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General Medical Questions
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Question : I have been diagnosed with gallstones. What foods can I eat to help them dissolve so I don’t have to have surgery?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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July 31, 2012
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A:

I wish dietary changes could dissolve gallstones. Unfortunately, studies on diet and gallstones haven’t given us a clear picture of what foods might make a difference.

People who eat large quantities of simple sugars and dietary fats are more likely to have gallstones compared to people who eat what is considered a “heart healthy diet.” However, this is just an association. There is no proof that sugar and fat cause gallstones.

There are no specific foods that directly cause gallstones. But the amount of calories you eat does matter. Overweight people, especially women, tend to develop more gallstones than people at a healthy weight.

Body size is one part of the equation. Another risk factor is rapid change in body weight. Gallstones often form when someone gains or loses a large amount of weight over a relatively short period of time.

You can’t dissolve the stones you have. But you can help decrease your risk of making new ones. If you need to lose weight, do it slowly. Don’t go on a crash diet. And definitely don’t let yourself gain weight rapidly.

When people have symptoms related to gallstones, I recommend a low fat diet. And I mean really low fat. A low fat diet decreases contractions of the gallbladder. This may prevent stones from moving out of the gallbladder into the bile duct where they may get stuck. So a low fat diet may decrease the risk of future attacks of pain related to the gall stones, known as biliary colic.

A low fat diet won’t dissolve the stones. But by preventing biliary colic, the diet may allow you to put off surgery to remove the gallbladder, at least for a while.

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