Gallstones are hard deposits formed in gallbladder. Gallbladder is a small organ located below the liver which secretes digestive enzymes. Gallstones differ in size; they can be very minute or large as the size of an apricot.
Gallstones contain cholesterol, bile salts or bilirubin. 80% of the gallstones contain cholesterol while 20% are made of calcium salts and bilirubin. Cholesterol gallstones develop when there is excess cholesterol in the bile secreted by the liver.
Bilirubin is a compound produced by the liver to destroy old red blood cells.
Gallstones from bilirubin develop when the gallbladder can’t break down excess bilirubin. Concentrated bile can also lead to formation of gallstones.
Risk factors for developing gallstones include obesity, diabetes mellitus, consuming a diet high in fat or cholesterol, liver cirrhosis etc. Most people do not experience any symptoms.
When gallstones block the duct which send the bile to the digestive system, people start experiencing symptoms such as upper abdominal colicky pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, yellowing of skin etc.
Extreme gallstone pin is known as ‘gallbladder attack’ which lasts for 1-2 hours. This occurs when the gallstone blocks the duct that transports bile.
Medications are prescribed to dissolve the gallstones but these take quite some time to show effect and gallstones may return. Surgery to remove gallstones or gall bladder is recommended when symptoms are significant.
What is the role of turmeric in gallstones?
Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory property and ability to prevent gallstone formation makes it a therapeutic agent in treatment of gallstones.
However studies show that curcumin can cause gall bladder contraction which brings about confusion as to whether turmeric should be taken in gallstones or not.
Curcumin can cause gall bladder contraction
Rashid et. al conducted a study where they examined the effect of curcumin as a cholecystokinetic agent. A cholecystokinetic agent is one that causes gall bladder contraction and rapid emptying of gall bladder.
12 healthy individuals were given a single oral dose of 20mg curcumin and its effect on contraction on gall bladder was studied.
Within 2 hours there was a significant increase in contraction of gall bladder was observed and 29% contraction was observed.
Another study was conducted where the dose of curcumin required to bring about 50% contraction of gall bladder was ascertained. It was found that a dose of 40mg curcumin after 2 hours brings about 50% contraction of the gall bladder.
However these findings are proven in healthy individuals. If these are held true for individuals suffering from gallstones, then contraction of gall bladder to this extent will cause severe pain and discomfort.
Hence it is advised to avoid curcumin supplements when suffering from gallstones or bile duct obstructions.
Dietary turmeric is unlikely to pose this problem since curcumin accounts only for 3-5% of the dry root content.
What does this mean?
Curcumin at doses of 20-40mg can cause gall bladder contraction and emptying in healthy individuals. It is not proven if curcumin would cause the same effect in individuals suffering from gallstones or bile duct obstruction, but as a precautionary measure it is advised to avoid curcumin supplements in such cases.
Dietary turmeric is not likely to pose such problems if suffering from gallstones or bile duct obstruction.
Curcumin in turmeric can prevent gallstones and ameliorate damage due to gallstones
An animal study was conducted where mice were fed a gallstone forming diet (high cholesterol diet) and treated with curcumin and/or piperine (the active constituent of black pepper).
Results demonstrated that combination was successful in preventing formation of gallstones and reduced the cholesterol and bile levels. Piperine potentiated the effect of curcumin.
Combination of curcumin and capsaicin (compound that offers pungency to chillies) also prevents formation of gallstones by improving the function of liver and raising the level of antioxidant enzymes in the liver.
Cholestasis is a condition in which the bile from the liver does not reach the intestine. Various reasons could be responsible for this, including obstruction of bile duct by gallstone.
Animal study shows that curcumin treatment protects liver from damage and reduces oxidative stress and inflammation in cholestasis or bile duct obstruction like conditions.
Bilary dyskinesia is a disorder in which the bile cannot physically move to through the duct.
Turmeric in combination with herb chelidonium is found to reduce colicky abdominal pain and other symptoms in individuals suffering from bilary dyskinesia.
Cholecystotectomy is surgical removal of the gall bladder. A study was conducted where curcumin or painkillers were prescribed to individuals who had undergone laparoscopic cholecystotectomy to help deal with postoperative pain and fatigue.
Within the first two weeks pain was significantly lower in the group treated with curcumin. At week 3 the study group experienced significant reduction in pain and use of painkillers was also reduced.
The findings of this study show that curcumin can be taken by individuals who have their gall bladder surgically removed.
What does this mean?
Research suggests that curcumin can aid in prevention of gallstone formation by regulating bile and cholesterol levels. Curcumin by virtue of its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties shows therapeutic effect in gallbladder related problems but studies on humans need to be conducted.
It can be safely concluded that dietary turmeric would not cause any adverse effect on the gallbladder and can serve to be therapeutic in gallbladder disorders.
Dosage of Turmeric For Gallstone Prevention and Gallbladder disorders
Based on the data available till date, curcumin supplements should be avoided by those suffering from gallstones or bile duct obstructions.
Dietary turmeric can still be safely consumed.However stick to small quantities or if cautious avoid turmeric till the gallbladder obstruction or gallstone is removed or dissolved.
If intending to take turmeric for PREVENTION of gallstone or any other disorder we recommend The Golden Paste. It combines turmeric, black pepper and fats which ensure good absorption of turmeric.
Start with 1/4 tsp a day and increase gradually over weeks. 1-2 teaspoons once or twice a day can help (precisely 1 tsp 3 times a day). Here are some easy ways to use The Golden Paste.
Avoid taking Golden Paste on an empty stomach and close to the time of taking medicines (Read Does turmeric cause acid reflux? Does black pepper in golden paste interact with medicines?)
Turmeric Milk is also a delicious option.
If you need help ascertaining a good brand of turmeric please visit check our recommendations on good turmeric brands.
Turmeric in diet is safe but excess can cause gastric discomfort. Turmeric supplements should be avoided in case of (Read Side effects of Turmeric):
- Pregnancy and lactation
- Prior to surgery
- If suffering from gall bladder issues
- If taking diabetes medications, medicines to reduce blood sugar, medicines to reduce stomach acid and certain antidepressants
If suffering from bleeding risks please consult a health practitioner before taking turmeric and curcumin supplements should be avoided.
Avoid taking turmeric on an empty stomach to avoid acid reflux symptoms. (Does turmeric cause acid reflux?)
A general precaution is outlined that turmeric may have drug interactions with stomach acid reducing medication, antidepressants, blood sugar reducing drugs etc. Curcumin found in turmeric is known to interfere in drug metabolism.
Hence it is advised not to take curcumin supplements concomitantly with any other medicine. Consult a health practitioner before taking turmeric supplements.
Curcumin is proven to cause gall bladder contraction in healthy individuals. Hence it is advised that people suffering from gall stones or bile duct obstructions should avoid curcumin supplements.
However studies in humans are required to prove this data. Turmeric can be beneficial in preventing gallstones and treating other gallstone disorders. Dietary turmeric can benefit in treatment of these disorders.
Till further research is conducted, it is safe to say that curcumin supplements should be avoided in case of gall bladder obstruction disorders or active gallstones but dietary turmeric can still be consumed.