Gallstones are a painful, unwelcome discovery that can often lead to surgery. While it’s understandable that you’d want to avoid losing your whole gallbladder if possible, you also want to ensure that whatever track you take is proven to work. Therapies claiming to actually remove gallstones through magnesium or apple ingestion have not been proven, and they may be based on research taken out of context.
Gallstones are hardened deposits of cholesterol and bilirubin that form in the gallbladder and that can possibly block a bile duct. When this happens, you can experience abdominal pain. Sometimes the pain is temporary because the stone has moved away from the duct or managed to pass through it, but if the stone is big enough, the pain will not necessarily go away. Not all gallstone attacks require surgery; you might be able to undergo drug therapy or lithotripsy, a shock wave therapy, instead. However, if those don’t work or if your doctor deems the situation too serious, you may have to have your gallbladder removed.
There is some basis to the idea that magnesium might affect gallstones, but it is still under investigation. A 2008 study published in the “American Journal of Gastroenterology,” for example, found that magnesium intake did seem to have a protective effect against gallstone formation, at least for men. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests magnesium supplements as part of the possible nutritional tactics for reducing pain from gallbladder disease, which includes gallstones, though it does not suggest using the supplements to remove the stones. However, some alternative health practitioners claim that you can dissolve and expel gallstones by ingesting magnesium sulfate, also known as Epsom salts, or magnesium citrate. Supposedly these substances enlarge the bile ducts in the gallbladder, according to these practitioners, but there’s no medical evidence to support that this actually happens. Note that both of these substances are laxatives, which should not be used if you are experiencing abdominal pain.
Apples and apple juice have also become a part of alternative-health-gallstone territory, and again, this may be based on preliminary research results that were expanded without anything to really back them up. Apples are high in pectin, the same substance used to thicken jam, and some research has looked into pectin’s effect on gallstone formation. The research tends to be a little older, though, up to the 1990s. For example, a 1998 study published in the “British Journal of Nutrition” looked at the effect of pectin on cholesterol gallstones in hamsters. The study found minimal effects on cholesterol levels and basically no effect on stone formation. Note again, though, that the research involves formation and not removal. Some unverified alternative processes claiming to remove gallstones require you to drink apple juice or eat apples.
Always investigate claims that something can miraculously dissolve, prevent or expel gallstones before trying the remedy. While drinking a glass of apple juice might not seem so dangerous, relying solely on the juice to clear up painful gallstones or ingesting laxatives could have unwanted consequences. Some purported gallstone cures have you eating Epsom salts and drinking magnesium citrate, both of which are laxatives and will have you expelling things whether or not you have gallstones.
- UMM.edu: Magnesium
- UMM.edu: Gallstones
- UMM.edu: Gallbladder Disease
- Drugs.com: Epsom Salt
- “American Journal of Gastroenterology”; Long-Term Effect of Magnesium Consumption on the Risk of Symptomatic Gallstone Disease Among Men; C.J. Tsai, et al.; February 2008
- “British Journal of Nutrition”; Effect of Different Varieties of Pectin and Guar Gum on Plasma, Hepatic and Biliary Lipids and Cholesterol Gallstone Formation in Hamsters Fed on High-Cholesterol Diets; E.A. Trautwein, et al.; May 1998