Every year, more than one million Americans discover that they have gallstones - hardened, pebble-like deposits in the gallbladder that can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball. Roughly 50 percent of people diagnosed with gallstones end up in surgery for the removal of the gallbladder.
So how can you prevent gallstones? Since most stones are composed of cholesterol, diet plays a role in their formation. If you are at risk of developing gallstones (risk factors include a family history of gallstones, being overweight, recent rapid weight loss and, among women, pregnancy, using birth control pills, or hormone replacement therapy after menopause), you may be able to prevent them or prevent symptoms from worsening with these measures:
- If you need to lose weight, do so slowly (crash dieting can lead to gallstone formation).
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep hydrated - this can help keep the bile in your gallbladder fluid.
- Women should make sure to get 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium from all sources daily (an intake level that's associated with a lower incidence of gallstones). Consider taking 500-700 mg of calcium in supplement form. This can help bind bile acids and decrease the risk of stone formation. However, men should limit calcium consumption to 500 to 600 mg from all sources.
- Take 200 mg of supplemental vitamin C daily (in one study, women with higher blood levels of vitamin C were half as likely to develop gallstones as those with lower levels).
- Keep your fat intake to about 25 percent of daily calories. A high-fat diet can trigger the gallbladder to release bile and set off an attack if you already have gallstones. But be wary of very low-fat diets, which can promote the formation of stones by failing to stimulate normal gallbladder contraction and flow of bile.
- Limit your intake of sugar, which may promote gallstone formation.
- Increase your fiber intake, and substitute whole soy protein for animal protein in your diet.
This past post covers three ways to treat gallstones.