats well and frequently then one is on course to avoid gallstones.