India is a country that is rapidly adapting to sedentary ways and unhealthy eating habits and these lifestyle changes have subjected Indians to the risk of falling prey to gallstones. Gallstones are small, crystallized deposits that form in the gallbladder which is a small part in the liver. They are made up of cholesterol and calcium deposits and are often harmless. However, in extreme cases, gallstones can block the bile ducts and cause pain, inflammation and infection.
The causes of gallstone formation are not entirely known yet but research suggests that is a combination of body weight, gallbladder movement, diet, and genetics. Gallstones are very common in Indians with more than 10 million recorded cases each year. The symptoms of gallstones do not show up till the time the condition becomes severe. According to a study on 77,679 participants in Denmark published in Hepatology, a journal of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, researchers found a very strong connection between gallstones and high body mass index (BMI)
That being said, one of the most important things to minimize the risk of gallstones is:
Maintain an ideal body weight: According to Dr. Tybjærg-Hansen of Rigshospitalet-Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, “Obesity is a known risk factor for gallstone disease and our study suggests that elevated BMI likely contributes to the development of this disease.” In addition to that, research published in 2012 in the journal Gut and Liver, obesity is one of the top lifestyle predictors for gallbladder issues. “Obesity is a dominant factor in a person’s health and increases the risk of stone formation,” says Field Willingham, MD, associate professor of medicine in the division of digestive diseases at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The best way to prevent gallstones is to maintain your body weight.
Indulge in a healthy diet: Eating a balanced diet is key to maintaining body weight and prevent the risk of gallstones. A high-fiber and low-fat diet is considered ideal to minimize the risk of gallstones. Amit Joshi, MBBS, PhD, instructor of medicine in the clinical and translational epidemiology unit at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston says that eating a balanced mix of plant-based foods, such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, fiber, and foods with mono- or polyunsaturated fats, with grains and little to no red meat, can lower your risk of gallstone disease.
Include lecithin in your diet: Some studies also suggest that lecithin- a natural substance that is found in soybeans, milk, oatmeal, chocolate, ice cream, mayonnaise, etc keeps the cholesterol from solidifying in the gallbladder which in turn minimizes the chances of gallstone formation. Consuming these items provides the body with the required amount of lecithin but there are lecithin supplements available in the market in order to maximize their presence in the body.
Note: Lecithin contains choline which can lead to liver problems and other infections. It is always recommended to consult a Nutritionist before taking lecithin supplements.
Do not turn to crash dieting: Crash diet increases one’s vulnerability to gallstones. This is because consuming extremely low amounts of calories (less than 800 calories ) every day leads to an increase in cholesterol levels in the bile which in turn increases the chances of the formation of cholesterol gallstones.
Exercise regularly: Amit Joshi, MBBS, Ph.D. says that regular physical activity is imperative to reduce the risk of gallstones. A meta-analysis published in July 2016 in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that even minimum physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of gallbladder formation. It is recommended to indulge in physical activity for at least 75-150 minutes in a week to improve health and maintain an ideal body weight.
Be informed: Despite taking all the precautionary measures, it is possible for a person to develop a gallstone. Therefore, the more you know about gallstones, their causes and prevention methods, the better you will be able to deal with them in times of crisis. It is recommended that you talk to a doctor in order to understand the symptoms and watch out for them accordingly.
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