A doctor compares diet vs. surgery for getting rid of painful gallstones.
For someone diagnosed with gallstones, it’s easy to wonder about how effective a certain diet would be.
Could the right diet pass gallstones? Is surgery for gallstones always the best treatment?
I know a 50-something man who was experiencing severe sharp stomach pains and was diagnosed with a gallstone.
He consulted with a naturopathic physician to see if a special diet would make the gallstone pass.
The diet forbids white sugar and processed foods. Almost immediately the symptoms disappeared.
He’s been symptom free for many months, but a second scan showed that the gallstone was still there.
Should he have surgery?
“Decision for surgery is complex; pain is not the only indicator,” says Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez, DO, board certified in family practice and also clinical nutrition, formerly with Florida Hospital Ormond and now retired.
Dr. Ramirez continues, “The stone can become the nidus of an infection and/or cause an obstruction.”
What if there’s no longer any pain as a result of a dietary approach? Would it be okay to leave the gallstone in?
No, because, as already mentioned, the presence of the stone could lead to an infection or an obstruction.
What about surgery for those people whose painless gallstones were discovered incidentally while undergoing imaging for an unrelated matter?
“No, stones that are found incidentally and have never caused pain, fever, swelling, obstruction, jaundice or infection may be observed until one of these warning signs occur,” says Dr. Ramirez.
The Potential Danger of Gallstones
Dr. Ramirez explains, “Once incidental stones (cholelithiasis) become symptomatic disease (cholecystitis), the risk of life threatening infection, gangrene and death depend on whether there is obstruction (blockage) of the gallbladder. If obstruction occurs, the risk of death is high.”
Clean Diet vs. Going Under the Knife
Dr. Ramirez says that a change in diet — even the most healthful diet — is not as effective or as safe as surgical removal of the gallstone if there’s an obstruction or infection.
However, a dietary approach (whole foods, low saturated fat, low cholesterol, limited processed sugars) is “acceptable in the absence of obstruction or infection,” says Dr. Ramirez.
Should the patient first try diet to rid symptoms?
“Acceptable in the absence of obstruction or infection, but not a first choice for treatment,” says Dr. Ramirez.
If you have any of the following symptoms, ask your doctor about the possibility of gallbladder disease:
- Upper abdominal pain, especially on the right
- Night sweats
- Tea colored urine
- Oddly light colored bowel movements
- Jaundice (yellowish skin)
- Unexplained fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Suppressed appetite
Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez’s book, “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Disaster Preparedness,” is now available everywhere.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.