Gallstones and low carb

Gallbladder

Gallbladder in pink

Do gallstones improve or worsen on a low carb / high fat diet? It’s a common question with an interesting answer.

The gallbladder stores bile, a yellow-green fluid manufactured in the liver. The bile is used to digest the fat you eat. The question is: Is it good or bad for the gall bladder to eat fat?

The conventional fat phobic answer

The usual medical belief today is that eating fatty foods can result in gall stones. This is because what happens if you already have gallstones in the gallbladder and eat fat: A gallstone can get stuck on the way to the intestines and give you a gallstone attack (pain in the top right part of your stomach).

The conventional advice is thus to eat low fat – and take pain killers if you get a gallstone attack. If the attacks continue the gallbladder is removed by surgery and the problem usually goes away. Probably with the side effect of slightly decreased ability to absorb fat and nutrients from what you eat (there is a reason we have gallbladders).

The conventional low fat advice rarely makes gallstone disease go away. Instead it often gets worse with time, until surgery is necessary. That is hardly a coincidence.

How to get gallstones

If you eat low fat less bile is needed to digest your food. More bile thus stays in the gallbladder. Long enough, perhaps, for stones to form. It’s been shown that people who (instead of fat) eat more carbohydrates are at increased risk of gallstones.

It all sounds logical. And there is even better evidence. The risk of low fat diets have been tested at least three times:

Studies of extreme low fat diets

galla

  • In a study of 51 obese people using an extremely low fat low calorie diet (just one gram of fat a day!) the gallbladder was examined by ultrasound before the diet and after one and two months. After one month four of the 51 participants had developed new gallstones. After two months more than one in four (13 people) had new gallstones! This on an almost fat free diet. Three participants needed to have their gallbladder removed during the study.
  • A similar study examined 19 people eating an extremely low fat low calorie diet over 16 weeks. At the ultrasound examination at the end of the study five people (again about one in four) had new gallstones.
  • A third study compared an extremely low fat diet with a diet slightly higher in fat during 3 months. More than one in two (6 of 11 people) in the group eating extremely low fat developed new gallstones. Nobody in the group eating more fat did.

Conclusion: Avoiding fat increases your gallstone risk!

What happens if you do the opposite?

What if you were to do the opposite of the usual advice? Regularly eat food with fat in it? Then more bile will be used to digest the food. The bile ducts and the gallbladder will be flushed through regularly. Theoretically stones will not have time to form, and pre-existing stones might (if you are lucky) be flushed out into the small intestine.

The risk is that if you already have gallstones, you may get discomfort as you flush them out.

The question is: Do you want to think short-term (low fat) or long-term (higher fat) solution?

Does high fat food work?

It’s logical to think that food higher in fat can result in a gall bladder free from gallstones, and the science supports it. One randomized controlled trial compared a higher fat to a lower fat diet in obese subjects over the course of 6 months. 1 The Higher fat group had better gallbladder emptying and no stones developed, whereas over 50% of the low-fat group developed gallstones. This was despite weight loss in both groups.

This fits with clinical experience and anecdotal reports from those who have experienced their gallstone disease disappear on a LCHF diet. Sometimes at the expense of initial gallstone attacks though.

Gallstones and kidney stones

Let’s compare the advice we give patients with kidney stones to the advice for gallstones. We tell patients with kidney stones to drink a lot of fluid, increasing the production of urine, so that stones do not have time to develop. If you already have kidney stones this advice could give you a painful attack initially as you pass the stone. But doctors still advise this despite the short-term discomfort as it is the better longer term solution.

The reason we give the opposite advice when it comes to gallstones might be the misguided fear of fat. If we were afraid of water instead, patients with kidney stones might have been advised to avoid drinking to avoid kidney stone attacks. If they did not improve, would we surgically remove their kidneys?

What do you say?

Have you had gallbladder problems? Have you tested a LCHF diet? What happened?

More

Other health problems

LCHF for beginners

PS

Another common question is if you can eat LCHF if your gallbladder is already removed. The answer is that this seems to work fine.

Some people without a gallbladder might have to increase their intake of fat gradually to allow their body time to adapt. Otherwise the body might not have time to digest the fat which could result in loose fatty stools initially. However this rarely seems to be a problem.

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353 comments

  1. Debra
    I am wanting to try LCHF , and am seeing all of the gall bladder comments. I had my gall bladder out in 1998 ......so what is the verdict on high fat without a gall bladder? I am tired all of the time, need to lose 35 lbs, and have a high stress sales job( lot of time in the car and with people) I am 68 years old....and have been pre diabetic for years. Really want relief!
    Reply: #352
  2. Kristin Parker Team Diet Doctor

    I am wanting to try LCHF , and am seeing all of the gall bladder comments. I had my gall bladder out in 1998 ......so what is the verdict on high fat without a gall bladder? I am tired all of the time, need to lose 35 lbs, and have a high stress sales job( lot of time in the car and with people) I am 68 years old....and have been pre diabetic for years. Really want relief!

    You may find this PS at the bottom of the article helpful!
    PS
    Another common question is if you can eat LCHF if your gallbladder is already removed. The answer is that this seems to work fine.

    Some people without a gallbladder might have to increase their intake of fat gradually to allow their body time to adapt. Otherwise the body might not have time to digest the fat which could result in loose fatty stools initially. However this rarely seems to be a problem.

  3. Amy
    To anyone who is suffering from gallbladder problems... three supplements that you can use to not only stop the gallbladder pain, but also to dissolve the gallstones.

    The first one is known in the United States as a prescription medication, and it is called ursodiol. In the United States, ursodiol is very expensive. I have heard that a one month supply is upward of $400 per month in the United States. However, you can get the same medication for about 30 to $40 per month from Japan in a product called Liverurso. This medication has 50 mg of ursodiol per tablet, so, you would take six at a time in order to get the full 300 mg dose of the prescription version in the United States.

    The next product is called Like Dan Pian. This is a Chinese medicine herbal concoction that is meant to reduce what they call damp heat. It is also very cheap. One bottle usually runs about $6 on eBay. It has a number of different herbal and natural ingredients, such as different flowers and roots.

    The third product that you should look into is called chancha
    piedra. This word means stone-breaker in Spanish. It is well known to not only reduce pain caused by the gallbladder but also to help dissolve gallstones.

    Finally, another product you can use is called Rowachol. This is a German manufactured product that is also intended for gallbladder health and liver function and can help to dissolve gallstones. The price for this is about $45 for a one month supply.

    All of these items can be found on eBay. Likewise all of them work by increasing the bile flow, increasing liver health, increasing gallbladder function, and thinning out the bile. In all of these ways the gallstones are encouraged to dissolve naturally

    I am a person that has suffered terribly from gallbladder pain and gallstones. I have been to the emergency room more often than I want to admit.I have been told repeatedly to have my gallbladder removed. However, I would not accept that as the gospel truth. So, I decided to go on a quest and discover for myself what was available in the way of natural remedies for alternative 70s. And that is how I came across these four items that I have told you about here.

    I do not know if these items have in fact reduced or dissolved my gallstones. I have not been back to the doctor as I do not have any medical insurance, so I don't know for sure. However, I do know that I'm able to eat basically anything I want. I don't take advantage of that fact. I know that I need to eat better regardless of the condition of my gallbladder. but thanks to these supplements I no longer have to live in fear of eating the smallest amount of fat and knowing that it's going to send me to the emergency room later on that night. And one day just to test it I decided to have an extra-long cheese Coney with extra cheese at Sonic. yes I ate every bit, and it did not bother me at all.

    Also, the lemon juice in the water and apple cider vinegar does in fact help a lot. I do that as well along with the supplements that I mentioned above.

  4. Dee
    Just want to throw it out there that there is also another gallstone removing product called "Dissolve GS." Acupuncturists may have this or Chiropractors. You can search them online too. Wish I found this product years ago when my gallstones were really small.
  5. 1 comment removed
  6. Dee
    Did you remove your gallbladder, or do you still have it?
  7. Jennifer
    Dawn, B: I noted your entry from 2019, addressed to Amy (May 23 2019:
    "Hi Amy. I read through your post and I am wondering if the issue is not gallstones, but a low ejection rate of your gallbladder...HIDA Scan...").
    I don't know if you'll check this post but, if you do, I would love to know more. I think maybe I have what you are describing and I was hoping I might be able to dialogue on this. My GP is beginning to think I'm a hypochondriac because I keep returning to her with the very complaint you are describing. And I have gone for a few ultrasounds without any sign of gallstones. Hoping we could sidebar chat: j.fo@me.com.
    Thanks kindly! Even if we don't connect, your input here is immensely helpful and appreciated.
  8. Barbara Roberts
    Hi everyone, I suffered for years with what eventually my doctors thought was gall bladder. Got so poorly and so many hospital admissions they took it out. Result..............was not my gall bladder! I ended up 3 years later being rushed into hospital and after a scan something showed in my bowel, the ilium (small bowel), the symptoms are so similar to having gall bladder problems. As my bowel had collapsed it showed on a scan. i had 17cm removed and fortunately it could be connected again. the result this time it turned out to be Crohn's disease. is suffer from massive tiredness and a whole host of other symptoms but am trying Keto for a whole myriad of reasons. I hate keto bread, cauli rice so I just work out how many grams for carb I am allowed and just have small and rare portions of bread or rice.It is the only way I can do this. My biggest worry was the fat but this is healthy and I think you have to find your own way with this but following the rules.
    Barbara UK
  9. 1 comment removed
  10. Claude
    Hello Richard, can you possibly mention the studies you are referring too. Interested.
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