A gallbladder cleanse, or gallbladder detox, is a specialized diet designed to prevent or treat gallstones. Some have used a gallbladder cleanse as an alternative to surgery. Learn more about the gallbladder cleanse here!
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
As people look for ways to keep the gallbladder healthy, gallbladder cleanses have been increasing in popularity. This article will discuss various aspects of gallstone health, what a gallbladder cleanse does, and how to treat and prevent gallstones naturally.
What is a Gallbladder Cleanse?
Also known as a liver flush, a gallbladder cleanse is a special diet that treats existing gallstones or prevents their formation. A typical gallbladder cleanse consists of consuming a combination of fruit juice, herbs, or olive oil over several hours. The cleanse may help break up gallstones, eliminating them from the body via the stool. Olive oil is an excellent option due to its laxative properties.
Gallstones can block the gallbladder ducts, which can impede the use and function of bile. Bile is made by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile has several important uses in the body:
- Bile helps the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins
- It breaks down fats so they can be absorbed
- It removes metabolic waste and toxins from the body
Gallstones blocking gallbladder ducts could cause vomiting, pain, and nausea.
What are Gallstones?
Gallstones are hard, stone-like masses made from undissolved cholesterol. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. Smaller gallstones could dissolve on their own but could block the bile ducts if they become too large. These larger stones can cause severe pain and require immediate medical attention. In addition, if left untreated, gallstones can block the bile ducts, causing bile to build up in the gallbladder. This could cause a gallbladder attack. Symptoms can include high fever, intense pain, yellowing of the skin or eyes, or chills.
The body has two types of gallstones: pigment stones and cholesterol stones. Cholesterol stones are hardened cholesterol. (Nearly 80% of gallstones are cholesterol stones). Pigment stones are made with bilirubin and are related to health issues, including blood disorders like sickle cell anemia, biliary tract infections, and cirrhosis. Pigment gallstones are not associated with diet.
Gallstones can run in families. In addition, they are more likely to occur in the following:
- Pregnant women
- Women on birth control
- Women on hormone replacement therapy for menopause
- Some ethnic groups (Native Americans, Mexican Americans
- Older individuals
- Obese individuals
Potential Benefits Gallbladder Cleanse
The primary purpose of the gallbladder cleanse is to remove gallstones, but there are other potential benefits as well:
- Reduce the probability of gallbladder surgery. By removing gallstones, the need for gallbladder surgery could decrease.
- Potentially decrease osteoporosis. Insufficient bile production and poor fat metabolism could increase the risk of osteoporosis. A gallstone cleanse helps to keep the gallbladder ducts clear and bile flowing smoothly throughout the body.
- Possibly prevent heart disease. Elevated cholesterol levels could signal a bile deficiency in some instances. A gallstone cleanse helps restore the flow of bile, which might help rebalance high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels.
- Help regulate hormone levels. Gallstones may increase the risk of hormonal imbalances, including estrogen and insulin. High estrogen levels can increase the risk of breast cancer in women, and insulin that does not break down could cause the body to become insulin resistant, leading to diabetes. A gallstone cleanse can help reduce imbalances and maintain healthy hormone levels.
Gallbladder Cleanse Recipe
A popular gallbladder cleanse recipe consists of consuming olive oil and lemon juice:
- Fast (no food) for 12 hours (until 7 pm)
- Drink 4 tablespoons of olive oil and one tablespoon of lemon juice
- Drink mixture 8 times every 15 minutes
Another recipe consists of drinking apple juice and vegetable juice:
- Drink only apple juice and vegetable juice until 5 pm
- After 5 pm, drink 18 milliliters of olive oil and 9 milliliters of lemon juice every 15 minutes
- Consume up to 8 ounces (236 milliliters) of olive oil
In addition to using the gallbladder cleanse recipe, some use enemas with warm water to encourage bowel movements.
Side Effects of Gallbladder Cleansing
The side effects of a gallbladder cleanse can depend on the recipe. For example, olive oil is a laxative when consumed in large amounts. Common side effects from a gallbladder cleanse include diarrhea, vomiting, or nausea.
While the cleanse may help some, there’s no guarantee it will have any impact or provide relief. If pain from gallstones persists, consulting with a physician is strongly advised. Gallstones can cause permanent damage if they don’t pass on their own. Surgery to remove the gallstone may still be needed to keep the symptoms from worsening or having a gallbladder infection.
Alternative Methods to Preventing Gallstones
Diet and lifestyle choices could play a key role in forming gallstones. The following actions may help prevent the formation of gallstones.
Gallstones are composed primarily of cholesterol. As a result, keeping cholesterol levels in check is key. In addition, limiting the intake of the following foods might help prevent gallstones:
- Processed foods
- Unhealthy fats or trans fats
- White bread, sugar, and other refined carbohydrates
Consume more of the following:
- Calcium-rich foods
- Fruits and vegetables
- Foods containing vitamin C
- Healthy fats (nuts, fish, etc.)
In addition to dietary changes, excess pounds can increase the risk of gallstones. As a result, maintaining a healthy weight is key to preventing their formation. Exercising for 30 minutes or more daily and avoiding crash diets are popular ways to keep weight in check.
Gallstones are stone-like masses of undissolved cholesterol. Small gallstones can dissolve independently, but some can become larger, blocking the gallbladder ducts. Larger gallstones can cause intense pain and require immediate medical attention.
A gallbladder cleanse is a popular (albeit unproven) treatment of gallstones. In addition to a gallbladder cleanse, maintaining a healthy weight and good lifestyle habits can help decrease the risk of gallstones.
Being proactive is one of the best ways to minimize the risk of having gallstones. For more information on gallbladder flushes, click here.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended to share knowledge and information. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for accuracy of the information provided, but we encourage you to make your own healthcare decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.