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Could gallstones be a sign of heart problems?

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A new study, published in the journal ‘Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology’ has revealed that gallstone disease is an indicator of increased risk of heart disease.

The study, which involved a survey of more than 800,000, found that those with a history of gallstones had a 23 per cent higher chance of developing coronary heart disease than those without. 

The risk was considered stronger in those who were ‘outwardly healthy’, of normal blood pressure and weight, and not diabetic. This is because those with existing conditions are more likely to be aware of the risk to their heart health. 

“Our results suggest that patients with gallstone disease should be monitored closely based on a careful assessment of both gallstone and heart disease risk factors,” said Lu Qi, professor of epidemiology at Tulane University in New Orleans, where the research was conducted. “Preventing gallstone disease may also benefit heart health”.  

“Although as many as one in six adults are thought to have gallstones, only one in five of these will experience symptoms. The others may never know they are carrying these potential pain-bombs, or may only discover they have them during a routine health screening”, says Dr Sarah Brewer.


Researchers from Harvard, who followed almost 70,000 women, found that, after taking all other risks factors into account, those with the highest carbohydrate intake were 35 per cent more likely to have had their gallbladder removed than those with the lowest carbohydrate intake.

“If your diet is high in refined sugar you are more at risk of developing gallstones; even if you are not overweight”, advises Sarah. 

“A Mediterranean-style diet that contains different healthy fats (such as those found in olive oil and oily fish) along with plenty of fruit and vegetables, is thought to be the best option for easing symptoms.” 

Recent research, conducted by the Mayo Clinic, has also indicated that following a Mediterranean diet may mean a lower risk of cognitive impairment in later life. 

Omega 3 fats, which are prevalent in the Med diet, help to reduce the inflammation that contributes to heart disease”, explains nutritionist Henrietta Norton. “They also help to lower levels of bad LDL cholesterol and raise levels of good HDL cholesterol.” 


“A number of nutritional and herbal supplements may help to reduce the risk of gallstones developing or enlarging”, recommends Dr Sarah Brewer; thus, protecting your heart’s health.
VITAMIN C - boosts the liver's ability to convert cholesterol into bile acids, which keeps cholesterol dissolved in bile.
MAGNESIUM - is needed for processing cholesterol and for gallbladder contraction.
PLANT STEROLS - reduce cholesterol absorption in the small intestines.
PEPPERMINT OIL - can relax excessive spasm of the gallbladder and bile duct. Some experts suggest it may help to dissolve gallstones.

Sarah Brewer graduated as a doctor from Cambridge University. Having worked in hospitals and general practice, she gained a Master's degree in Nutritional Medicine from the University of Surrey. She is the author of over 60 popular health books and writes widely on all aspects of health including complementary medicine. More from this expert.

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