Fat Fiction Fat, lies and measuring tape


Does a Paleo diet dissolve gallstones?

Maybe it's all in the jeans...

So, after all this banging on about what, why  and how, it all boiled down to a single 15 minutes with a doctor that looked like Uma Thurman. This was it – it would answer if you can dissolve gallstones with a radical change in diet. Are gallstones due to a lack of nutrients? Does a highly nutritious diet replace the nutrients necessary to prevent and even dissolve gallstones? How does it all fit together? It didn’t take long to find out…

“OK”, she said cautiously.

“There has been a change…”, she twitched.

“There are now lots and lots of gallstones when previously there were only two or three”.



“Well, we don’t know. Certainly we’re seeing younger and younger people in here with gallstones, even down to 18 or so, male and female. Is that because it’s increasing, or we’re getting better at diagnosing it? Who knows. Lifestyle, genes…”. Uma trailed off.

Right then. Well that’s put paid to a glorious ending on this blog and my visions of writing a final wrap up and cracking on with some other things which are far more important. After all, we’re talking gallbladders here, not late-stage cancer.

I won’t lie and tell you I was delighted; I was pissed off. But I am also intrigued. I can afford to be intrigued of course, because surgery is always an option, even if it is of last resort. But I’m intrigued because I’ve not had any further gallstone attacks since changing my diet, I feel fine, I look fine, but clearly not all is fine. So what gives?

I’ve had 24 hours to think about this and it still doesn’t entirely make sense. My diet was shite up until a few years back, fine up until a year back aside from white flour. I get gallstones, cut that out and replace with saturated fat, lose 4 ½ stones largely by accident and get a load more gallstones in the process. Hmm.

So now what?

Whatever the cause is, it’s still present. In fact, it’s worse than before. And whatever this cause is, it should make sense with all the other evidence that’s already out there. This is no easy task but seeing as I’ve taken it this far… next post will be about alternative causes and potential courses of action. It’ll be interesting to hear Robb Wolf’s take on this because while we had different theories as to the cause, we both came to the conclusion that diet should prevent this from happening.

There is one possibility that these things just happen; in the same way people lose their eyesight over time, people with certain genetic pre-dispositions get gallstones. But while genetics doubtlessly play a part, I simply don’t believe that this is ‘just one of those things’. I’ve got a few ideas I’ll sketch out next week. In the meantime, drop any bright ideas below…

Jeans picture copyright Digicla

Comments (41) Trackbacks (0)
  1. so it didnt work !! gutted for you !! but what now ? is this news really all that bad ?
    you have a healthy diet and lost weight and no pain, to me thats great news.
    surgery is an option if you ever need it, im eating healthy and lost weight and no pain so am sticking with it and with my gallbladder .
    keep us posted with what you do

    • Cheers Jill, wholeheartedly agree. It’s been a success in spite of this, so we’ll see where it leads. I’ve got a couple of ideas I’m mulling over; this most definitely isn’t the end!

  2. Were there lots of little gallstones where previously there had been 2-3 large ones? Or were there lots of new big ones?

    Mebbe gallstones are a symptom of the body trying to fix something. So maybe you have more gallstones *because* you’ve been eating right.

    That’s my not-terribly-bright idea. I’m looking forward to your theories.

  3. Mike, I feel empathic for your unexpected “bad news”. I must say though, I am really impressed and inspired by your conviction, dedication and hard work towards attaining better health naturally. You are a shining example of a person who takes responsibility for their life and health, rather than blame a bunch of external or uncontrollable factors.

    There is an important message in these results and it seems like you’ve gotten it. This is the first step. There is a reason for this, even if you can’t see it from your current vantage point. Things surely must happen this way in order for you to get to where you’re headed. You have not failed here – you have simply discovered a way that is not completely correct. Like Thomas Edison famously said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” So never give up!

    My hat’s off to you bro. Keep it up and you will inevitably find your answers. The beauty is that they will surely benefit a ton of other people as well!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence George, and I’ll be cracking on soon with the next steps. Once I figured ‘em out at least!

  4. Hi, found your website 5 days ago, so sorry it did not work for you. I am interested to know what you are mulling over as I am 7 months behind you, have you looked into iron deficiency? I know you mention it amongst all the brilliant info on here.

    • Jennifer, I haven’t specifically, but I’ve had more red meat in the past 6 months that I probably had in 5 years prior. So if anything, my iron consumption has gone right up.
      Here’s where I’m at so far – in spite of the complete opposite happening to what I expected, the evidence for a lack of nutrients is really compelling. I’ve bored myself silly reading studies on this, and it really does seem to tie them all together.
      Saturated fat is an unlikely culprit – it could understandably make things worse because your bile production/release isn’t working right, but from any kind of evolutionary perspective, I don’t see it.
      So, if I’m eating enough nutrients but still bile is calcifying & bile isn’t releasing, it’s likely due to poor nutrient uptake. And that nutrient uptake is getting worse, not better. The only possible reasons I can think of are either food allergies causing GI tract damage lowering nutrient uptake, or problems with gut flora. Or both related.

      I’m sure it ties back into these food allergy connections stuff somehow…

      • Hi, Thank you for the reply, I knew you would say that your diet has more meat so assume that your iron count is high, and I have been nodding and agreeing with all that you write, everything that you say seems so logical. I am no foodie or veggie and I am not medically inclined but did live with an insulin dependant diabetic for 22 years so understand a bit about how we use food, I`m slim fit have never been more than 8st 10lbs, and eat a balanced diet so if anyone had said that I could get gallstones I would have laughed, .. I do eat meat and have struggled with anemia so something blocks the absorbtion of that particular mineral. I have googled iron deficiency/gallstones and a connection does come up, but as you say it could be a combination of many things.

        • Interesting. I’d not looked at iron specifically before, but as being female is a traditional risk factor, that’d kind of make sense. I’ve had a quick look, and they’re falling back on prairie dog experiments again. They’ve got it in for prairie dogs I swear. Either way, I’m pretty sure a lack of any of a few key minerals can lead to gallstones in the long run.
          Assuming neither of us are overdoing grains/legumes/tea (inhibitors), it points to gut flora/gi tract.
          In which case it’s either:
          - specific foods causing allergenic responses damaging GI tract impairing absorption
          - something in the actual food affecting gut flora (antibiotics from meat for eg)
          - the general balance of gut flora which is going to be individual.

          Gnarly problem!

  5. Dang! I really wanted for you to get good news. I’m glad you aren’t giving up though. I really believe that there is an answer out there and that you are just the person to find it. I was just wondering if you have checked into an herb called chanca piedra? I’m currently using that, among other things. I don’t have the nerve to set an appointment like you did though. It’s not just that I don’t want to get bad news like you did. I just really don’t like the tug-of-war that always goes on when you tell doctors that you are not going to follow their advice. You think I WILL be back begging you for surgery, doc? I don’t think so. I’m stubborn like that, LOL!

    • We share a stubborn streak then, ahem. As many people have said, it’d be so much easier to have surgery…
      I’d never heard of Chanca, but it’s a good call: http://scialert.net/pdfs/ijmmas/2006/184-189.pdf
      Because it’s effective in treating gastroenteritis as well as being used for kidney/gallstones, that suggests there’s a strong link between the GI tract and gallstones. Again, pointing to gut flora.
      And thinking back to Rowachol. It increases turnover of bile, but “…at present time the exact mechanism is unclear” . http://pubmedcentralcanada.ca/pagerender.cgi?accid=PMC1412390&pageindex=5
      But menthol is recognised as the most likely active ingredient, and again – it’s antimicrobial. Back to gut flora again.
      Because everyone’s gut flora is unique, it’d possibly explain why something like Rowachol works perfectly in some and has no effect in others – depending on whatever gut flora inbalances are…

  6. I don’t know if the analogy applies, but this reminds me of the fact that when a person starts a low-carb diet, their cholesterol can briefly go up because their body is dumping cholesterol they don’t need. Same with proteins and water–the body starts dumping stuff it no longer needs. Or maybe you’re still nutrient deficient. It’s been over a year since I started my new diet, and I still have to take big doses of minerals to avoid health problems.

    You feel better–that’s progress. Keep trying–maybe they’ll go away in another year.

    • Hi Lori, probably a bit of both. I just got hold of a copy of the scans and it is confusing. It’s either completely knackered or it’s in an inbetween stage of dissolving. Not being a dab hand in ultrasounds, it’s tricky to work out.

      I’ll persist though – will discuss with my GP and take it from there…

  7. Hi Mike, I agree anemia is a woman thing so maybe iron does play a part here as women seem to get gallstones more than men, however I did find this.


  8. Keep pluggin away. You’re feeling good now. That’s a huge step in the right direction. Maybe dissolving gallstones takes longer than you thought it would. Maybe there’s more to the puzzle that you haven’t learned yet. Maybe you’re still doing something wrong…

    A friend of mine had a very sick mother who, after years of physical pain, finally committed suicide. She said goodbye to her 28 year old son and her loving husband, and ended her pain. She was not depressed but no doctor could help her control her pain and get to the bottom of her problems (poor thing, wish she’d gone paleo). I always remembered that story when I was recovering from a serious head injury. I used to say to myself, “Hey, if it gets too bad, suicide is an option.” Sounds crazy, but that thought lent me stregnth. I could make it through each panic attack and episode of depression knowing that there was a way out if I needed it. I did finally recover btw.

    You can say to yourself, “Hey, if things get too bad, at least I can get the surgery.” And that’s a heck of a lot better than suicide!

  9. I just stumbled here and – empathize with you. I had a spine MRI in the summer of 2009 which found gallstones in layers (an incidentaloma). I’ve been predominantly paleo for a year, but in the fall of 2010 had an abdominal CT which included the hepatobiliary tree and this time 4mm hypodensities which were unable to be classified were identified. Sure sounds similar to you. It does take months for gallstones to dissolve and to reduce to the size where they can transit via the ducts. My t chol level has risen from the 180s to 260′s, but the rest of the VAP is ideal, so I think that I am releasing excess stored cholesterol from adipose tissue, as my weight stabilized to a nl BMI and hasn’t budged. My guess is that by next year, the stones will be history as long as I stick to the paleo whole foods scheme. Since I’m asymptomatic, it’s nothing to worry over. Hope you find the same or better.

    And I like your blog. A lot.



    • Hi Aek, sounds like a few similarities there and you know your medical onions! The cholesterol makes sense, but the only thing that doesn’t is you need elevated cholesterol plus stasis for stone formation. If there’s no stasis, your stones could probably dissolve (and that might be happening), but in my case there’s such marked increase in stones, there’s clearly stasis, so there must be a reason for that.
      Cheers for dropping by and when I come up with plan b, it’d be great to get some feedback. Best of luck.

  10. Please do not take my comments as any sort of authority. I am repeating what I have read, and I am not sure of the reliability of the sources.

    I have read that extra magnesium can help *prevent* gall stones and/or kidney stones.

    I have also read of gall stone flushes where you chew on raw vegetables (to create additional bile) all day and then drink a cup of olive oil (to trigger flushing the bile out). Apparently this helps flush out the stones.

    I don’t know that I believe this, but I figured I’d put it out there. It may be a load of B.S. But it may be worth researching.

    Some people buy it, maybe it worked for someone.

    • Hi, well, you’re in good company – I’m no medical professional either, so this site is definitely hypothesis forming rather than conventional wisdom. Thanks for the suggestions. Magnesium I completely agree with, but the other one I’d never heard of. Will definitely look into, thanks

  11. I’m sorry I haven’t followed your blog till now, but have you had any recent attacks since on paleo? I’m a fellow gallstone sufferer – was in ER last Wednesday, so I can understand. I have an appt with surgeon, but I’m looking for alternatives right now. Day I got home I cut gluten, sugar, and upped my fats. Will follow your progress – Good luck!

    • Hi Liz, I haven’t had any other attacks but given the results, I can’t hand on heart say it’s worked. I’m putting together a plan B later this week – not as a recommendation but it may be worth having a look. Best of luck with it.

  12. Gallstones are associated with rapid weightloss. If you lost 4 and a half stone in only a year that is the most likely cause. Exactly why this happens is not known but gallstones can form rapidly when food intake is severely restricted, eg low-calorie dieting, even in patients being fed through IV. Maybe you were doing a lot of IF as part of your paleo diet?

    • Hi Sharon, it would be, but I lost the weight afterwards, not before, and it was only a consequence of cutting out gluten. Once that was done, I became more paleo (less grains/legumes more meat/fat) which increased the problems.

      • Yes but the rapid weight loss would still cause or increase regardless. Perhaps if the weight loss had been slower, they say no more than 1lb per week, your results might have reflected that? Incidentally reference the iron debate and women having a higher incidence of Gallstones probably has more to do with oestrogen I’d say. I think you’ll find there is quite a link between women with fibroids and the incidence of gallstones and fibroids are caused by too much oestrogen in the body. Furthermore hormone replacement therapy is contra-indicated in women with gallstones.

        • Hi, not sure I follow – rapid weight loss would still cause or increase gallstones? If so, yes, but the challenge was to see if a Paleo diet would reverse them, which didn’t happen.

          The weight loss wasn’t controlled, in the sense I *couldn’t* control it but I agree had it been a little less dramatic, there may have been different results.

          Women and gallstones – estrogen, interesting. And you’re quite right – increased estrogen levels increases cholesterol saturation in bile, something which had passed me by before.

  13. Have you investigated Vitamin K it has some very interesting functions that are only recently being realized.

    Chris Masterjohn @ The daily Lipid has done some good reseach,He is also associated with the weston price site and writes more on Vit K there.

  14. Science aside for a second, perhaps a connection to your emotional state is also worth investigating? The liver is considered the seat of anger in Chinese medicine with the gallbladder representing bitter thoughts. Since researching gallbladder cures and reading others stories there has been some mention of people having attacks after an angry episode and my first one occurred following a bout of fury! Herbal tinctures and teas (not necessarily Chinese herbs) might be something worth trying whilst being conscious of your emotions. Might sound a bit out there but we are more than just vitamins and minerals and our cells have memories. Could this be the missing part of that elusive healing remedy??

    • Good thinking, and I had come across it before but couldn’t disentangle the mind-body connection to say anything really sensible. I kept coming back to to the Pimas, and given 50% of Pimas get gallstones following on from a change in their diets, I’m pretty certain diet’s the leading cause, even if it’s not the only cause. All that said, it seems pretty plausible that there is a connection there. I remember reading Aristotle and the gallbladder being one of the 4 ‘humours’, tying conditions to personality, so it’s not just the Chinese thinking either.
      In terms of healing, it’s tricky because since I changed my diet , I’ve not had any major trouble. So medically speaking, so far it’s a failure because of the scans, but personally, it works fine. Long may it continue!

      • Well its good to hear because I am in no hurry to lose my gallbladder but I seem to have a lot of discomfort most of the time and I really need to address it. I have already cut out alcohol and reduced red meat (my two biggest aggravators) and I eat small low fat meals. I am about to undergo a big surgical procedure for something else so once that is done with, I shall be really attacking a similar diet to yours. I haven’t properly looked around your site but have you written up your diet or would you just suggest following a coellic diet? I can completely identify with the malabsorption thing – earlier this year while treating chronic anaemia I said to my GP that I felt poisoned and toxic. I felt as thought NOTHING I was eating was benefiting me on any level. I guess I need to get myself onto a supplement programme. I shall definitely give the Rowachol a go though. This has been a really useful site – thanks very much.

        • I’ve not specifically written up my diet anywhere only because others like Mark Sisson have done such a good job. I would say it’s paleo-light . No processed shit, no gluten, low sugar, and low grains. Alcohol I turn a blind eye to. Celiac diets generally tend to be heavy on bread substitutes, which are nearly as bad as the bread in the first place as far as I can see.

          The discomfort thing is tricky. The foods you eat aren’t necessarily causing gallstones though they might be causing pain. Basically any fat or dietary cholesterol is going to require bile, which will squeeze the gallbladder which in turn may – or may not, force a stone to the neck of the gallbladder. That is why people develop ever increasing lists of foods which give them pain, because the root cause isn’t addressed. If the root cause – and I do still think this! – is gluten damage and sugar (mineral depleting) – then the foods that’ll cause the most problem will be allergenic (see this list here ). These foods prevent the gallbladder emptying so make the problem worse. In theory at any rate…

          Good luck any rate. I will follow this up at some point with another scan to see if there’s been any further changes

          • Thanks ever so much Mike. Your website is excellent and if anyone deserves for their gallstones to vanish, you do! Should I get any dissapearing gallstones of my own I shall be sure to let you know!!

          • Cheers Roo, here’s hoping and yes do let me know if it improves

  15. Mike,

    Matt here from the UK. 34 and have had multiple attacks (first one in Oct 2009 and recently had 3 in the space of 6 months. Feel like im dying every time. the first time i went i was admitted to hospital and had an ultrasound. They said i had 2 or 3 little stones and biliary sludge. i am overweight and have eaten rubbish for a long time. Im going to be starting the paleo/stone age diet on Monday and was wondering if you think this is a good thing to do?

    its really weird for me as sometimes i can eat an absolute load of food (such as today went to an all you can eat and had gammon, chips, garlic bread, mash, cake, ice cream etc etc) and nothing , not a single twinge yet the last attack i had was approx 4hrs AFTER i had sausage and chips. really dont want to have my gallbladder out as my aunty did years ago and really sufferes with wind/bloated stomach. Thanks, Matt

    • Hi Matt, all sounds reassuringly familiar. Here’s the thing – there’s often no correlation between the foods you eat and gallstones. There’s a blog I read somewhere where this guy starts listing all the foods that cause problems and it starts small then becomes an epic list covering virtually every single food known to man.

      In short, it’s because gallbladder pain is due to a stone blocking the bile duct. Gallbladder contracts whenever you eat any foods containing any amount of fat – whether or not a stone is blocking the duct or not is pot luck. Really intense pain is usually a stone travelling through the duct.

      As for a paleo advice all I can properly say is that it’s completely eradicated symptoms for me and I feel a million times better for it, and I’d never go back. If you’re going to do it, might be worth taking vit c for a while though as losing weight has been shown to increase numbers of gallstones.

      Best of luck

  16. Mike – It’s not pot luck at all. It’s the buildup of fat/cholesterol which causes large gallstones to form, and then they often block the ducts. That happens when you’re consuming TOO MUCH fatty food over a certain period of time.

    Source: personal experience.

    It took 7 agonising attacks to convince me to completely cut out all forms of red meat and cream for about 6 months, as the attacks always occurred minutes after consuming anything containing these products. One of them lasted for more than 12 hours and landed me in my local hospital. At the time, I’d been stuffing my face full of pizza, creamy dishes, pastries, lots of red meat, etc almost daily.

    No wonder my liver and gallbladder were protesting. They were being overloaded over a short period of time. It definitely wasn’t down to pot luck.

    7 or 8 months on, I’m fully recovered and I’m fine whenever I eat anything containing red meat and cream in MODERATION.

    Matt – There’s no need to have your gallbladder out if you can be disciplined enough to completely cut out the foods that bring on an attack for several months, or as long as is needed for your body to recover and clear out the excess. This may require some experimentation to figure out exactly which foods to avoid, but your body will thank you for it.

    • Gemma, I’m glad you’ve found relief for your symptoms. I don’t believe it is pot luck either. But the too much fatty food myth is just that – a myth. Fatty foods require bile to digest, so they’re associated with attacks but not with actually creating gallstones. Yes gallstones are mostly cholesterol in the west, but dietary cholesterol does create gallstones. There are a ton of sources above I’ve ploughed through to reference this.

      Also, although the attacks stopped and you feel better, your gallstones haven’t necessarily dissolved. I suspect if you did get scanned, you’d have a result similar to mine above.
      Cutting out sensitive foods invariably doesn’t work because the attacks and cause are confused with digestion and call on bile supply.

      As I say, all credit if it worked for you but I wouldn’t recommend it.

  17. Hi Angela,
    I know the connection well. So in short, losing weight causes people to get gallstones full stop – irrespective of the method. Why, how isn’t clear. Possibly your body gets overloaded processing all that fat, possibly a lot of waste products gets stored as fat that then have to go via already overloaded kidneys and liver… it’s not clear. However, there is a proven correlation between weight loss and gallstones. Atkins et al often get the blame for this – if you didn’t have gallstones, you go on a diet and get them, it’s simple to blame the diet, but as you say the cause is usually what caused weight gain in the first place.

    With Paleo, don’t think of it as a diet – think of it simply as eating real food. The controversy comes from accepting that sat fats are a real food, and that grains are a relatively poor source of nutrition. I don’t need convincing on these two points, but if you’re hesitant, then simply just don’t eat processed food. There’s not a GP in the land that wouldn’t agree that’s sensible.

    Best of luck

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