Gallbladder removal is the most common surgery performed in North America. Every year, more than half a million people in the U.S. and over 50,000 in Canada undergo surgery to remove their gallbladders because of painful gallstones. Approximately 80% of all gallstones show no symptoms and may remain ‘silent’ for years.
Once symptoms arise, they persist and increase in frequency. The most common triggers for gallbladder attacks are caffeine, chocolate, eggs, dairy products (especially ice cream) and greasy or deep fried foods. Symptoms may include right upper quadrant abdominal discomfort or sharp pain, gas, or fullness after a heavy meal. The pain can also spread to the chest, shoulder, neck or back.
In addition to these symptoms, stones expelled from the gallbladder during contraction may become lodged within the bile duct, leading to infection.
Different approaches to gallbladder problems in conventional medicine all carry unwanted risks. The most common treatment – surgery – has as many as 10% of patients coming out of surgery with stones remaining in the bile ducts, according to the U.S. National Institute of Health. Bile duct injury is another risk. According to the Society of American Gastrointestinal Endoscopic Surgeons: “Complications of Laparoscopic Cholecystectomy are infrequent, but include bleeding, infection, pneumonia, blood clots, or heart problems. Unintended injury to an adjacent structure such as the common bile duct or duodenum may occur and may require another surgical procedure to repair it. Bile leakage into the abdomen from the tubular channels leading from the liver to the intestine has been described.”
The other conventional treatment is gallstone dissolution with different drugs such as chenodeoxycholic acid (Chenix), ursodeoxycholic acid (Actigall), methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), and ethyl propionate. These drugs only work on smaller cholesterol stones and may cause diarrhea, hepatic injury and an increase in plasma cholesterol level, nausea, pain or fever. MTBE administration (intragallbladder instillation) is an invasive procedure.
AN ALTERNATIVE TO GALLBLADDER SURGERY
An alternative to surgery and gallstone removal by chemical dissolution is the natural gallbladder flush. Traditional European folk medicine recommends the use of olive oil and lemon juice to flush the gallstones. But a concern is that if the stones are too big, they may not easily come out or may even get stuck on the way out.
Traditional Chinese medicine recommends the use of Gold Coin Grass (GCG) (botanical name: Herba Lysimachiae, Chinese sound translation: Chin-chien Tsao) to crush and soften the stones so that they will come out slowly. This tends to take a relatively long time. However, centuries of experience has shown that Gold Coin Grass can be taken safely without side effects.
In most cases, alleviation of gallbladder pain is experienced within a few days of using Gold Coin Grass in tincture form. This is a significant benefit. I have found from my own experience and that of many of my clients that a combination of the following steps has proven to be the most effective and efficient.
GALLBLADDER CLEANSING AND FLUSHING PROCEDURES
Step 1: Use Gold Coin Grass to crush and soften the gallstones. Gold Coin Grass in tincture form, using alcohol as a carrier, has been found to be more effective than tablet or tea form, presumably because alcohol as a solvent facilitates the assimilation of the herbs. It is recommended that one to two 250 ml bottles of Gold Coin Grass tincture be used before attempting gallbladder flushing described below (one Tbsp is taken every day; therefore each bottle should take 2 to 3 weeks to finish). Two bottles of Gold Coin Grass may be necessary for individuals over the age of 50, or for who have had gallbladder problems for a long time. For some people who are ex-heavy drinkers, a burning sensation may sometimes be experienced when using Gold Coin Grass tincture but this does not seem to effect the efficacy of the herb.
Insomnia or constipation can often be a sign of liver congestion. The herbal formulas Coptis (which stimulates bile flow) and Curcuma (which increases energy flow in the liver and gallbladder) are recommended to be taken in conjunction with GCG to increase the efficiency of flushing.
Alternatively, if gallbladder-related pain is not a concern, Chinese Bitters may be taken prior to GCG in order to decongest the liver. Note: Chinese Bitters are used to cleanse and decongest the liver. They stimulate digestive juice production, so it is not recommended for anyone with acid reflux problems. However, GCG and Coptis are helpful for acid reflux, so acid reflux sufferers can take them until the problem subsides, and then take Chinese Bitters again.
Step 2: Intestinal Cleansing
1) Soak 1 tsp to 1 Tbsp of Bentonite clay in one cup of filtered water for 12 hours. Start soaking in the morning.
2) Then add ½ to 1 Tbsp of psyllium husks or plantago seeds to the clay mixture and mix well.
3) Drink and eat the whole cup of mixture immediately, followed by one cup of warm water, before bedtime.
4) Drink at least 8 cups of warm water a day, including 2 cups first thing in the morning.
5) Repeat the procedure until the stool becomes normal (usually 1 to 2 weeks), and no more intestinal cloggings are coming out.
Please note that intestinal cleansing is not necessary if you have never had constipation problems.
Step 3: Gallbladder Flush
The following procedure is based on the directions in Natural Liver Therapy by Christopher Hobbs, L.Ac., (Botanica Press, Capitola, CA;1993).
1) Eat only whole foods (un-refined foods) without fat for a whole day.
2) About an hour before bedtime (on an empty stomach), drink ¼ cup of extra virgin cold pressed olive oil mixed with ¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice. Repeat this process every 15 minutes until a total of one cup each of olive oil and lemon juice is finished.
An alternative to this procedure is to replace lemon juice with freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice (½ cup of grapefruit juice can be used each time). A total of 1½ to 2 cups of grapefruit juice is required. It works well and tastes better than lemon juice.
3) Go to bed immediately and lie on your right side.
4) The next morning take one litre (approximately 4 cups) of warm distilled or filtered water containing two level tsp. of un-iodized sea salt. Alternatively, the addition of juice from half a lemon may be used in place of the sea salt.
5) Eat only softly cooked vegetables and broth the second day. The gallstones should come out some time during the second day.
The stones that come out are usually dark green or black in colour. They may also be brown, off-white, green or, rarely, red in colour. Stones crushed by Gold Coin Grass may come out in any shape including flat pieces or sand.
Step 3a: Liver Cleanse and Gallbladder Flush
An alternative procedure to Step 3 above combines the gallbladder flush with a liver flush. It uses apple juice fasting, as described below (based on Herbally Yours, by Penny C. Royal, Sound Nutrition; 1982). However, people with cancer, candida yeast infection, diabetes, hypoglycemia or stomach ulcer should not use this apple juice fasting procedure because of the high sugar content in the apple juice.
Day 1 – Take 2 servings of 8 oz organic apple juice or apple cider every 2 hours from 8 am to 8 pm. Altogether 14 cups will have been taken during this period. Do not take any other food or drinks except plain water.
Please note that the apple juice should not be taken cold from the refrigerator. It should be kept at room temperature or mixed with about 10% hot water before use because cold drinks chill the liver. For people with lots of stagnant bile, the collapsed stagnant bile may rush out after drinking apple juice. It may feel like having diarrhea but is actually stagnant bile (brownish yellow colour).
Day 2 – Repeat Day 1. At 8:30 pm, take ½ cup (4 oz) of olive oil (extra virgin cold pressed) mixed with ½ cup of lemon juice (squeezed from 3 lemons) or with ¾ cup of freshly-squeezed grapefruit juice.
Go immediately to bed and sleep on your right side. If there is a large amount of stones, nausea may be felt after drinking olive oil but this feeling will largely disappear on the third day after taking some food.
Day 3 – Upon rising in the morning, take 1 litre (approximately 4 cups) of warm distilled or filtered water containing two level teaspoons of un-iodized sea salt. Alternatively the addition of juice from half a lemon may be used in place of the sea salt. Wait for at least half an hour before eating.
Eat vegetable broth and softly cooked vegetables only. The stones should be passed in the stool any time between midnight of Day 2 and morning of Day 4.
Note: The purpose of drinking apple juice is mainly for the malic acid in apples. Malic acid is a good solvent for stagnant bile in the liver. Apple juice taken during fasting will dissolve and push out stagnant bile from the liver. For someone with a yeast infection or diabetes, apple juice can be replaced by malic acid in capsule or powder form. The fasting procedure is the same except that apple juice is replaced by 1000 - 2000 mg of malic acid taken with 2 cups of warm water.
Optional Extra Step
The following additional step is optional, and can be used with Step 3 or Step 3a. You may want to try it yourself and see if it changes your results.
Some time ago, I was contacted by a customer who informed me that he had done two previous gallbladder flushes without success. He decided to try something new for his third flush attempt, so he used the liver/gallbladder flush 4-pack of Chinese Bitters, GCG, Curcuma, and Coptis according to instructions. Roughly one hour before taking his olive oil and lemon juice, he noticed that he had some left in each bottle, so he took a dose of all of them together on an empty stomach. In his words, the results were “fantastic”.
This experience has since helped many others achieve a more efficient flush, including myself. My understanding is that the combination of Chinese Bitters, GCG, Coptis, and Curcuma all taken shortly before the olive oil and lemon juice helps the gallbladder contract more efficiently, which helps push out old stones from the back of the gallbladder.
I did my first four flushes (roughly 1 to 1½ months apart) in 1990. In my fourth flush, almost no more stones came out and I felt great, so I assumed that I had cleansed all of the stones from my gallbladder. Since then, I have been doing maintenance flushes once or twice a year, and in each flush, I usually release about 10 small stones. I had always assumed that these were newly formed stones, but in my last flush, I tried this additional step and took ½ tablespoon each of GCG and Curcuma, and 1 teaspoon each of Chinese Bitters and Coptis. I was surprised to pass two of the largest stones that I have ever seen, along with some small stones.
I believe that the large stones were very old stones in the back of my gallbladder, and had been there all these years when I thought there were no old/large stones left. All of my previous flushes had failed to push them out, but this time, taking this simple extra step, I was able to move them out.
GUIDE TO USING FLUSHING PROCEDURES
When gallstones exist, the gallbladder cannot contract efficiently. Therefore only stones in the front area of the gallbladder can be pushed out in the first flush. Then stones from the back area would slowly move forward and may cause problems again. The whole process should be repeated, including the use of GCG prior to the flush. It usually takes at least 3-4 flushes to clean out all the stones. Basically the flush should be repeated until hardly any stone comes out even though you have a good flush.
The weaker your gallbladder is in contraction, the more flushes you will need in order to push out all of your stones.
A good flush means that all the loose stones are out. You feel good for at least a few days. The remaining stones are packed ones. They should be allowed some time to loosen up and get ready to come out. The interval between good flushes should be 1-2 months.
Repeating the flush too soon after a good flush may waste your effort because the packed stones are not ready to come out yet. However, you can repeat the flush any time if you’ve had an incomplete flush, which means that loose stones are still present and you never felt comfortable after the first flush.
Once stones have been formed, the gallbladder tends to be sluggish. New stones may be formed again. Therefore 1 to 2 flushes a year is recommended for maintenance. Gold Coin Grass may not be needed any more because new stones should be small and pass easily. I have been doing maintenance for years; usually around 10 to 15 small stones come out each time I do it. Chinese Bitters is the only product that I take now for maintenance, in addition to 1-2 flushes a year. I take these preventive measures because I am naturally prone to liver congestion.
DECONGESTING THE LIVER
If the gallbladder is loaded with stones, there is limited space in the gallbladder to store bile. This bile, which is produced in the liver, then backs up in the liver and leads to liver congestion. When the liver is very congested, nutrients or herbs, which have to go through the liver first, may not reach the gallbladder. This explains why those with a very congested liver cannot flush out their stones unless they decongest the liver first. Another problem is that bile produced in the liver, through olive oil stimulation, has to flow down to the gallbladder in order to push out stones with the help of gallbladder contraction by lemon or grapefruit juice. If the liver is congested, bile flow is restricted. As a result, there is insufficient bile in the gallbladder to push the stones out.
One of Prime Health’s products, Chinese Bitters, has been found to be very effective in decongesting the liver. It is possible to take Chinese Bitters in conjunction with Gold Coin Grass and some people do this in order to more quickly prepare for a liver/gallbladder flush. However, the added load of taking both tinctures at once may be too much strain for the liver and gallbladder in some people, particularly those who suffer from weak livers or gallbladders. If this is the case for you, then you should start with Chinese Bitters first. After a few weeks of liver decongestion, you can switch from Chinese Bitters in the morning to Gold Coin Grass.
When the Gold Coin Grass is finished, Chinese Bitters may be taken again for a few days before the flush. During the flush, Chinese Bitters can still be taken to ensure that the liver is not congested.
THE USE OF EPSOM SALTS
In some cases, especially for a person doing a gallbladder flush for the first time, the gallstones are packed so tight that they have difficulty moving out. In this situation, one may have to repeat the olive oil/lemon juice procedure and eat vegetables for an extra day. As well, Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate) which dilate the bile duct may be helpful. The Epsom salt solution, prepared by dissolving 3 teaspoons of Epsom salt in 1 cup of warm water, should be taken about one-and-a-half to two hours before repeating the olive oil and lemon juice procedure. I personally dislike Epsom salts because they are harsh on the kidneys, so I would recommend them only if you feel you definitely need them.
It does happen, although very rarely, that a stone may get stuck on its way out. In this situation, the olive oil/lemon juice flush may be repeated. Three teaspoonfuls of Epsom salt in a cup of warm water should be taken 2 hours before the olive oil/lemon juice, to dilate the duct.
An alternative is one tablespoonful each of Coptis and Curcuma taken together. This combination helps to move the stone by stimulating bile flow (Coptis) and increasing energy flow (Curcuma). These herbal medicines also help to relieve pain from gallbladder attack in most cases. Furthermore, if no stone comes out during the flush on the day after taking olive oil/lemon juice, and you feel uncomfortable, one tablespoon each of Coptis and Curcuma can usually help to push out the stones or other blockages.
If one tablespoon each of Coptis and Curcuma fail to push out the lodged stone and relieve pain, it is usually due to the stone being too big to be pushed out. In this situation, some people have found the following procedure to be helpful: take 2 tablespoons of GCG to crush the stone, and wait for 1½ to 2 hours before taking one tablespoon each of Coptis and Curcuma again. The crushed stones are likely to move easier and the pain will be relieved.
A stone that gets stuck during a gallbladder flush is different from a regular gallbladder attack. During the flush, a lot of bile is produced which serves as an excellent lubricant. The pain produced is relatively dull and mild in comparison with the very sharp pain experienced in a regular gallbladder attack.
A 53-year-old woman used a patented Chinese medicine in tablet form called ‘Lidan’ (also contains Gold Coin Grass as the main ingredient) for 3 years. It did relieve her shoulder pain and reduce her gallbladder pain from constant pain to a few attacks a day. When she started using Gold Coin Grass (GCG) in tincture form, her pain was reduced to only one attack every few days within two weeks of using the tincture. After finishing one 250 ml bottle of the tincture, she did liver and gallbladder flushing, and her pain disappeared completely.
A 68-year-old man had shoulder pain which was treated as arthritis with anti-inflammatory drugs for six years. He had a severe gallbladder attack one day. Ultrasound showed that he had three gallstones. He decided to do a gallbladder flush instead of surgery.
About 20 stones were released the first time he did the gallbladder flush program which required Epsom salts. After the flush, ultrasound showed that he still had two stones. Obviously the other 19 stones that came out were missed in the first ultrasound and the two stones that remained were too big to come out. He had another minor gallbladder attack after the first flush.
In his second attempt, he took Gold Coin Grass to crush his stones and Curcuma for increasing energy flow in the liver before flushing using the apple juice program (see Step 3a above). Close to a hundred stones came out. He repeated the Gold Coin Grass and apple juice program three months later. It was after the third flush that all his symptoms, including shoulder and neck pain, disappeared completely.
A lady in her late 60s had gallbladder problems since her 20s. Early in 1998 she had a severe gallbladder attack. She refused gallbladder surgery and tried two bottles of Gold Coin Grass before her first liver and gallbladder flush (using Step 3a above). For unknown reasons nothing came out. Being determined to flush out her stones naturally, she tried again two weeks later to flush without taking any more Gold Coin Grass.
Large amounts of stones came out this time. Altogether she flushed four times within a half year period and she said she had never felt so energetic before.
Note: All of the herbal remedies discussed in this article can be ordered through your local health food store or Chinese medicine practitioner from Prime Health Products, www.sensiblehealth.com, 416-248-2930