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Cholesterol Gallstones

Comparing gallstone attack rates in omnivores versus vegetarians.

September 27, 2010 |
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The number one digestive reason people are hospitalized, though, is because of a gallbladder attack. Every year, more than a million Americans are diagnosed with gallstones, and about 700,000 have to get their gallbladders surgically removed. What are gallstones made of? In 80-90% of cases, the gallstones are made out of cholesterol. Here’s a picture of someone’s gallbladder packed with gallstones. All that yellow you see making up the stones is pure crystallized cholesterol that built up in this person’s body.
If the only source of dietary cholesterol is animal foods, one might expect meateaters to be at higher risk. Turns out you have to go all the way to Katmandu to find some good science. Non-vegetarians were found to be at higher risk for gallstones than vegetarians, but not just a little more risk. Nine times the risk. 9 to 1 odds of getting gallstones; nonvegetarians versus vegetarians.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on cholesterol. Also, there are 1,686 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos--please feel free to explore them as well!

For more context, check out my associated blog post, Stool Size and Breast Cancer Risk.

If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

    Please feel free to post any ask-the-doctor type questions here in the comments section and I’d be happy to try to answer them. And check out the other videos on cholesterol. Also, there are 1,449 other subjects covered in the rest of my videos–please feel free to explore them as well!

    • http://www.facebook.com/mgmirkin Michael Gmirkin

      I’ve read that low-fat / vegetarian diets can actually CAUSE gallstone formation due to the gallbladder not being flushed regularly enough and thus bile sits there and cholesterol, et al, eventually precipitate out of solution into stones? I ask in part because I think this may have happened to me when I had tried a low-fat plant-based diet (not a pleasant experience). And it has been a… worry… about restarting said diet again.

      http://www.dietdoctor.com/gallstones-and-low-carb

      Among others. Wondering what the studies say? What’s the best way to avoid gallstones? High fat to empty the gallbladder regularly? Low fat, high fiber to lower cholesterol? If there’s little to no fat, does the gallbladder get triggered to expel its contents or let bile sit and precipitate into stones? Can other substances in the diet cause the gallbladder to expel its contents w/o adding lots of fat back into the diet?

      Do low-fat dieter only THINK they’re protected because they HAVE stones, but their gallbladder is never forced to strongly contract, thus reducing the chances of a painful obstruction, despite stones existing?

      Interested to know the answers…

      • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

        Gallstones are much less prevalent in persons with on a plant-based diet see… http://nutritionfacts.org/video/cholesterol-gallstones/. Of course those of us who were on the standard american diet we may have already formed stones which won’t go away. Eating a low fat plant based diet will tend to stimulate the gallbladder less and won’t contribute to the formation of more stones or larger stones. I haven’t seen a study on frequency of gallbladder attacks but in my clinical experience patients going on a low fat plant based diet have decreased or eliminated their attacks. The presence of stones doesn’t appear to be a problem as long as they remain without symptoms. When going on a plant based diet the intestinal tract can take some time to adapt. The overall health of the body is best on a low fat whole plant based diet with Vit B12 supplementation. Hope this helps.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/healthhiro/ HealthHiro

    Will a low fat vegan diet get rid of gallstones? I am scheduled to have GB surgery and am wondering if I can avoid it by a change in diet. I have been eating a low fat vegan diet for 2.5 months since a day spent in OR for GB pain.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/aguccionesbcglobal-net/ aguccione@sbcglobal.net

      Definitely! Make your new diet your diet for life. For more discussion see http://www.drmcdougall.com/med_gallbladder.html. Also for more great videos from Dr. Greger see http:www.nutritionfacts.org/?s=Cholesterol

  • Sarah

    If 80-90% of gallstones are cholesterol, what are the other 10-20% made of?

  • Thing3chaos

    A friend has been taking Lipitore for years and just had her gallbladder removed – - Is there a connection?  If Lipitore is supposed to reduce the cholesterol in the blood, does it get flushed to the gall bladder?  How does not having a gall bladder affect your general health?? 

  • nerak

    If we could not live without our gallbadders, science would find a way surgeons could remove the gallstones without removing an important organ. Why hasn’t this option been explored?

    • http://www.DonForresterMD.com/ Don Forrester MD

      Other options have been explored like dissolving the stones directly by infusing various liquids into the gallbladder but they haven’t worked. This is a case where primary prevention or avoiding them in the first place is best. But many patients with gall stones can avoid “attacks” by eating a low fat plant based diet. This strategy would probably markedly reduce the number of gallbladders that need to be removed. Most patients tolerate life without their gallbladder without too much difficulty although there are exceptions. It is nice to know that there are surgeons and safe anesthesiology for those cases that the gall bladder doesn’t respond to medical and nutritional therapy.

  • zoia Quinn

    what works for restless les syndrome. it’s so bad it goes up to shoulder/upper arms.? I have fibromyalgia .It started with sleep apnea then panic attacks, then restless les syndrome, then pain all over. Is there a link. I taken meds, but the restless legs syndrome and fatigue is worse than pain.

  • gingernut

    I have been vegan for 2 years and have recently been diagnosed with gall stones. The doctors were very quick to recommend removal of the gall bladder however I am adamant to do this if it can be treated naturally. I’ve read that milk thistle (silymarin) is a known natural remedy for the dissolution of gallstones. How true is this and are there any other natural remedies that might be tried?

  • Zaga

    Hello. I’ve vegan for about four years, and six months ago I had a cholecystectomy, I wonder why. Now my houseband is having troubles with his vesicle and his is vegan at home and lactovegetarian outside. My parents in law suspect that it’s because of the diet, what do you think it is then?

  • ariann28

    Doctor Greger, do you have any information on how gallbladder polyps are formed(multiple, 3mm). Also, if they disappear eventually by a plant based diet? My husband, 26, recently discovered while getting an ultrasound done on his liver, that he has them. Please help! Thank you!

  • Guido

    My doctor says I need to have my gallbladder removed due to gallstones but I was hoping to avoid surgery and finding a natural way to shrink and remove the stones. I’ve seen/read many quacks for solutions. Is there a legitimate method?

  • Gabriel Anjos

    Dr. What about the gallbladder and kidneys cleansy with apple juice and laxative that supposilly in six days expell the oily stones?

    example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bE8skCC9YQ

  • Harvey

    I can tell you that mallic acid in apples does soften gall stones and the flush as per Andreas Moritz method does work because I just flushed over a hundred stones this morning. I’ve been a veg/vegan 50/50 little bit lacto n ovo for 30 yrs next month. Stones up to golfball size can be passed by this method. Does this render surgery obsolete :-) .? First flush in 60yrs!!!