While there’s a ton of information on treatment and prevention of gallstones, today we’re going to focus on exactly what causes gallstones.
What’s the gallbladder?
To understand gallstones you first have to understand your gallbladder and the reason that you have one. Your gallbladder is an organ which plays an integral part in the digestive process, as it stores bile created by your liver. This is the remnant of the food that your liver can’t digest and absorb into your bloodstream, so your gallbladder is a pretty important organ when it comes to helping you stay healthy. A lot of people like to take supplements for gallbladder support so that it stays nice and healthy and functions properly.
When a gallstone forms, it does so inside your gallbladder. They’re usually composed of cholesterol, salt, or discarded red blood cells. They also range wildly in size, from as small as a grain of sand to as large as an apricot. This means that many people can have gallstones and not know, because they’re not large enough to cause problems.
What causes gallstones?
Gallstones occur for a variety of reasons, usually based on the type of stone that you have. We’ll cover the three types of gallstones to show you what causes each.
Cholesterol stones are by far the most common, making up roughly 80 percent of all gallstones that occur, according to research from Harvard. Now, the bile in your gallbladder usually breaks down cholesterol, but a gallstone will occur when your liver is producing more cholesterol than the bile in your gallbladder can process.
Obviously, foods high in cholesterol aren’t good for your overall health, but they can create the potential of gallstones as well.
Bilirubin gallstones (the medical term for a gallstone made from discarded red blood cells) occur when you have other conditions that force your liver to produce more red blood cells than normal. Cirrhosis of the liver is a common cause of bilirubin gallstones, though other blood disorders cause these stones as well since all the materials in your body go through your liver at one point or another.
Just like with cholesterol stones, bilirubin stones form due to the inability of your gallbladder to process the excess red blood cells produced by your liver.
The last type of stone is formed entirely of concentrated bile. Your gallbladder can’t function as it should unless it’s constantly creating and discarding bile; essentially, getting rid of the old bile and creating new bile to break down more waste. If your gallbladder doesn’t destroy and create bile on a regular basis, the old bile will crystallize and form gallstones.
Gallstones aren’t a health problem you want to deal with, but knowing what causes them should help you avoid the situations in which they arise. Knowing how your gallbladder works, and what makes it cause stones, can and should influence your dietary and lifestyle choices.