In the first week of January, the last thing the 21-year-old son of a friend suspected when he started suffering from sudden pain in the abdomen was it was a stone lodged in his gall bladder.
Similarly, a couple of years back, when a 31-year-old friend reached hospital with unbearable pain around lower abdomen, and a continuous feeling of nausea and vomiting, the ultrasound conducted led to the diagnosis of multiple stones in her gall bladder – one of which was obstructing and causing pain and inflammation.
What was common in both was their eating habits and excess intake of high calorie, high fat food and very little water; a lifestyle that most young people subsisting on junk and sodas seem to be living today.
As a result, the number of those developing gall stones is definitely on an increase, just as the age they are developing it is on the decrease. Earlier mostly women above the age of forty were found to be at risk, but that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.
How Are These Stones Formed?
Gallstones are hardened collections of bile materials that develop in the gallbladder. They can be as small as a grain of sand or bigger. They often go undetected until the stones cause a blockage, leading to pain and inflammation in the organs.
Genes play a part but besides genetic causes, mostly it is the faulty eating habits that contribute heavily. Most gallstones are made up of cholesterol. Usually our bile (a fluid that is made and released by the liver and stored in the gallbladder) contains enough chemicals to dissolve the cholesterol excreted by the liver. But when the liver excretes more cholesterol than what the available bile can dissolve, the excess cholesterol may form into crystals and eventually into stones. This is why a diet high in saturated fat is a common culprit.
Factors like obesity, reduced water intake, reduced physical activity, high intake of processed foods and caffeine, and higher proportion of animal protein in the diet are often the main reasons that contribute.
Excess weight tends to be problem. Losing weight can help reduce the cholesterol content in your blood, but it is important to lose weight at a slow, steady pace. Rapid weight loss can also encourage gallstones as when the body metabolizes fat during rapid weight loss, it can cause the liver to secrete extra cholesterol into bile, which can lead to gallstones.
Dehydration, which is a common problem today can cause contraction of bile ducts in the liver. So optimum intake of water is essential.
Junk, processed foods like chips, burgers, cookies, and cakes are friends of your taste buds but a great enemy to your gallbladder. They are loaded with unhealthy fats and can gravely increase the level of cholesterol and bilirubin which are main components of gallbladder stones.
Lack of fibre means trouble. Enough fibre in the diet helps enhance the movement of food through our gut, and lower the production of secondary bile acids, which can help decrease the stress on the gall bladder.
This is precisely why eating more refined foods can spell trouble. A conscious focus on eating more high fiber fruits, vegetables and whole grains can also help to clear out excess cholesterol from your body and reduce the risk.
Among the nutrients, vitamin C (capsicum, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli, green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, citrus fruits, papaya, kiwi fruit, strawberries, guava, oranges pineapple), magnesium (dark leafy greens, specially spinach, most nuts, particularly almonds, seeds, specially pumpkin and sunflower seeds, fish (mackerel, salmon, halibut), beans, whole grains, avocados, yogurt, bananas) and folate (dark leafy greens, banana, legumes, broccoli, peas) have been found to be particularly helpful to prevent gall bladder stones.
Diagnosis And Treatment
Diagnosis is based on the patient's symptoms and confirmed by radio-logical investigations like an ultrasound. Treatment of gallstones depends on size and location along with the severity of the symptoms. There are medicines that can help dissolve the stones but often a surgical intervention might be necessary.
For a healthy stone-free gallbladder simple steps can help big. Increase water intake to at least 3 litres per day to regulate the blood cholesterol and bilirubin level, reduce intake of junk food, cut down on non-vegetarian food, opt for lean protein sources (instead of red meat), eat more plant based food to up the fibre intake, and avoid re-fined foods in favour of whole grains.