Sunday, March 1, 2009

What I Did To Treat My Gallstones

I've been wondering what to write about. Before I wrote about lowfat recipes because I was trying to keep my fat intake really low. Then my gallstones went away and I had nothing to write about. But then I realized that there is so much misinformation about gallstone remedies that I should probably write something about that. I'm not selling anything; the information is free.

I remember my first attack. The pain was awful and I wondered if I were having a heart attack. It went on and on for about 12 hours until I finally got sick and threw up. But then I talked to my mother and found out that my symptoms were the same as hers and she had gallstones. My father had had his gallbladder removed some years earlier for the same reason. So, with both parents having gallstones I guess it made sense for me to get them too.

The pain would start under my ribs on my right side. It would get worse and then move more towards the center. It could make sweat pop out on my forehead and double me up. And, there was nothing I could do about it. I think my shortest attack was 11 hours and my longest was 16. Often it would end with my getting sick and throwing up; once I threw up three times after being nauseous for 7 hours.

Knowing that the attacks followed fat intake I tried to restrict this. I knew that 20 mg's would give me an attack so I tried to keep it below 15. However, after doing this for more than a year my attacks were getting more frequent and I was trying to stay below 12 grams per meal.

There was a lot of confusing information that went on and on without getting any clearer. Nothing made sense. I had paid $15 for a so-called eHealth book called, "Gall Bladder Remedies, How To Dissolve Gallstones Naturally (Without Painful Olive Flushes)" from the Natural Health Librarian. The eBook was written by health journalist, Bill Sardi. This is where it got interesting. The book explained that the so-called olive oil flush that was being pushed all over the internet was nothing but quackery. It explained that drinking a quarter cup of olive oil with lemon juice does nothing to actually expel gallstones. However, due to the chemical interactions in the intestines some of the oil turns into chunks of greenish soap that show up in the stool. These are then mistaken for gallstones. I suppose that is a good con.

Now, back to the useful information that is supposed to be in the book. This is where it got confusing for me. My mother had said that her gallstones had gotten better and that she had been able to eat whatever she wanted for the last two years. She had used information from a local health store. I compared the information in the eBook with what she had been taking and they were quite similar: Taurine, anti-oxidant vitamins, omega-3, apples or unpasteurized apple juice. The only additional thing she took was lemon juice and pills with a beet extract. So, great I thought with the same information from two different sources, this should work. I ate apples and drank unpasteurized apple juice (an entire gallon). I took vitamins A, C, and E. I took taurine pills and omega-3 and even took the beet extract pills like my mother did. And . . . nothing happened; I didn't improve at all.

So, I restricted my fat intake and my gallstones slowly got worse. I tried to keep below 15 grams per meal but the attacks were getting more frequent. Then something interesting happened. A friend of mine pointed me to a website where people talked about drinking apple cider vinegar with apple juice. I didn't expect it to work but I thought I would humor my friend. She had earlier tried to be helpful by pointing me to a website touting the olive oil flush. So, I drank apple cider vinegar mixed with apple juice. I didn't take the taurine, the omega-3, the vitamins, or the beet extract since I already knew they didn't work. I only took vinegar and apple juice.

A month later I hadn't had any attacks so I decided to take the plunge and try something higher in fat. I had a Deluxe Breakfast from MacDonalds. I thought at the time that this was probably just a bit over 20 grams of fat. But, when I looked it up when I got home I found out it was more than 40 grams of fat. I waited, dreading that I would have an attack. Five hours later I hadn't had an attack so I went to Burger King and ate a Whopper Junior Meal with french fries. And, no attack.

I this point I was happy but very puzzled. I couldn't understand how drinking vinegar had had any effect on my gallstones. So, I started at the bottom of the hill and did my own research. And, eventually I got it figured out. First of all, common gallstones are not made of calcium or bilirubin; they are made of cholesterol. This is way the process normally works: The liver manufactures cholesterol and then from this substance it makes bile acids which are used to dissolve fats. But the liver only produces these slowly so they are stored in the gallbladder. The gallbladder then can release a larger amount when you eat a meal with fat. So far so good.

However the process of making bile acides isn't perfect so there is some cholesterol left over and cholesterol won't dissolve in water. But cholesterol will dissolve in a weak acid (like bile acids) so it doesn't normally cause any problem. However, in some individuals this balance tips just slightly and the cholesterol becomes too much to stay dissolved. You then begin to form crystals of cholesterol in the gallbladder and these get larger over time. Eventually, one of two things happens: either they get large enough to block the bile ducts or they begin to irritate the lining of the gallbladder. The former kind where it blocks the bile ducts can cause jaundice but the pain is of shorter duration and not associated with eating fat. The eBook I bought only mentions bile duct blockage as the cause of gall bladder pain but this in fact is not the most common kind.

The second kind where the lining is irritated is what I had. Essentially, the gallbladder is a muscular bladder that can squeeze the bile acids out when needed. As long as the gallbladder is full it doesn't rub against the cholesterol crystals. However, when you eat fat it begins to release bile acids and shrinks like letting the air out of a balloon. The lining then comes into contact with the crystals and it works like having a stone in your shoe. The lining becomes irritated and this then causes the gallbladder to contract which increases the irritation which increases the pain and leads to nausea. In other words, the pain is self supporting and this is why it lasts so long. Eventually, the muscles in the gallbladder become exhausted and stop contracting and the gallbladder refills with bile acids.

So, what does apple cider vinegar do? Good question. I finally found two studies that showed that vinegar inhibits the liver from making cholesterol. If the liver produces less cholesterol then the balance tips back in favor of the bile acids and the gall stones begin to slowly dissolve. My mother never took vinegar but she did drink lemon juice and I found another study showing a similar effect with citrus juice. Now it finally began to make sense. The vitamins, omega-3, taurine, and beet extract had no noticeable effect. My mother's gallstones got better only because of the lemon juice and mine didn't because I was not drinking lemon juice. Mine got better when I started drinking vinegar. You usually see this refered to as apple cider vinegar and apparently this notion is fostered because apples contain malic acid which is known to help dissolve gallstones. The problem is that I ate apples and drank unpasteurized apple juice (with plenty of malic acid) and still had gallstones. Also the two studies I referred to worked with acetic acid (vinegar); not apple cider vinegar.

In other words, apple cider vinegar might taste better to you but if all you have is distilled vinegar handy go ahead and use it. You mix it with fruit juice so that you can stand to drink it but it really doesn't matter what kind of vinegar or what kind of fruit juice. I've mixed it with apple juice, apple cider, grape juice, and even plain water. This notion will be heresy to some who insist that only apple cider vinegar has this magic property. Sorry, but the magic is in the acetic acid (vinegar), not in anything else like malic acid.

So, how much do you need? Yeah, good question. This is one of those areas where it would be great to have data from a study of people who had gallstones. Where different dosages were tried and gallstone size was monitored with ultrasounds. Unfortunately, drug companies can't make money off of something as common as vinegar. And, a doctor not too far from me in Bloomington, Indiana advertizes that he has performed more than 2,000 gallbladder removal surgeries. Since he has probably made more than $4 million from this he also has no incentive to do a study. So, I'll try to give you some guidelines. I drank about 6 teaspoons of vinegar a day for the first month. Now, I drink about 1 tablespoon about twice a week. However, I sometimes drink more if I get bad heartburn because for some reason a teaspoon of vinegar also stops the heartburn. Yeah, that seems backwards to me too but before I started taking vinegar I made sure that I always had Tums (or generic equivalent) handy (at home, in my car, and at work). I sometimes used four or five tablets to stop bad heartburn. Then I used acid reducers like Pepcid Complete. But since I've been taking vinegar I haven't used any of them.

There are other factors though. My mother tried vinegar and said it didn't seem to work as well for her. I think that is probably because I drink coffee most mornings and she doesn't. See, coffee stimulates the gallbladder so a bit of coffee would speed the process along by keeping new bile acids moving through the gall bladder. If you don't drink coffee then I would probably reccomend eating a starlight mint each day. Mint also stimulates the gallbladder to release bile acids. I know this for a fact because one day I was sucking on starlight mints and the fifth one gave me a really bad attack even though I hadn't eaten any fat. Since it took five for me one at a time should be fine. However, if you are pushing your fat limit at a meal then I would wait and take the mint between meals. In other words, if we keep bile acids moving through the gallbladder while reducing cholesterol the gallstones should dissolve faster. And, by the way, if you have high cholesterol, vinegar can knock your serum level down by 25%.

Again, I'm not selling anything and I don't want anyone to get ripped off by buying fake treatments like I did. Nor should anyone have to suffer with frequent attacks like I did. Hopefully, this will help.


Unknown said...

Scientia, thank you very much for your post. You give me a lot of hope - I want to avoid surgery. I'm going to try your method. I hope your gallstones problems vanished forever. I would like to know if vinegar really has wonderful long-term effects, so if you have any new experience, please tell. It seems a bit unbelievable it took only 1 month to get rid off completely.

Best regards from Poland

Scientia from AMDZone said...


Thank you for your comment. I read back through my article and made some corrections. Noteably I had been saying milligrams instead of grams. I would get an attack with 20 grams of fat, not mg's of fat. And, I was taking about 2 tablespoons of vinegar a day for the first month, not 1 tablespoon. Now, I only drink a tablespoon maybe twice a week.

My mother's gallstone attacks disappeared but then returned after not taking her treatment for two years. I think she has now improved. As I recall her improvement was also in just a few weeks with what she was taking.

For me, I have not had another attack in over a year even though I am no longer limiting fat intake.

Unknown said...

Do you happen to have the cites for the two studies you mentioned?

I have had two very painful attacks in two weeks and am looking for possible alternatives to surgery but am also trying to stay away from quackery like you mentioned.

Also, did you have any trouble with your tooth enamel?