Although it's not entirely clear what causes gallbladder problems, eating an unhealthy diet full of saturated fat and refined flour seems to raise your risk of gallstones and gallbladder inflammation. Fish oil, on the other hand, seems to protect against gallbladder problems, not cause them. Therefore, if you've been diagnosed with gallbladder disease or you're at risk for the condition, you may want to consider adding fish to your diet.
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Your gallbladder, a small organ located in the vicinity of your liver in your upper right abdomen, stores the bile your stomach uses to digest the food you eat. In some people, this bile crystallizes, forming gallstones that are made up of cholesterol and mineral deposits. If one of these gallstones blocks your bile ducts, you'll experience sudden pain and potentially nausea. Large quantities of gallstones in your gallbladder also can cause inflammation and chronic pain.
Different components of your diet may promote gallstone formation or protect you against gallstone formation. In the case of fish oil, it appears to protect you. Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are considered "healthy" fats, and there seems to be a lower risk of gallstones in people who eat large quantities of fish. Fish oil, which encourages the gallbladder to empty itself completely, may prove especially helpful if you have high triglyceride levels, which have been associated with gallstone development, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
In a Dutch study, published in the "International Journal of Clinical Chemistry" in November 2010, researchers looked at gallbladder function in people at risk for gallbladder disease due to their obesity and high insulin levels. The study found that people who took fish oil -- either as a supplement or by eating fish -- experienced better gallbladder function than those who did not, lowering their risk for gallbladder problems.
It's not clear whether you need to consume fish to obtain the gallbladder-protective benefits of fish oil, or whether you can pop a fish oil supplement and still get the same benefits. However, you may want to add fish to your diet for another reason: There's growing evidence that fish oil supplements don't provide the same heart-protective benefits as fish itself. According to Harvard Medical School, you'll only get strong heart-health benefits from fish if you eat it.
- MedlinePlus: Gallbladder Diseases
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Gallstones and Gallbladder Disease - Risk Factors; June 26, 2009
- "International Journal of Clinical Chemistry"; Triglycerides and Gallstone Formation; A. Smelt; November 2010
- Harvard Medical School; Fish Oil Questioned as Treatment for Heart Disease; March 2011