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BEST OF: The Very Galling Gallbladder

Yvonne Kleine discusses the purpose of the gallbladder and what to do when yours acts up.

Dr. Yvonne Kleine is on vacation in August so Patch is running her most popular columns of the past year.

If there was ever a sneak attack specialist in the human body, I vote for the gallbladder.  This small, pear shaped organ is generally content to sit silently, storing digestive bile, accumulating stones, leaving you in  peace, but once it gets riled, it can cause a world of painful attacks that leave the sufferer exhausted and sick.

Bile, produced by the liver,  contains a great deal of cholesterol and dissolved liquids needed for digestion. Sometimes these liquids contain minute particles of  irritating solids as well. The gallbladder then reacts like an oyster, turning solids into gallstones, which can sit around inside it for years without trouble. But when you've eaten too much rich food, or had too much alcoholic indulgence, or just made too many stones, the gallbladder can rebel and cause severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and other nasty symptoms. Drugs can help, and the ones in use today have few side effects.

The preferred method of cure is to have a cranky gallbladder surgically removed. Gallbladder surgery used to be a terrible, painful ordeal due to the huge incision it required. Today, most gallbladder removal is done through a laparascopic technique called a "cholesystectomy" or "keyhole" surgery. Recovery time is short and the problem is gone forever.

In Europe, they use another approach: The most popular form of gallbladder treatment in Europe is Peppermint. Both as a tea, and as enteric coated Peppermint pills, the Europeans swear by its healing powers. I have used it for many years to help those who just don't want to take the drugs and are afraid of the surgery.  Believe it or not, it works quite well.  When  experiencing the pain of an inflamed gallbladder, try taking enteric coated Peppermint. These tiny pills contain Peppermint oil, encapsulated so they dissolve without irritation. They may also contain Ginger and Golden Seal, champion digestive soothers.

Peppermint tea, steeped for ten minutes and drunk lukewarm with a bit of honey or stevia, relieves pain and gas and absolutely quells nausea. It's non-toxic and can really help you get over a painful attack. One of my patients was stunned to find he received nearly instant relief from his symptoms and felt so much better he contemplated canceling his surgery.  Of course, his surgeon talked him out of that idea.

The Europeans have found that consistent use of Peppermint can sometimes dissolve the gallstones altogether, or at least reduce them to a non-inflammatory size. A word of caution, Peppermint should not be given to children under three yeas of age and then only in small amounts. Children can have an adverse reaction to menthol, a primary component of all mints.  As a practicing Naturopath, I  always favor the least invasive and natural form of treatment and I would try Peppermint first. Of course,  if the gallbladder is severely diseased, surgery could be your best solution.

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