Gallstones:
Can Sugar and Flour Cause Them?

What are gallstones?

They are crystals that form in the gallbladder or elsewhere in the so-called “biliary tree,” such as the cystic and bile ducts. According to commonly cited figures, 700,000-plus Americans every year get surgery to remove stones or otherwise deal with the damage caused by them. Women on average tend to be at more risk for the condition; individuals who are overweight or obese also are more at risk. The condition is more common in Caucasians and other people with fair skin.
Stones can range in size from incredibly small (grain of sand size) to much larger--an inch or greater in diameter. There are two main types of stones: one is a crystal made mostly of cholesterol; the other is made from calcium salts.

Symptoms appear to vary based on factors such as:

  • size and number of stones
  • location of stones
  • constitution and composition of stones
  • patient's age, health history, and degree of discomfort

Treatment options appear to include:

  • application of acid to dissolve the stones
  • lithotripsy: using shockwave vibrations to break up crystals
  • surgery to physically extract stones
  • removal of the gallbladder itself

How does diet impact gallbladder stone formation?

Diverse factors may contribute. Many experts contend that people who eat a lot of starch and sugar put themselves at higher risk for developing stones. Of course, as is often the case with dietary science, debate abounds. Other authorities recommend eating more whole grains and staying away from saturated fat.

That being said, there is a proposed mechanism by which low-carb diets might help prevent gallstones. This idea appears to be that, when people don't eat enough fat in their diets, the bile in their gallbladders does not get released; as a result the cholesterol in the bile builds up to a higher concentration, which in turn leads to the formation of stones.

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