Does Lemon Juice or Olive Oil Help With Gallstones?

Lemon juice is thought to help break down gallstones, but there's no evidence to support the claim.
Image Credit: brankokosteski/iStock/GettyImages

If you're searching for how to dissolve gallstones naturally, you may have come across lemon juice as a suggested remedy.

While you may see a fair amount backing this treatment, the medical community does not recognize lemon juice as a viable treatment for passing or dissolving gallstones, and instead recommends alternative treatments if gallstone symptoms are severe.

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Here we discuss the basics of gallstones and claims around the most effective ways to dissolve gallstones naturally.

What Are Gallstones?

Gallstones are hardened deposits of digestive fluid that can form in the gallbladder, according to the Mayo Clinic. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, but all are considered abnormal and eventually compromise the function of your gallbladder.

Types of Gallstones

There are two different types of gallstones, according to the Mayo Clinic: cholesterol gallstones and pigment gallstones.

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Cholesterol gallstones are the most common. They are made up of undissolved cholesterol and, sometimes, other components. Cholesterol gallstones tend to be yellow in color.

Pigment gallstones, on the other hand, contain bilirubin, a chemical that is produced when the body breaks down red blood cells. These tend to be dark brown or black in color.

Why Some People Get Gallstones

While it's not exactly known why gallstones form, doctors have a few hypotheses.

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One reason gallstones form may be due to too much cholesterol in the bile. Bile is supposed to contain enough chemicals to dissolve the cholesterol excreted by your liver, but if your liver excretes more cholesterol than your bile can dissolve, the excess cholesterol may form into crystals and eventually into stones.

It's also possible that bile contains excess bilirubin, a chemical that is produced when the body breaks down red blood cells. Certain conditions, including liver cirrhosis, biliary tract infections and certain blood disorders may cause the liver to produce too much bilirubin, which contributes to the formation of gallstones.

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Finally, gallstones may form if the liver doesn't empty often enough or completely. When this happens, the bile can become very concentrated and contribute to the formation of gallstones.

Symptoms of Gallstones

Many people will have gallstones without symptoms. If gallstone lodges in a duct and causes a blockage, however, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen
  • Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the center of your abdomen, just below your breastbone
  • Back pain between your shoulder blades
  • Pain in your right shoulder
  • Nausea or vomiting

The Mayo Clinic advises seeking out immediate medical attention if any of the above symptoms are concerning you, or if you experience any of the following:

  • Abdominal pain so intense that you can't sit still or find a comfortable position
  • Yellowing of your skin and the whites of your eyes
  • High fever with chills

Natural Remedies and Cleanses to Pass Gallstones

There are many different tricks and tips for dissolving gallstones naturally and passing gallstones with home remedies, though not all are verified by scientific evidence.

Gallbladder cleanses, sometimes referred to as gallbladder detox or gallbladder flushes, are promoted for a wide variety of claims.

Some claims are based on the idea that your gallbladder or other organs are filled with unnamed toxins that must be flushed out. Other gallbladder-cleanse proponents claim the regimen will remove gallstones without surgery, and also tend to claim that gallstones are responsible for a wide range of symptoms and diseases.

Although drinking a large quantity of olive oil and lemon juice is not inherently dangerous, there are risks you should consider before choosing to conduct a gallbladder cleanse.

Lemon Juice for Dissolving Gallstones

Lemon juice and lemon water are commonly cited as ingredients that dissolve gallstones.

So-called gallbladder cleanses, flushes and remedies involving lemon juice advise drinking some kind of juice combination to breakdown gallstones.

There is no scientific research to suggest lemon juice can dissolve gallstones or that lemon water is good for gallstones, per the Mayo Clinic. In fact, there are risks associated with this kind of treatment (more on this below).

Olive Oil for Gallstones

Another seemingly popular gallbladder cleanse is once that involves olive oil and lemon juice for a gallbladder flush recipe.

Proponents of these types of recipes claim that gallbladder cleansing helps break up gallstones and stimulates the gallbladder to release them in stool, per the Mayo Clinic.

While olive oil can act as a laxative, it is not an effective treatment for gallstones. People who do partake in these kinds of cleanses may see what they assume are gallstones in the toilet within 24 hours or so. These are not gallstones, but actually just globs of oil, juice and other materials, per the Mayo Clinic.

Olive oil and honey for kidney stones and olive oil and lemon juice are also sometimes floated around as medical remedies, but there's not evidence to support the effectiveness of these remedies (also, it's important to note that gallstones and kidney stones are not one in the same, as outlined by the Cleveland Clinic).

Warning

Talk with your doctor before attempting any home treatment for gallstones. While the olive oil-lemon juice mixture is a "natural" remedy, it has not been medically approved as a treatment and may lead to side effects.

Risks of Gallstone Cleanses

Olive oil and lemon juice gallbladder cleanse recipes appear to offer more risk than they do a solution for treating gallstones.

Some people may experience the following when attempting this type of cleanse, per the Mayo Clinic:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain

Medically Approved Treatments for Gallstones

As much as you may wish to remove your gallstones naturally within 24 hours, the truth is that this probably isn't necessary, nor is it advised.

Most people with gallstones that don't cause symptoms will never need treatment of any kind, per the Mayo Clinic.

Your doctor may recommend you be extra mindful of possible symptoms, like an intensifying pain in your right abdomen.

Medically-sound treatment options for gallstones include:

  • Medications to dissolve gallstones: These aren't commonly prescribed and tend to be reserved for those who can't undergo surgery. This kind of treatment can take a long time.
  • Cholecystectomy: This is a surgery in which the gallbladder is removed. If gallstones are frequent, your doctor may recommend this treatment. Fortunately, you don't need your gallbladder to live, and living without one won't affect your ability to digest food.
  • Laparoscopic cholecystectomy: This is a minimally invasive technique to remove the gallbladder, per the Cleveland Clinic. Approximately 90 percent of surgical cases can be done this way, which results in less post-operative pain and a faster recovery than a conventional cholecystectomy.

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