You Wanted to Know: Gallstones

Where do gallstones come from?

As you eat food, the food travels from the stomach and into the small intestines, where it mixes with green bile – the liquid material made by the liver that surrounds and emulsifies the fat you gobbled down at your last meal. It works the way soap dissolves grease by making fat soluble in water so it can be digested more easily.

This bile fluid is stored in your gallbladder, a small pouch attached to your liver that squirts bile fluid into the intestines as you eat. However, the bile (or its contents) can also congeal into little stones, leading to gallstones (a condition known by doctors as cholelithiasis).

If they’re small enough, they can pass through just fine. However, if they’re too large, it can clog an orifice  or one of the ducts, causing abdominal discomfort or pain. It’s one of the most common and costly of all digestive diseases. The Mackstress asked me about this condition on Twitter:

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Unfortunately, there’s no set number of times one can get gallstones. Many of us get gallstones; however, the problem arises when it clogs something and causes pain. Sometimes it can lead to an infection or inflammation (a condition known as cholecystitis).

If the problem gets worse, the recommended solution is to remove the stuck gallstone using special equipment with a procedure called an ERCP, or surgically remove the gallbladder, a  procedure called a cholecystectomy). However, these procedures don’t come without their potentially dangerous complications. That’s why it’s best to focus on preventing gallstones first.

Avoid triggers for gallstone attacks, which include fatty meals. It’s okay to eat meals with some fats because it allows the gallbladder to empty, but too much can put it in hyperdrive, triggering another attack. Also, because gallstones most commonly occur in overweight women, losing weight and exercising regularly is essential. However, don’t lose weight too quickly because this can actually trigger gallstones too.

Also, make sure you get enough calcium in our diet. Get at least 1,200 mg of calcium daily, either through your diet or with a supplement.

Learn more about how to prevent gallstones.