Normally your gallbladder, like most of your organs, works like clockwork, doing its job without you ever being aware of what’s going on. But sometimes one of the compounds in bile — usually cholesterol — becomes so saturated that it forms a solid. This is called a gallstone.
It is estimated that as many as one in 10 people have gallstones, though they might not know it. Gallstones may not necessarily cause you any problems, but sometimes, when one is pushed out of the gallbladder, it gets stuck in the bile duct. This can cause a lot of pain and is what is known as a gallbladder attack.
Gallstones can also cause nausea, vomiting, and severe pain in the chest. Pain can last from half an hour to several hours. If a gallstone blocks your bile duct, you can experience chills, shaking, and even jaundice. If your gallbladder becomes inflamed, it can actually be life-threatening.
In a clinical trial out of Harvard Medical School, researchers studied the relationship between dietary fiber and gallstone disease. They used data from a clinical trial called the Nurses’ Health Study that involved 69,778 women, aged 35 to 61 years, with no history of gallstone disease. The women were asked to fill out questionnaires every two years in regards to their fiber intake and whether they had undergone surgery to remove their gall bladder.
During the 16-year follow-up, the researchers documented 5,771 cases of gall bladder removal. The research team found that women with the lowest fiber intake had the greatest risk for needing gall bladder removal. Women with the highest fiber intake — specifically insoluble fiber — had the lowest risk.
Harvard researchers have also discovered that coffee may be beneficial for preventing gallstones. Researchers examined the coffee drinking habits of over 80,000 women who had no history of gallstone disease. Coffee consumption and gallstone surgery were reported by participants on biennial mailed questionnaires. During 20 years of follow-up to the year 2000, 7,811 women reported having gallstone surgery. Compared with women who consistently reported consuming no caffeinated coffee, women who drank coffee had a lower risk for developing gall bladder disease. The research team concluded that the consumption of caffeinated coffee may play a role in the prevention of symptomatic gallstone disease in women.