Until they get a gallstone, most people don’t think about their gallbladder much. But the gallbladder is actually incredibly important to our overall health. In addition to helping break down fats, the gallbladder has roles like regulating gut flora, immunity and inflammation and even neurological health. If you have gallstones, then chances are other aspects of your health are also suffering.
Below are the best natural remedies for gallstones, including herbs which dissolve gallstones, increase bile and flush the gallbladder. Because they help treat the underlying cause of gallstones, in the long-term they can also improve your overall health. (1, 2, 3)
- To break down gallstones which are not lodged in the bile ducts, take herbs which dissolve gallstones (such as these Andrographis Paniculata Capsules) as wel as herbs which increase bile production (such as this Chanca Piedra Extract).
- To flush the gallbladder of small stones or sludge, take herbs which cause the gallbladder to contract. These include turmeric, artichoke leaf and dandelion root (such as in this herbal blend). Use these with caution if you already have gallstones though, as they can make stones get stuck in the bile ducts.
- To prevent future gallstones, take an herbal blend which does all three: dissolves gallstones, increases bile and causes the gallbladder to contract. This herbal blend is a good option.
How Herbal Gallstone Remedies Work
Herbal gallstone remedies typically work in one of the following ways:
- Dissolving gallstones
- Increasing bile production
- Causing the gallbladder to empty
Some of these herbs also have other benefits, such as reducing inflammation or relaxing smooth muscle tissue so passing gallstones is less painful.
By combining herbs which work in different ways, you can attack gallstones on multiple fronts to get rid of them faster. This is why many gallbladder supplements contain multiple herbs.
- Be realistic about what herbal remedies for gallstones can do. You aren’t going to dissolve large gallstones in 24 hours. You might be able to get rid of gallstones quickly if you trigger your gallbladder to empty, but it will be a painful process.
- Alternative remedies for gallstones work best before the stones are lodged in your ducts. Once your gallbladder ducts are blocked, surgical treatment may be the only option.
Herbs which Dissolve Gallstones
Most gallstones are made up of cholesterol. Some herbal remedies help dissolve the cholesterol. The gallstones then become smaller and are easier to pass. There are some herbs which also seem to help break down pigment stones but there is more research for cholesterol stones.
The best herbs for dissolving gallstones are:
- Peppermint oil: Peppermint contains terpenes, a compound which can dissolve gallstones. It is most effective when enteric-coated to protect against stomach acids. Note that peppermint tea is unlikely to contain enough terpenes to provide any significant results. You will get better results with a peppermint oil extract.
- Citrus fruit rind: The ring of citrus contains large amounts of d-limonene. Research shows it is a safe and effective method for dissolving gallstones.
- Green chiretta (Andrographis paniculata): This plant which is native to India is famous for health benefits like fighting viruses, cancer and diabetes. Research shows that neoandrographolide, a chemical in the plant, can break down gallstones too.
- Apricot kernel extract: Human studies are needed but research shows that apricot kernel completely dissolved cholesterol and pigment gallstones. (4, 5, 6, 7, 8)
Herbs which Increase Bile Production (Choleretics)
A choleretic is an herb which stimulates the liver to make more bile. They can also help the liver turn cholesterol into bile acids. This is important for preventing gallstones. If your liver is not making enough bile, cholesterol won’t break down completely. Instead, it will turn into “sludge.” The sludge can eventually harden into gallstones.
While choleretic herbs don’t directly break down gallstones, bile acid does break them down. In this sense, increasing bile acid will dissolve gallstones naturally. Also read these natural ways to increase bile production.
The best herbal choleretics are:
- Chanca Piedra (Phyllanthus niruri): The name of this plant literally means “stone breaker”. It is by far one of the most well-known herbal remedies for gallstones. It not only increases bile but also has anti-inflammatory effects (which reduce pain) and relaxes smooth muscles (which makes it easier to pass gallstones).
- Milk thistle: Silymarin , the active compound in milk thistle, supports liver health and increases bile production. It also makes bile more liquid. However, the research isn’t clear whether milk thistle will help gallstones directly. It is better for preventing
- Elecampane (Inula Helenium):Best known for treating coughs, elecampane also increases bile production naturally. Read more about elecampane benefits
- Coptis Chinensis: This plant, as well as others in the Coptis genus, have long been used in Chinese medicine. The plants contain compounds which increase bile production, improve bile emptying and help convert cholesterol into bile acids. (9, 10, 11)
Herbs which Flush the Gallbladder (Cholagogues)
Herbal cholagogues cause the gallbladder to contract. The contractions flush old sludgy bile out of your gallbladder and replace it with new bile. You don’t want sludgy bile sitting in your gallbladder and turning into stones.
Cholagogues can also get rid of gallstones quickly. The contractions push stuck gallstones out of your bile ducts.
But you must proceed with caution. The contractions might cause gallstones to get stuck in your bile ducts. If stuck stones are very large, the contractions might not be strong enough to push the stones out and will just make the pain worse. While you may want to get rid of gallstones as quickly as possible by pushing them out, it’s better to break them down first so they are easier to pass. Consult with a doctor before using any herbal cholagogues.
The best herbs for flushing the gallbladder are:
- Turmeric: Note that it is the compounds Bisacurone B and ar-turmerone in turmeric which help empty the gallbladder. Extracts of just curcumin won’t have this benefit.
- Artichoke leaf extract: This both increases bile production and increases gallbladder emptying.
- Dandelion root extract: This is an affordable gallstone treatment which both increases bile and increases gallbladder emptying. (9, 10, 11)
What About Olive Oil Gallbladder Flushes?
Even though they are very popular, there is no evidence that gallbladder flushes work for getting rid of gallstones. The “stones” that people often see in their stool after a flush are essentially just globs of oil. However, there are some aspects of gallbladder flushes which might help gallstones – but not because they actually “flush” the gallbladder.
Most gallbladder flushes involve fasting and then consuming olive oil. Consuming healthy fats like olive oil triggers the gallbladder to release bile. Because bile breaks down gallstones, it can make stones smaller and easier to pass. However, any other healthy fat would have the same benefit — and you wouldn’t need to fast first.
Gallbladder flushes often also prescribe lemon juice, apple juice and/or magnesium. Lemon juice has some terpenes and apple juice contains malic acid, both of which may help dissolve gallstones. Magnesium can help muscles relax so passing gallstones is easier.
But there is no reason that you have to follow the strict “flush” instructions to get these benefits. Furthermore, the herbs listed above actually have scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness. So, if you want to flush your gallbladder, there’s no need to torture yourself with an olive oil flush. (12, 13)