The Connection Between a High Fiber Diet and Gallstones

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Background – What Are Gallstones?

The gallbladder is an organ that sits below the liver in the upper abdomen. Its job is to store and concentrate bile, a substance which breaks down fats in the digestion process. When bile or cholesterol in the gallbladder harden and clump together, it can form a gallstone, or a small, hard object that can block the bile flow and cause discomfort and pain.

The Connection Between a High Fiber Diet and Gallstones

People with diets that are high in fat and cholesterol and low in fiber have an increased risk of developing gallstones. This is because high-fat or high-cholesterol foods increase the amount of cholesterol secreted from the gallbladder, which increases the likelihood of a cholesterol stone developing. High fiber foods do not increase the cholesterol level in the gallbladder, but they do decrease the rate at which the bile empties from the gallbladder, which can cause the bile to condense and form gallstones. They also speed up digestion time in general, moving foods through the intestines more quickly, which decreases the likelihood of developing gallstones.

The Research

Research seems to indicate the strong connection between a high fiber diet and gallstones:

  • A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology looked at the fiber intake of 69,000 women over a 16 year period. The researchers concluded that the women who consumed the highest amount of fiber (both soluble and insoluble) lowered their risk of developing gallstones by 13%.[1]
  • Many studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have found that people whose diets are high in refined sugars and low in fiber have an increased risk of developing gallstones. One study tried to isolate these two factors, and suggests that both are risk factors for gallstone development.[2]

How to Go on a High Fiber Diet

Good sources of fiber include whole grains, fruits and vegetables (including the peel), legumes, nuts, and seeds. Foods that are low in fiber include refined grains, refined sugars, and peeled produce. If you’re attempting to go on a high fiber diet, there are several techniques you can use to increase your fiber intake:

  • Try to replace as many refined grains as possible with whole grains. Possible whole grain substitutes might include whole grain pastas or breads and brown rice.
  • Add vegetables to your meals and snacks. Toss some broccoli into your pasta or add some green beans as a side dish for your chicken.
  • Avoid peeling fruits and vegetables as much as possible, since the peel contains a good chunk of the fiber.

What Else Can I Do?

In addition to making sure that your diet is high in fiber, make sure that it is low in fat and contains the necessary vitamins and minerals to keep your body healthy in general. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly, but avoid crash diets. In addition, avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and refrain from smoking. These measures can help protect you from developing gallstones.