The gallbladder, a small pear-shaped organ, lies beneath the liver. Its primary function is to store bile (fluid produced by the liver, containing water, cholesterol, fatty acids, electrolytes, bile salts, bilirubin, and other components). Bile is secreted into the small intestine, through small ducts, to help in the absorption of fats, oils, and fat-soluble vitamins.
Gallstones are formed in the gallbladder when there is an imbalance among the bile components. The most common type of gallstones in the United States, about 80%, are the ones that contain a mixture of bile components.
Causes of Gallstones
Gender. Women are two to four times more likely to develop gallstones than men.
Race. Gallstone occurrence is most common in Native Americans. Nearly 70% of Native American women, over the age of thirty, have gallstones.
Age. Gallstones can occur at any age, but the average person is between the ages of forty and fifty.
Weight. Overweight individuals are more at risk of developing gallstones and so are people who lose a lot of weight over a short period of time.
Elevated estrogen levels. Pregnancy, oral contraceptives, and estrogen replacement therapy increases the risk of gallstone formation in women.
Diseases, like Crohn's disease, and certain medications, such as clofibrate and gemfibrozil (these two drugs lower blood cholesterol levels but greatly increases cholesterol levels in the bile) are other possible causes of gallstones.
Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, it is recommended to not lose more than a pound a week.
Eat a diet high in fiber. Avoid all fried foods and unhealthy fats (including trans fatty acids and hydrogenated oils). Limit saturated fats, cholesterol, simple sugars, and animal fats.
Drink six to eight glasses of water every day to help maintain the water content of bile.
A deficiency in vitamin C and vitamin E has been shown to cause gallstone formation in studies in animals.
It is also believed that not sunbathing is another way in preventing gallstones. In one study involving 206 white-skinned individuals, those who liked to sunbathe were twice as likely to develop gallstones as those who did not sunbathe.
 S. Pavel, "Sunbathing and Gallstones," Lancet 339 (1992): 241.
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