Gallstone Prevention in Your Produce Department

Healthnotes Newswire (October 26, 2006)—New research suggests another reason to eat fruits and vegetables: they might prevent gall bladder disease.

The gall bladder is a reservoir that stores bile produced by the liver and sends it into the small intestine when it is needed for digestion. In general, gallstones form when excess cholesterol separates from the bile.

Gallstones can cause irritation and inflammation in the gall bladder, a condition known as cholecystitis. Indigestion, particularly after eating fatty foods, may be the only symptom of gallstones, but nausea and vomiting and severe abdominal pain often accompany cholecystitis. More than 800,000 people in the United States undergo surgery to remove their gall bladder due to cholecystitis each year.

Gallstones are more common in women, in people who are overweight, and in people with a family history of gallstones. High cholesterol levels are also linked to increased risk. Some eating habits have been linked to gallstones, such as eating too much sugar and animal fat, too little fiber and plant fat, and too many calories in general. Habits that protect people from gallstones include eating nuts and seeds, fish, and plenty of fiber.

The newest report about diet and gallstones, published in the American Journal of Medicine, draws from the Nurses’ Health Study, an ongoing study that looks at lifestyle and health trends in women. This study used answers to food questionnaires from 77,090 women in the Nurses’ Health Study during a six-year period.

Women who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a 21% lower risk of having gall bladder surgery than women who ate the least. When specific fruits and vegetables were considered separately, green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C, and vegetables from the cruciferous family, such as broccoli and cabbage, all reduced the likelihood of having gall bladder surgery. Only potatoes and legumes were not protective.

“Consumption of fruits and vegetables—particularly green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits, vitamin C–rich fruits and vegetables and cruciferous vegetables—may have a protective effect against cholecystectomy (gall bladder surgery) in women,” the researchers summarized. They went on to say, “Constituents responsible for an apparent protective effect may include dietary fiber, antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamin C, and minerals such as magnesium. However, the interactions among nutritional components are complex.”

Because it is likely that more than one constituent from fruits and vegetables is responsible for their benefits, the best recommendation is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and to eat a wide variety of them, since different kinds contain different potentially beneficial compounds.

(Am J Med 2006;119:760–7)

Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.

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