I have gallstones. They have come and gone for years.
They act up when I ignore my good eating habits and choose to indulge in cake, bagels and cream cheese and red meat.
A stitch in the right side of my abdomen right under my rib cage lets me know I have taken my self indulgence too far and a new stone has formed.
I am not alone in this health challenge.
Ten per cent of North Americans have gallstones. Most are women. By 60, approximately 20 to 40 per cent of women have gallstones.
Exactly why some people develop gallstones is unknown.
Several factors attribute to the development of stones: sudden weight loss, diet of saturated and trans fats, birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy, genetics and the usual culprits of health challenges: lack of exercise, obesity (although many slim people develop gallstones) and stress. Many people with a high fat diet, low exercise and on birth control pills do not suffer with gallstones.
My doctor suggests surgery. I am extremely reluctant to under go surgery, having once coded on the operating table.
My mother reminds me that I was significantly underweight with multiple organ failure during that risky surgery.
Today I am strong and healthy (other than the pesky gallstones) and would probably be fine. But I continue to diligently work away at the stone.
Here’s what I do.
First I eat good fats daily.
This includes coconut oil, olive oil and salmon oil.
Fat encourages the release of bile from the gallbladder. Some suspect that a buildup of stagnant bile in the gallbladder is a cause of stones. Studies of shown that people on a low-fat diet are more likely to develop stones. Therefore, I eat fat.
I walk, go to a yoga class and swim. Exercise massages the organs in the abdomen. Massage releases tension.
Relaxation opens up flow and movement in the abdomen, including the gallbladder and the biliary duct through which the stone must pass.
I eat plenty of vegetables in soups, salads and as a side dish. I eat vegetables with every meal. My No. 1 snack is an apple.
Both grains and meat aggravate the gallstones, so I avoid them.
For protein, I eat eggs, legumes and nuts.
Finally, I use plant medicine.
To begin, I formulate a tincture of the following plants:
The first I choose a plant called celandine (chelidonium majus). Celandine is a member of the poppy family and does quite well in my garden.
It works on the stones in two ways. First, celandine is a bitter plant.
Bitter herbs stimulate the release of bile from the liver and gallbladder. This helps keep everything flowing. Secondly, celandine dissolves stones.
To accompany celandine, I add fumitory (fumaria officinalis). Fumitory dilates the biliary duct.
Big stones can become stuck in the biliary duct’s narrow tubing. A stuck stone is dangerous and can cause pancreatitis: a condition in which the pancreatic enzymes (commonly called digestive enzymes) begin to eat the pancreas. For this reason, I advise people to refrain from gall bladder flushes that do not dissolve stones and dilate the biliary duct.
Next, I like to add licorice (glycyrrhiza glabra). Licorice cools, soothes and moistens. Gallstones make my liver and stomach feel hot, dry and tight. Licorice is an anti-inflammatory herb effective in calming abdominal inflammation.
Then I add some lovage (levisticum officinale). Headaches often accompany gallstone attacks. Gallstones create significant tension in the right side of abdomen.
This tension travels up the back to the shoulder and lodges itself behind the right eye. Lovage eases this tension better than any other herb I have used. The volatile oils in lovage relax the musculature around the gallbladder and quickly resolve the headache.
Lastly, I use echinacea (echinacea angustifolia). Lingering gallstones or passing gallstones can irritate the tissues lining the gallbladder and biliary duct.
Infection can then settle in and that is a serious matter. Echinacea helps prevent infection from getting hold while the tissues heal.
Then I drink several cups herbal tea made with fennel (foeniculum vulgaris) and sage (aalvia off). Both these plants relax tension in the gallbladder and encourage the liver to release bile.
While taking these herbs, the gallstone symptoms come and go, until eventually they disappear altogether. After that, it is up to me to turn down bagels with cream cheese.
Herbs for Life is written by Abrah Arneson, a local clinical herbalist. It is intended for information purposes only. Readers with a specific medical problem should consult a doctor. For more information, visit www.abraherbalist.ca. Arneson can be reached www.abraherbs.com.