When I was pregnant with my third child, it was discovered that my gallbladder wasn’t quite functioning correctly. The formal diagnosis was chronic cholecystitis (inflammation of gallbladder), cholesterolosis (accumulation of cholesterol in the cells lining the gallbladder wall), and cholelithiasis (gallstones). When I ended up in the hospital for it after a severe gallbladder attack at 21 weeks pregnant, I was given 2 options. I could have the surgery to remove it but risk the life of my baby or I could wait until the baby was born and then have the surgery.
However, if I chose option 2 I would have to be on a low-fat diet to prevent further aggravation of the gallbladder so that I wouldn’t need emergency surgery while pregnant. Although the surgeon said the risk of losing the baby if I had the surgery was on the lower side of the risk scale if I did it during my 2nd trimester (which was the trimester I was in at the time of my hospitalization), it wasn’t a risk my husband and I were comfortable with. So began the torturous low fat diet. Once I got out of the hospital, I was determined to find other remedies to help keep my gallbladder happy (or as happy as it COULD be with all that was going on with it) until I gave birth. After much research, I found a multitude of remedies. Below is a list of things I tried or discovered, when I was pregnant, in my research of natural remedies for an inflamed gallbladder.
Safe when pregnant:
-Fat-free/low fat foods: Basically little to nothing of high fat foods, such as oil, butter, eggs, cheese, chips, ice cream, red meat, and so on.
Why it works: It helps prevent gallbladder attacks because bile is released in correspondence with the fat in your meal. To release bile your gallbladder has muscle contractions to release it. Basically, the gallbladder squeezes the bile out. Understandably, if you have gallstones, this causes post-meal time with a fatty meal to be very painful. If you’re having trouble, do your gallbladder a favor and nix the fat.
Why it works: Lipase is an enzyme that is recommended for troubled gallbladders to aid in fat digestion. The above supplement has a full spectrum of enzymes that help digest any fat, protein, or carbohydrate in your diet. I have tried many enzymes, and this is the one that really worked the best. After all, anything that aids with your digestion ultimately aids your gallbladder since your gallbladder is involved with digestion. Even if you don’t have gallbladder problems, this is an awesome enzyme to use if you ever suffer from digestive problems: Garden of Life Vegetarian Digestive Supplement for Women – Raw Enzymes Women for Digestion, Bloating, Gas, and IBS, 90 Capsules
I have read some say bile salts work good too, in place of enzymes. I’ll be straight to the point in saying that I disagree. You can read what I have to say about that at the end of this post.
Source on lipase: https://draxe.com/gallbladder-diet-natural-treatment/
Why it works: Probiotics help promote a healthy gut and intestinal tract which in turn aids in digestion. When you’re having gallbladder trouble, you need all the help you can get. Once again, just like with the Raw Enzymes, the Probiotics from Garden of Life truly are the best ones I’ve come across. They work better than anything else I’ve tried (and I’ve tried A LOT!). They have 100 billion live cultures in the one I linked above. The Garden of Life brand also has a probiotic with 500 billion live cultures! The average probiotic only has 1-10 billion, to put it into perspective. The more cultures, the more benefit to your gut, digestion, and intestinal health. Even if you aren’t suffering from an inflamed gallbladder these are great to take just to promote overall intestinal and gut health: Garden of Life – RAW Probiotics Ultimate Care – Acidophilus and Bifidobacteria Live Culture Probiotic – Gluten, Soy, and GMO-Free – 30 Vegetarian Capsules. If you’re not a supplement person, try kombucha, kimchi, or other fermented foods high in probiotics.
Sources/information on probiotics:
-Lemon juice: Fresh squeezed is best
Why it works: Lemon is known for helping detox the body. In addition, it provides support to the liver and gallbladder. Specifically, it helps keep bile from getting too thick so it is able to be easily released by your gallbladder. If you feel an attack coming on, drink some lemon juice right away. Otherwise, drinking it daily when you want or with meals is a good plan of action.
-Apple Cider Vinegar
Why it works: It has various acids, specifically malic acid, that are said to help soften gallstones and also thin the bile so it is released from the gallbladder with more ease. Due to the effects of the malic acid, it can also help with pain relief from an inflamed gallbladder. In addition, apple cider vinegar has a host of ‘good’ bacteria that aid in digestion and gut health. It’s important to buy organic, unpasteurized, and unfiltered apple cider vinegar to maximize these benefits. I always buy this kind: Bragg USDA Gluten Free Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar, With the Mother 16 ounces
-Apple juice: raw, organic, and unfiltered
Why it works: It has pectin which is a fiber that aids in digestion. There is some anecdotal evidence that it can help with gallbladder pain and that it can even soften gallstones. However, I haven’t found any evidence based research beyond anecdotal evidence to support this. It does have some similar components to Apple Cider Vinegar (they both come from apples after all) plus there is no harm in drinking apple juice so it’s something that’s worth a try.
Source on pectin: https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-500-pectin.aspx?activeingredientid=500&activeingredientname=pectin
Why it works: Green tea is rich in antioxidants such as Vitamin E. In addition, it contains Vitamin C and B Vitamins. Antioxidants aid in healing your body through the immune system support they provide. They also help prevent disease. For best results, try to find a decaffeinated green tea. I drank this kind when I was pregnant, although it does contain caffeine: Prince of Peace Organic Green Tea 100 Tea Bags – 2 pack
-Vitamin C and B Vitamins
Why it works: These vitamins are antioxidants which makes them perfect for any kind of inflammation in the body, including the gallbladder! Plus, they are water soluble vitamins which means if for some reason you consume too much of them they will come out in your pee. When I was pregnant, I liked taking this supplement (recommended to me by my Nutrition professor) to ensure I was getting these vitamins in adequate amounts: Garden of Life Multivitamin for Women – Vitamin Code Women’s Raw Whole Food Vitamin Supplement with Probiotics, Vegetarian, 240 Capsules
-Essential oils: Lemon and any other citrus oils and Digestzen
Why it works: Citrus essential oils contain a compound known as d-limonene. This compound has a variety of health benefits, not limited to gallbladder support, pain relief, and digestive assistance. They can be applied directly over your gallbladder with a carrier oil and they can be taken internally IF using truly pure, therapeutic grade oils. I would only take them internally if you use DoTerra or Young Living oils. *Note: Digestzen is a DoTerra blend. The comparable Young Living digestive blend is DiGize. My DoTerra link is as follows if you want to check Digestzen out: https://www.doterra.com/US/en/site/sheabuttersunshinesarcasm
-Ginger: Fresh is best!
Why it works: Not only does it help ease stomach pain BUT it aids in liver and gallbladder function. Try some fresh grated for maximum potency. You can add it to a smoothie or to your meal. If you aren’t able to do fresh grated, ginger tea or adding ginger powder to your food or beverages is another way to get ginger into your diet.
-Epsom salt: Add some to your bath and soak in it.
Why it works: It helps pull toxins from your body. Furthermore, it is anti-inflammatory and stress reducing due to the magnesium content, which can help reduce the pain and swelling of an inflamed gallbladder. For Epsom salt baths, typically 1 to 2 cups is adequate for a standard bath tub.
-Turmeric: fresh grated or dried
Why it works: It increase bile flow, helps with digestion, and aids in reducing inflammation in the gallbladder. When pregnant, it should only be taken in small amounts since it can cause uterine contractions that can start labor prematurely. As long as it is just added to season food, it is considered safe in pregnancy.
-Iron: from iron-rich foods, supplementation, or both
Why it works: Iron actually plays a role in enzyme metabolism. If you aren’t getting enough iron, this can cause hepatic enzymes to not be properly metabolized, which ups your chances of gallstones. Several studies have been done demonstrating this. My midwife recommended taking Floradix during pregnancy because it is not constipating and is more readily absorbed: Floradix Iron & Vitamin Formula Liquid 250ml
-Omega 3: through supplements and foods rich in Omega 3
Why it works: Omega 3 is a healthy fat that ACTUALLY encourages the gallbladder to function better, thereby reducing gallbladder pain and gallbladder attacks. I personally like this supplement best: BLOOM – BETTER THAN FISH OIL! Burp-Less Algae Vegan Omega 3 DHA EPA Supplement. Supports Heart, Brain, Joint, Prenatal & Immune System. No Carrageenan. Potent, Natural & Pure. 60 Liquid Capsules. However, you can get Omega 3’s by eating foods rich in them, such as fatty fish like wild caught Alaskan salmon, avocados, and chia seeds.
-Foot reflexology: (middle of foot approximately)
Why it works: The theory behind reflexology is that certain organs and muscle groups correspond with specific areas on the foot due to nerve endings from organs and muscle groups in the foot. Those areas are massaged to facilitate relaxation, improved circulation, and support the function of the organ/muscle group. Thus far, few studies have been done on whether this truly is beneficial beyond relaxation. That being said, there is no harm in trying it. Look up images of foot reflexology charts and start massaging your foot where the gallbladder region is located.
Why it works: Exercise aids in digestion and fat burning. When your gallbladder isn’t working right, exercise TRULY becomes critical. It doesn’t have to be an intense workout. A simple 20 to 30 minute walk around the neighborhood 3 to 5 times a week is sufficient. If you are able to, try going for a 15 to 20 minute walk shortly after a meal. It truly makes a difference!
-Vitamin D: SUNLIGHT!
Why it works: Vitamin D provides incredible immune support. Studies have even linked a deficiency of Vitamin D with an increased chance of gallstones. So, go sit in the sun for 15 to 20 minutes a few times a week with your belly exposed to the rays of the sun. Of course, you can take a supplement too (like if you live in an area that doesn’t have many sunny days), but the sun is really the best source if your able to be in the sun for a bit. Plus, the sun is free, so bonus points for that! That being said, I recognize that there are those that can’t be in the sun due to being fair-skinned or having certain skin conditions or skin cancer risk factors. If you’re one of those people, or if you live in an area that is lacking in sunlight days, forget what I said about the sun being awesome and try this supplement instead that has a high amount of Vitamin D: Garden of Life mykind Organic Plant Calcium – Vegan Whole Food Supplement with D3 and K2, Gluten Free, 90 Tablets
-FIBER, FIBER, FIBER!!!
Why it works: If you DO have a meal that has some fat, eating lots of fiber (specifically soluble fiber) helps counteract it. Increased fiber has been found to increase the amount of fat secreted in a bowel movement, so your body doesn’t absorb it and upset your gallbladder. Hooray! Basically, this is a good weight loss tip too.
-Eat a healthy, whole foods, plant based diet
Why it works: This ties in with the fiber tip because if you are eating a whole foods plant based diet you are eating a high fiber diet. Not only that, it’s naturally low fat. Plus, whole plant foods are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that aid your body in healing itself and reducing pain and inflammation. Wonderful things to eat when your having gallbladder trouble are whole grains, beans, lentils, vegetables, and fruits. My doctor said turkey or chicken meat without the skin was fine to eat too. If you feel like your not getting enough protein, try supplementing with a vegan protein shake, like this (my personal favorite): Garden of Life Greens and Protein Powder – Organic Raw Protein and Greens with Probiotics/Enzymes, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Vanilla, 19.3oz (1lb 3 oz/548g) Powder
-Avoid dairy products and red meat
Why it works: Even if you find some “low-fat” versions of these products, avoid them as best as you can. These foods are all pro-inflammatory foods and are often culprits in causing gallstones to develop. You might find them delicious, but they are death to your gallbladder. Be strong and feast on something else!
-Avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates/processed food: Say ‘no’ to junk food!
Why it works: These foods increase inflammation and can cause gallstones to develop or grow. Plus, these foods just aren’t healthy. I know, I’m repeating information from above. It’s important to keep in mind though, just because something is fat-free or low-fat doesn’t necessarily mean you should eat it. Be kind to your gallbladder! We only get one.
-Avoid soy products
Why it works: Soy has protease inhibitors that can prevent enzymes from digesting certain proteins. It has phytoestrogens which can mimic the estrogen in the body, causing hormonal imbalance, which has been linked to the development of gallstones. Soy can also prevent the absorption of various minerals and vitamins. Finally, soy consumption has been linked to an increase in gallstones. On the other hand, soy has many benefits, such as being a complete protein and being high in calcium and iron. Soy has even been linked to promoting a healthy heart and helping prevent breast cancer. However, if you’re struggling with gallbladder issues, all the research I came across recommended cutting it out of your diet until your gallbladder issues are resolves.
-Avoid caffeinated products
Why it works: Excess caffeine stresses out the gallbladder. I don’t think a cup of green tea would hurt (my midwife and other health professionals I talked to said it was fine) but beyond that, use caution. If you notice pain in your gallbladder after having a caffeinated product or beverage it is probably best to just cut it out.
If there is no gall bladder blockage or risk of blockage AND if you’re not pregnant, you can also do the following:
-Essential oils: Rosemary and Zendocrin (also contains rosemary) can help cleanse and reduce gallbladder inflammation. However, neither should be used in pregnancy because they can stimulate premature labor contractions.
-Milk thistle: It is used to detoxify the gallbladder. The safety for use in pregnancy is unknown. That being said, if a product has a major detoxifying effect it usually is not recommended during pregnancy.
-Dandelion root: Although good for the liver and gallbladder, with some claims that it can help pass gallbladder stones, consult with your doctor before using when experiencing gallbladder problems and if pregnant.
-Barberry: This plant extract is able to cleanse the liver and gallbladder. It is not safe in pregnancy or while breastfeeding an infant since it can cause brain damage and other harm to the baby.
-Taurine: It helps with nutritional support so that your body is able to best care for itself. That being said, the body naturally produces this amino acid, so whether it is really a necessary supplement is questionable. During pregnancy, caution with it is advised.
-Castor oil pack: It helps reduce swelling/bloating from an inflamed gallbladder. That being said, castor oil CAN trigger labor according to anecdotal examples, so I didn’t try it when I was pregnant to be on the safe side. Although, later I found out that is if you take it internally. It would still probably be best to ask your midwife or OBGYN before trying this just to be on the safe side.
-Globe Artichoke leaf extract: This extract increases bile flow. However, this can trigger a gallbladder attack if the bile duct is obstructed. Please seek medical advice from a doctor before trying this. In addition, the use of this extract’s safety in pregnancy has not be determined definitely, so use with caution if you are pregnant.
-Olive oil cleanse/gallbladder cleanse: This cleanse is used to flush out gallstones. Seek medical advice from a homeopathic doctor before attempting this. It was not recommended in pregnancy by any health professionals I personally consulted with. If you’re wondering what the olive oil gallbladder cleanse is, all you need to do is Google it. There are so many suggestions online for olive oil gallbladder cleanses. That being said, I would suggest meeting with a natural health care doctor to see what they recommend for you before trying something online. If it doesn’t work, you could end up getting gallstones stuck and having to have an emergency surgery to have them removed. Be careful!
What I personally did:
I tried pretty much everything that was safe to do in pregnancy. That being said, there were some real winners and also some remedies that didn’t really help me.
#1 Healthy, whole foods, low-fat, plant-based diet
This was definitely the biggest thing that helped. Yes, it was more time consuming having to make everything from scratch and watch the fat content, but it TRULY made a huge difference. Plus, it was naturally high in fiber, so I didn’t have to worry about getting enough fiber. I don’t want to be too TMI, but let’s just say I never had troubles with constipation.
I remember running out of these enzymes when I was in my third trimester with my 3rd born: Garden of Life Vegetarian Digestive Supplement for Women – Raw Enzymes Women for Digestion, Bloating, Gas, and IBS, 90 Capsules. I tried using up some other enzymes I had, thinking it didn’t really make that much of a difference. I WAS WRONG! I started feeling the pain of an impending gallbladder attack build up. I wondered to myself why (I tend to be quite forgetful when I’m pregnant) and then realized I hadn’t had my Raw Enzymes for several days. Once I got more of the Raw Enzymes my gallbladder quickly calmed down. If you don’t do anything else I suggest beyond a healthy, whole foods, low fat diet, GET THE RAW ENZYMES!!!
These made a huge difference too, specifically this one with 100 billion live cultures: Garden of Life – RAW Probiotics Ultimate Care – Acidophilus and Bifidobacteria Live Culture Probiotic – Gluten, Soy, and GMO-Free – 30 Vegetarian Capsules. I noticed a difference with bloating and pain when I remembered to take them daily. I also found drinking kombucha, which is high in probiotics, helped with bloating and pain.
#4 Essential oils
Taking citrus oils internally (specifically DoTerra ones) and applying them onto my gallbladder area with a hot compress was something that really helped with pain and swelling. I pretty much did the hot compress with the oils after every meal for a few weeks after being hospitalized for my gallbladder. As time went on, I typically only did the hot compress with the oils once a day.
Exercise gained new importance after being released from the hospital. At least once a day, usually after dinner (that is usually my biggest meal of the day), I would try to go for a walk around the neighborhood. I definitely noticed a difference digestion and pain wise. If I DIDN’T get to walk I felt a lot more bloated. So, despite feeling pretty beached whale status, being pregnant and all (I get HUGE in my mid section when pregnant to the point that most people think I am having twins), the pain relief motivated me to keep walking and exercising.
#6 Avoiding trigger foods
Avoiding soy, dairy, and caffeine were really vital for me. Whenever I consumed any of those products, I would start noticing pain and nausea right away. This made it clear for me, that I needed to avoid these foods. I would straight up barf whenever I had soy. I think for some people soy products may be fine when struggling with their gallbladder, but I consistently got sick on them when I was having my gallbladder issues. It was best for me to avoid soy.
To make sure I was consuming enough Vitamin C, B Vitamins, Iron, and other vitamins and minerals, I found supplementation was the best and easiest way to ensure this was happening. I faithfully took my supplements because I noticed less pain, more energy, and better digestion when I did. For Vitamin D, I would try to lay in the sun for a bit a few times a week with my gallbladder exposed to the sun. Thankfully, I live in sunny Southern California, so there were plenty of sunny days to do this.
#8 Epsom salt
Epsom salt baths always made me feel less bloated and reduced the pain. I didn’t get to do them that often since I didn’t have time, but I always felt refreshed and renewed after I did.
#9 Aloe Vera Juice
Although it isn’t specifically recommended as inflammed gallbladder protocol, I drank aloe vera juice all the time because it really helped settle my stomach. Recently, I found out it contains enzymes! Now I know why it helped so much.
Link on aloe vera juice (make sure you get the unsweetened kind): https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/aloe-vera-juice-benefits#3
Those under the useless/made no noticeable difference category:
-Apple juice (I drank it a lot, but beyond tasting good it didn’t seem to do anything for me)
-Green tea (I tried to have a cup every day, although whether it helped or not is uncertain)
-Foot reflexology (I tried doing it by myself but perhaps a professional is necessary for there to be a noticeable benefit?)
-Turmeric (I only had a little on my food, so maybe it was not enough to make a difference?)
Gag inducing category:
-Apple cider vinegar
When I would try to drink apple cider vinegar, it seriously made me throw up. It didn’t matter what I mixed it with or how little it was. I was able to put some on my salads, but that was it. I think it had to do with me being pregnant. My stomach is hyper sensitive during pregnancy, so it probably truly does work wonders for some people.
I tried drinking fresh squeezed lemon juice a lot during pregnancy, but honestly I had trouble getting it down because it caused me to gag. I normally love lemon juice and can drink it fresh squeezed with little dilution. It didn’t matter how much I watered it down or whether I added sweetener to it or not when I was pregnant. My body just basically hates me when I’m pregnant, what can I say.
Since my body was so sensitive to any kind of fat, taking Omega 3 pills wasn’t feasible for me. I tried a few times, but even when taken with fiber and a meal, my gallbladder quickly expressed it’s displeasure at my decision to try to have any fat. When I tried to eat foods high in Omega 3’s, my body would often respond by regurgitating all I ate. Needless to say, these were big discouragements in getting my Omega 3’s.
You know how ginger is pretty well known for helping with nausea? It made me feel nauseous to the point of throwing up when I was pregnant. I’m telling you, my stomach gets super weirded out over everything when I’m pregnant. I tried it in capsule form, powder, candy form, tea form, and so on. Ginger just didn’t work for me.
Eat all the healthy things, do all the healthy things, avoid all the tasty junk food, and take all the supplements! Okay, so I am over-simplifying JUST a tad, but you get the point. Take care of yourself and do what you need to do to make that happen. Easier said than done of course. I feel pretty guilty as I stay up late writing this, knowing full well I will be getting way less than the recommended amount of sleep which will probably cause me to forget to take my supplements and eat less than stellar meals tomorrow. But hey, no one is perfect, just keeping it real here! Anyways, for anyone that has gallbladder trouble, I hope you find this helpful.
Closing note about bile salts: When I was researching natural remedies for an inflamed gallbladder, one of the remedies I came across was bile salts. Usually the bile salts come from ox. I did try them (this was before I was vegan) and didn’t find they helped all that much. My enzymes worked WAY better. Although I get the concept behind it in that you use the bile of another animal to aid your gallbladder so it doesn’t have to work so hard, why not just eat what you KNOW your gallbladder can handle? Plus, like I said before, enzymes work better. (ENZYMES FOR THE WIN!)
Any questions or comments I didn’t address? Have you tried something for your gallbladder that worked wonders but I failed to bring up? Please let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: All information on this blog is meant for educational and informational purposes only. The statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products and/or information are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat, or prevent any disease. Readers are advised to do their own research and make decisions in partnership with their health care provider, especially if they are pregnant, nursing, have a medical condition, or are taking any medication.