Do you suffer from post-meal bloating, esophageal reflux, or nausea? These symptoms, as well as pain located in the right side of your abdomen, can be an indicator of an issue with your gallbladder. Continue reading to learn about gallbladder function and natural remedies for gallbladder pain and gallstones.

 

Woman holding abdominal area
Common symptoms of gallstones include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

 

What does the gallbladder do?

The gallbladder, an indispensable and fragile organ of the digestive system located near the liver, is responsible for storing bile from the liver, then releasing it into the small intestine to promote proper digestion. The shape of the gallbladder is similar to a pear. Its measurements range from 3 to 4 cm in diameter and 8 to 10 cm in length. (15)

What are gallstones?

Bile is formed from water, cholesterol, fats, bile salts, and bilirubin. When bile contains too much cholesterol, bile salts, or bilirubin, hard crystalline masses known as gallstones or choleliths can develop. Gallstones can cause a disturbance of the digestive system and, for some individuals, may be painful and require medical intervention. Gallstones can vary from person to person and are inconsistent in size and quantity. (11)

There are two main types of gallstones, which include:
Cholesterol stones: caused by hardened cholesterol
Pigment stones: caused by too much bilirubin (11)

Certain populations are more likely to suffer from gallstones, including:

  • Overweight or obese individuals
  • Seniors
  • Women (11)

Gallstone symptoms

Gallstones may or may not present with any symptoms. Common symptoms associated with gallstones include:

  • Back pain, especially near the shoulder blades
  • Esophageal reflux
  • Nausea and vomiting that may be accompanied by sweating
  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Post-meal bloating (12)(19)(20)

Addressing gallbladder pain and gallstones

A number of natural ingredients may help alleviate gallbladder pain; in some cases, gallbladder removal may be recommended.

To help reduce the pain associated with gallstones your practitioner may recommend certain dietary supplements. Outlined below are some of the evidence-based supplement ingredients that may help relieve pain associated with gallstones.

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum)

Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum graecum), one of the oldest medicinal plants, is a Mediterranean leguminous plant (relating to plants of the pea family). It is a very nutrient-rich spice containing phosphorus, iron, sulphur, nicotinic acid, alkaloids, flavonoids, carbohydrates, magnesium, calcium, lecithin, proteins, steroidal saponins, and vitamins A, B1, and C. (1)

Fenugreek is known for its anti-ulcer and appetite-stimulating effects. Several studies have been conducted to investigate the impact of fenugreek on gastric ulcers, (9)(23) particularly in relation to drugs such as omeprazole, an over-the-counter drug used to reduce acid in the stomach. (16) Research has demonstrated that fenugreek seeds exert a potent cytoprotective (cell protective) effect, namely as a result of the following attributes:

  • Mucilages and galactomannans: help soothe gastrointestinal inflammation by forming a protective coating on the walls and exert protective effects on the mucous membranes lining the stomach and intestine, gastric function, and the small intestine and colon
  • Anti-secretory action: inhibit the secretion of hydrochloric acid by the parietal cells of the stomach
  • Lipid peroxidation reduction: plays a major role in the inflammation of the gastric mucosa and the formation of lesions and may be more effective than omeprazole in the prevention of the formation of these lesions (2)

 

 

 

Fenugreek supplement products
Fenugreek supplements may stimulate bile production.

 

All these observations show that fenugreek seeds have significant anti-ulcer and anti-inflammatory potential. Fenugreek leaves fortify the liver, stimulate the production of bile and its expulsion from the gallbladder, and may help reduce blood levels of triglycerides and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. (21)

Studies have shown that fenugreek seeds contain an unconventional amino acid, 4-hydroxyisoleucine, which has insulin-stimulating properties. (22) By acting on pancreatic cells, this molecule, which exists neither in humans nor in animals, stimulates the secretion of insulin. The main interest of 4-hydroxyisoleucine is that its action is very different to that of the sulfonylureas, insulin-stimulating agents currently used for the treatment of diabetes, since it has no hypoglycemic side effects. (10)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) has been cultivated since the time of ancient Greece for its soothing properties. It helps regulate nerve impulses and thereby reduces stomach and colon spasms. (17)

A number of studies have drawn attention to the active substances of lemon balm, such as:

  • Terpene aldehydes: exhibit antiviral, calming, and sedative properties as well as antihypertensive, stomachic, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory qualities
  • Terpene alcohols: exert a neurotonic, liver-stimulating, and immunomodulating effect and influences the emotional and mental state
  • Caryophyllene: has anti-inflammatory, anti-colitic, and antispasmodic properties (7)(13)

This research has enabled several health agencies, such as the European Medicines Agency and the European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy, to validate the effects of lemon balm, especially for the symptomatic treatment of digestive disorders such as pain, gastrointestinal spasms, and bloating. By promoting bile secretion, it contributes to easing digestion and may help prevent or relieve nausea and vomiting. (4)

Dandelion (Taraxacum)

Dandelion is a plant that is rich in potassium, iron, calcium, copper, silica, and manganese. It also contains fatty acids, choline (a liver-supportive nutrient), B vitamins, vitamins C, D, and K, as well as flavonoids and carotenoids. Additionally, its root produces insulin, complex sugars, and substances that promote the proliferation of beneficial intestinal bacteria. (6)

Dandelion has therefore always been primarily used to treat liver and gallbladder disorders and for its overall detoxifying effect. It also provides a diuretic action. (6) Some trials have demonstrated that dandelion supplements have an anti-inflammatory effect and may increase the production of bile. (18) Finally, preliminary clinical trials indicate that certain preparations containing dandelion can relieve intestinal cramps, constipation, and diarrhea. (5)

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Sage, one of the oldest cultivated plants, is an excellent source of vitamin K and iron. (24) Sage is recommended for its relaxing and antispasmodic action on the muscles of the stomach and intestines as well as its ability to increase the secretion of bile. (8) It therefore relieves stomach cramps, has a protective effect on the gastrointestinal tract (anti-heartburn), and is particularly effective against bloating and intestinal gas. (3) Studies in rodents have shown that the use of sage significantly increases the activity of an antioxidant enzyme produced by the liver. (14)

 

 

Sage tea
Sage has been shown to promote digestion and relieve symptoms of digestive disorders.

 

The bottom line

The use of fenugreek containing 20% hydroxyisoleucine as well as lemon balm, dandelion, and sage may help relieve inflammation in the gallbladder, reduce stomach and intestinal spasms, stimulate the liver, and prevent relapses. If you’re a patient, speak to your integrative healthcare provider before supplementing with fenugreek, lemon balm, dandelion, or sage.

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Disclosure: This article was written in partnership with Activa. All supplier partnerships have been approved by doctors on our Integrative Medical Advisory team, and this content adheres to all guidelines outlined in our content philosophy. Fullscript has not been compensated financially for the publication of this article.

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