Nobody is immune to stress, even those who look for positives everywhere. Even if we’ve been sitting at home for months. Stressful situations are bound to surface. From economic uncertainties, adjustments to the new ‘normal’, working from home, loneliness, or not enough space. All of these factors can cause a spike in our stress levels. We know that negative emotions can be detrimental to our health, but can stress cause gallstones to flare up?
Types of Gallstones
There are two different types of gallstones that can form within the gallbladder. One is formed by an increase of cholesterol in the bile, aptly named cholesterol stones. The other is made up of bilirubin, a waste product made up of pigment, and the result of destroyed red blood cells. These are called pigmentation stones.
The size and shape of the gallstones vary from the smallest grain to the size of a golf ball. Some people may not even know they have gallstones. However, pain can occur when the bilial duct within the gallbladder becomes blocked. When a stone is blocking the duct, a number of symptoms can present themselves.
- A sharp pain in the top of the abdomen
- Pain in the upper back or shoulder blades
- Nausea, and in some cases vomiting
- A jaundiced or yellow appearance to the skin and/or eyes
It is always best to seek the advice of a medical health professional in the case of severe pain or change to skin and eye colouring. As we all know, it is better to take preventative measures to avoid having to go through this kind of pain, or have the gallbladder removed.
Such chronic pain and discomfort should be avoided if it can. Many people who’ve experienced the pain would rather have their gallbladder removed than suffer the pain. But removal of the gallbladder can have its own knock-on health effects.
We must then ask the question, how can we avoid these flare ups, and can stress cause gallstones?
Types of People
There are a few different factors within patients that increase the chances of gallstones forming. Studies have found older women (65+) are more likely to have gallstones, but older men are more likely to have gallbladder issues in general. As we age, our bodies slow down incrementally, meaning a sluggish liver and gallbladder could very well cause stones to form as bile movement slows down. But this by no means makes younger people exempt from the disease!
Obesity is often a common feature amongst sufferers, alongside a propensity towards a so-called ‘western diet’. A diet high in processed foods, fats and refined sugars can cause higher cholesterol in the blood. The concentration of cholesterol passes through the liver and into bile. Once stored by the gallbladder, the bile can become sludgy, and cholesterol stones can form.
There can be no doubt, dietary stress on the body can definitely cause gallstones to flare up.
But heed this warning: It is not just overweight people who are susceptible. Digestive stresses through malnutrition and rapid weight loss can also cause gallstones to flare up. When rapid weight loss occurs, the liver adds extra cholesterol to the bile. This can cause stones to form. Through under-eating the bile often becomes concentrated. This thickening can eventually cause gallstones.
Stress can present itself in many ways. The stresses we place our body under is not always caused by emotions or external factors. Often a poor diet and sedentary lifestyle can cause internal stresses that we don’t necessarily feel. A varied diet, plenty of water and regular exercise are the keys to general wellbeing overall.
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But even these keys cannot stop outside stresses from creeping in. How do these external factors affect our gallbladder health?
Can Stress Cause Gallstones To Flare Up?
To understand the importance of the gallbladder, it is beneficial to look toward Chinese traditional medicine.
Within the bodies eco system, the liver is known as the ‘General’, and the gallbladder is termed the ‘General’s Advisor’. Its job lies in carrying out the commands of the General, sending bile to the duodenum (lower intestine) to break down fats in food. For this reason, it is said to have qualities of both yin and yang, according to ancient Chinese principles. It both stores bile excreted by the liver, and releases it when required, giving and receiving each day.
The strength of this symbolism is such that the gallbladder is known to be the main organ for creating and relieving stress syndromes. It is known within Chinese medicine to have an influence on our efficacy and ability to make decisions that are beneficial. In short, this is a strong organ.
This has the unique viewpoint of reversing the roles. If traditional Chinese medicine is to be followed, it shows that the gallbladder being out of kilter can actually cause stress!
When it comes to stress creating gallstone flare up, there have been some advances within the research world. One study has proved the effect of social stresses in cichlid fish, and the effect on bile retention. When placed in an environment for prolonged periods with a dominant member of the species, other cichlid fish showed a number of stress responses, one of them being “stress-induced gastrointestinal dysfunction”.
How Does this Apply to Humans and our Stresses?
The responses of the cichlid fish and the way that we experience social stress are actually not so different. When stressed, we switch into fight or flight mode. This hangover from our pre-historic days is a natural response to the increases in cortisol that prepares us to either defend ourselves, or run from perceived danger. Today, we are not stalked by saber-toothed tigers and the like, but those myriad stresses in a day can sure make you feel like it.
During stressful situations, the influx of cortisol shuts down ‘non-essential’ bodily functions so all available energy is spent on fighting or fleeing. The digestive system is out of action until the stress response lowers.
Sustained periods of stress, then, can cause negative ramifications on the health of our liver, gallbladder, and the bile within.
Reaching For Comfort
Added to this, when stressed, our ability to make good decisions is put under strain. So often we turn to comfort foods or alcohol to allay our negative emotions, and these too can cause digestive issues. A double whammy.
We must remember: The liver is responsible for filtering and detoxifying our digestive system. It both removes the bad and redirects the good things we put into our bodies. This is also true for the stresses we experience.
We might well take our dietary health into consideration, but so often we don’t factor in how stress can affect us internally. We must be mindful to gauge these effects, including work/life balance, eating healthily and drinking enough water, and getting enough sleep sleep.
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We can be very good at spotting symptoms of illness. Yet so often we do not see the links between these symptoms and the symptoms of stress. Which could well be the cause for a lot of our issues, including gallstone flare-ups.
Symptoms of Stress
Symptoms of stress can indeed be emotional. Feeling irritable and short tempered, clashing with people around you. We’ve all been there. But there are definite bodily signs that sometimes go unchecked.
Heat rising in the body, feeling flushed and an increased heart rate are often signs that accompany the emotional responses to stress. But prolonged stress can also effect inside. As muscles tense, the internal organs can follow suit, leading to some intense aches and pains. It could even lead to upset stomach, nausea, constipation or even diarrhoea.
As these symptoms are also linked with the onset of gallbladder issues. Chronic stress has also been linked to cardiovascular disease as well as gastrointestinal problems among others. Understanding this, it becomes harder to deny the link between external factors and our internal health.
The more we tune into bodily signals—both internal and external—the better chance we have of healing and preventing problems such as gallstones.
Combating Stress, and the Cause of Gallstone Flare ups
Whilst stress is uncomfortable, it can sometimes be a useful. Generally our responses to stress that can really cause us issues. There are actually ways we can make stress our friend.
There are a number of ways to minimise stress, without having to completely change your life. Accepting and letting go of the things you cannot control helps to alleviate worry. Being gentle with yourself is another way to alleviate stress. Being too self-critical can cause spikes in stress throughout the day. Speak nicely to yourself, and congratulate yourself on tasks achieved.
Avoiding processed foods and alcohol is also a key factor in combating negative emotions. Whilst it may be tempting to reach for the comforts in times of stress, they do more damage in the end. Gradually switching your comfort foods and drinks for healthy alternatives is great. In doing this, you will also allow your body to slowly acclimatise to the changes in your diet.
We have covered the risks of obesity, as well as extremely low calorie diets, but it is worth repeating. Both too much and too little daily intake of calories can cause gallstones, and the stress these can put on the body is immense. Aim to eat a balanced diet, plenty of water, daily exercise and rest. These are the keys to living a healthy, stress-free life.
There are also some great remedies using honey that can be used to fight against gallstones. Click the link below to find out more.
Is Honey Good For Gallstones? The Surprising Truth
Finally, treating yourself to a spa day is also a great way to relieve stress and tension. Even in your own home! A warm bath or shower followed by a face-mask and cucumber over the eyes can soothe away all the tension. Who needs alcohol!
Goodbye to Stress, Goodbye to the Cause of Gallstone Flare up!
We cannot escape stress forever, but we can change the way that we react to it. We can also follow simple healthy steps that will make us feel better overall, and perhaps even prevent chronic illnesses from occurring.
As we get older, we need to take better care of our bodies, and aim to reduce stress where possible.
Yes, stress can cause gallstones to flare up. But making small changes in our lives to correct the onset of gallbladder issues will both treat the symptom and the cause. It is amazing when you see how beneficial a healthier diet can be. Both for your lifestyle and your inner eco-system!