While medication and surgery are often used to resolve gallstone complaints, many people turn to natural remedies instead.
Read on to learn more about popular natural treatments for gallstones, along with some tips to stop them from forming in the first place.
Gallstones vary in shape and size, with some growing to the size of a golf ball.
There are two types of gallstones:
- Cholesterol gallstones: These are the most common form and are primarily made up of undissolved cholesterol.
- Pigment gallstones: Made up of excess bilirubin (a pigment that forms during the breakdown of red blood cells), these stones are brown or black.
Not all gallstones cause symptoms. When symptoms are present, they include:
- pain in the upper right abdomen
- pain in the right shoulder or between the shoulder blades
- gray stool
Although there is no reliable evidence that these remedies work, the following treatments are popular natural alternatives to medical interventions.
1. Gallbladder cleanse
One of the most common treatments for gallstones is a gallbladder cleanse. Proponents of this method claim it breaks down the gallstones and flushes them from the body. A 2009 paper states that although scientific evidence to support a gallbladder cleanse is minimal, anecdotal reports indicate it may be helpful for some people.
A gallbladder flush involves consuming a blend of apple juice, herbs, and olive oil for 2 to 5 days. Recipes vary, and some procedures allow a person to eat food while others do not.
This diet may be unsafe people with diabetes or blood sugar problems, who do not consume solid food during the cleanse.
2. Apple cider vinegar with apple juice
Some people believe that apple juice softens gallstones, allowing them to be excreted from the body with ease.
One cleanse involves mixing apple cider vinegar into the apple juice before drinking it. Although there is limited evidence to suggest that apple cider vinegar does have some health benefits, no studies support its use as a treatment for gallstones.
Furthermore, people with diabetes, stomach ulcers, and hypoglycemia should be wary of consuming large amounts of fruit juice.
Apple cider vinegar is available to buy in health stores and online.
According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, dandelion has been used historically to treat gallbladder, liver, and bile duct problems. Supporters believe that the bitter roots may stimulate bile production in the gallbladder.
People usually drink dandelion teas or coffees to remove their gallstones. However, there is no evidence to suggest this is beneficial. Furthermore, people with gallstones, gallbladder problems, or kidney problems should speak with a doctor before consuming dandelion.
A range of dandelion teas and supplements are available to purchase in health stores and online.
4. Milk thistle
Milk thistle has been used medicinally to detoxify the liver for centuries. While it may support the liver and gallbladder, there are no studies evaluating its effects on gallstones.
A person can take milk thistle as a tonic or in a capsule or tablet form. People with diabetes, ragweed allergies, or a history of hormone-sensitive cancers should discuss the use of milk thistle with their doctor.
Milk thistle is available to buy in health stores and online.
5. Lysimachiae herba
Lysimachiae herba or gold coin grass is a popular traditional Chinese remedy for gallstones. Research suggests it may be beneficial for treating or preventing cholesterol gallstones.
The supplement is available as a powder or liquid.
Extracts of artichoke have been shown to stimulate bile production and aid both gallbladder and liver function.
However, there is no research specifically focusing on the effects of artichoke on gallstones.
Globe artichokes can be cooked and prepared in various ways. But the research is based on artichoke extract supplements, which are probably more potent than the vegetables.
It is essential to speak with a doctor before taking artichoke extract because it may cause a gallbladder attack if a bile duct is obstructed.
7. Psyllium husk
Psyllium is a soluble fiber derived from the seeds of the Plantago ovata plant. Research has shown it to benefit the heart, pancreas, and other areas of the body.
8. Castor oil pack
Castor oil packs are a popular remedy among naturopaths and natural living enthusiasts for a wide variety of complaints.
To apply a castor oil pack, soak a cloth in warm castor oil and place on the abdomen. Cover with a towel. Some people choose to place a heat source, such as a hot water bottle or heating pad, on top. Leave the pack on the abdomen for up to an hour.
There are no scientific studies to support the use of this treatment for gallstones.
Acupuncture may relieve gallstone symptoms, although the research is very limited.
It should be noted that this research does not look specifically at gallstones, and it may only relieve symptoms, rather than helping people to pass the stones.
Some yoga poses are said to cure gallstones, although no studies support this claim. The following poses are believed by some to be beneficial for people with gallstones:
- Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose)
- Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
- Pachimotasana (Seated forward bend)
- Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand)
- Shalabhasana (Locust Pose)
If natural remedies do not treat gallstones effectively, then a person might want to consider medications or surgery.
Smaller gallstones may be treated with bile acids such as ursodeoxycholic acid and chenodeoxycholic acid.
Potential disadvantages of these medications include:
- the time they take to work (up to 2 years)
- the potential for gallstones to return once medication use is stopped
Gallstones are often treated by removing the gallbladder. This ensures that the gallstones cannot re-form.
Gallbladder removal surgery or cholecystectomy is one of the most common operations performed on American adults. There are minimal side effects to gallbladder removal.
Not all risk factors for gallstone formation can be modified, such as:
- being female
- increasing age (over 40)
- family history
However, other risk factors can be addressed, including:
- rapid weight loss
- a high-fat diet
- sedentary lifestyle
Therefore, preventative techniques should involve focusing on the factors that can be modified. The following tips may reduce the risk of gallstones for some people.
Can diet prevent gallstones?
Women who eat more fruits and vegetables are less likely to have their gallbladders removed than women who eat very little fresh produce, according to a 2006 study. Also, other sources of fiber such as the psyllium husks mentioned earlier may be beneficial for the gallbladder.
Foods that may cause gallbladder problems include:
- high-fat foods
As obesity increases the risk of gallstones, those who are overweight should aim to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
However, following a diet that is very low in calories (500 per day) can be a risk factor for gallstone formation, according to a 2013 study. However, those who ate between 1200 and 1500 calories a day for 12 weeks lost weight but were much less likely to get gallstones.
Anyone considering trying natural treatment should always consult a doctor first.
Symptoms of a gallbladder problem include:
- pain in the abdomen that lasts for 5 hours or more
- yellowing of the skin or eyes
- tea-colored urine
- pale stools
People who suspect they have had a gallbladder attack should contact a doctor without delay to reduce the risk of future complications.