Gall Bladder, gallstones

Where is your gall bladder?

Follow your ribs out to the right from the soft cartilage at the centre of the sternum. The cartilage is called the xiphisternum. Now tighten your abdominal muscles (if you can find them!). The gall bladder is buried in the folds of your liver just to the edge of the rectus abdominus muscles. Press in slowly as you massage under your ribs.

What does your gall bladder do?

It stores and concentrates bile salts (they are green). They help you to digest fats, oils and the fat soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K.

What do bile salts contain?

They contain fatty acids, electrolytes, cholesterol and minerals including calcium.

What are gallstones and why do they form?

Cholesterol is not particularly soluble in water, neither is calcium. Secretion of both could lead to stone formation. From autopsy studies 20% of the bodies that were examined had gallstones, most did not cause symptoms.

How can I keep my gall bladder healthy?

  1. Avoid overloading it
  2. Increase secretions
  3. Help it to function normally
  4. Take stimulants to flush and cleanse it
1. Overload
Fats place demands on the gall bladder to produce bile salts. Fats vary in their digestibility. Medium chain fatty acids place a low demand on the gall bladder. Examples are coconut (dessicated, coconut cream and milk), avocados, extra virgin (cold pressed) olive oil, cold pressed rape seed oil or groundnut (peanut) oil, safflower and other oils from nuts and seeds. Fats in processed foods are hard to digest. Processing includes deep frying and restructering foods to increase their shelf life. The process adds hydrogen to the carbon chains to make trans or artificially saturated fats. Trans fats are found in many commercially bought baked foods and some margarines. They give the foods ‘mouth appeal’ and preserve them for a longer shelf life. Nuts which have ‘gone off’ and taste bitter are also harmful and put demands on the gall bladder. Nuts keep best in a paper bag in a cool place. If the pack you buy feels puffy it means they have been flushed with nitrogen to exclude oxygen, it keeps them in good condition. Never store oils or nuts near a cooker or in sunlight. The light sets off a chain reaction that turns the oils into trans fats.
2. Increase secretions
The Mediterranean tradition of squeezing fresh lemon juice onto meat such as lamb helps secretions and aids digestion. Eating half a grapefruit, an orange, lime or lemon or a salad with cut oranges, peppery herbs such as watercress, and walnuts is a great way to start your meal. Bitter herbs and vegetables aid secretions and generally improve your liver. Chicory, sorrel, oregano or marjoram, fennel, aniseed, chamomile,parsley, watercress, spearmint or Quinine in tonic water all contain bitter compounds that aid digestion and stimulate the liver to produce bile. If you have no gall bladder your liver will still make bile but you have no way of storing it for ready use.
3. Normal Function
By far the most effective way of stimulating your gall bladder is to practice deep, sustained breathing making full use of your diaphragm. Your diaphragm is a large dome shaped muscle that attaches like a membrane right around your ribs. The two tendons of the muscle attach either side of your vertebrae in the mid back. The diaphragm tendons pull up and the psoas muscle tendons pull down. Place a hand just below your ribs while you are reading this. Imagine that your diaphragm is widening and flattening as you breathe in through your nose. Your hand should be pushed outwards. Now slowly breathe out through your nose and count to ten. Draw your tummy strongly inwards pushing the air out of your lungs and narrowing your ribs. Keep this up until you can do about five long, strong breaths. There are lots more exercises like Kalabati or Bastrika (forced exhale or forced inhale) but you will need a yoga class to learn them.
4. Take stimulants
Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum), is a well known stimulant for a tired liver, it stimulates bile production through its bitter compounds. Olive oil and lemon juice, cyder vinegar (malic acid) and lecithin are all thought to stimulate bile production. Lecithin contains phosphatyl choline that helps to flush cholesterol through the bile duct. Calcium deposits could be flushed by taking magnesium. Magnesium is found in most unprocessed foods; it is easily removed by processing. We used to run a wholefood shop in Kirkwall, Orkney in the 1980s. We used to happily sell free range eggs knowing that they contained lecithin that flushed out cholesterol.

Soluble fibre in your diet is an important way to flush out the gall bladder. Fibre in grains like wheat is largely insoluble. It increases the bulk of stools but is not absorbed into your bloodstream. Soluble fibre is found in pectin (the flesh of citrus fruits for example), in linseeds and in oatbran. Oatbran is a more gentle fibre than wheat bran. the soluble elements helps to gently flush out your liver and bile duct. Ideally take a dessert spoonful a day. Linseeds should be crushed before eating or crush them in your teeth. They contain lignins which are also good for hormonal balance. Nuts are a good source of fibre. Peanuts for instance contain (weight for weight) more fibre than prunes. Avoid eating peanuts raw. Try peanut butter spread into a stick of celery as a snack.

If you have acute or continued pain the area under your ribs ask someone competent to check it out. It might not be the gall bladder at all. Other causes might be wind in the colon, a peptic or duodenal ulcer, hiatus hernia (to the left of the xiphisternum), old adhesions from a previous operation or car accident or referred pain from elsewhere.