Eat Nuts to Lower Gallstone Risk
By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (December 16, 2004)— Eating nuts frequently is associated with a reduced risk of gallstones, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology (2004;160:961–8).
Gallstones are a common health problem in many countries throughout the world. In the US, about 20% of people over 65 years old have gallstones. Most gallstones are made of cholesterol, which form when excess cholesterol precipitates out of the bile that is produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Gallstones are more common in women, in people who are overweight, and in people with a family history of gallstones. Some dietary factors have been linked to increased risk, such as eating too much sugar and animal fat, too little fiber and plant fat, and too many calories in general. Other risks might include high blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and triglycerides.
Gallstones can cause irritation and inflammation in the gallbladder, a condition known as cholecystitis. Indigestion, particularly after eating fatty foods, may be the only symptom of gallstones, but if the condition progresses to cholecystitis, nausea, vomiting, and severe pain in the upper right part of the abdomen become likely. More than 500,000 people in the US undergo surgery to remove their gallbladder due to cholecystitis each year.
Data from 43,823 men over 40 years old participating in a larger study, known as the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, were analyzed for the current report. The men answered a diet questionnaire at the beginning of the study and every two years during the 12-year study. They also kept diet records over four-week periods at the beginning of the study, after four years, and after eight years. These results were examined to estimate nut consumption. Men included in the study did not have known gallstones and new cases of symptomatic gallstones and cholecystitis were monitored throughout the study. Men who reported eating nuts frequently were found to have the lowest risk of developing problems due to gallstones. Eating approximately one ounce of nuts five or more times per week reduced the risk by 27%, compared with eating nuts less than once per month. Similar benefits were observed for peanuts when considered separately from other nuts.
The results of this study suggest that eating nuts can prevent gallstones. Previous studies have consistently shown that nut consumption prevents heart disease by reducing total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol levels. The effects of nuts on these blood lipids might also be the reason for their ability to prevent gallstone disease. Peanuts, although they are related to beans and not nuts, are the most popularly eaten “nut” in the US and were found to be as protective as true nuts. These findings provide more evidence of the important role of plant fats in a healthful diet.
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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