Unless you've had problems with it, you probably don't think about your gallbladder much. However, this tiny organ is incredibly important for a healthy digestion and can cause painful symptoms when it's not functioning properly.
While severe problems need medical attention, there are many ways to naturally support gallbladder function, particularly with herbs. You can also make some lifestyle changes to help your gallbladder out even more.
Here's more about what your gallbladder does and the top herbs and remedies for gallbladder support.
What is Your Gallbladder?
Your gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ that is tucked behind your liver. Its main function is to hold a supply of bile, which is a liquid produced by your liver, and release it as needed to your small intestine to help break down food.
This may not sound like a big deal, but bile is extremely important for digestion. It particularly helps to break down fats and to make fat-soluble vitamins available to your body.
There are several things that can go wrong with your gallbladder.
One of the most common is the development of gallstones, which form when bile contains too much cholesterol. Gallstones can block the bile duct, leading to a buildup of bile and what's called a 'gallbladder attack' that involves severe pain.
Your gallbladder can also become inflamed (possibly from an infection) and cause symptoms like nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.
Severe problems can lead to gallbladder removal, but if you aren't at that point, there are many natural ways to support gallbladder health.
Many of the best herbs for gallbladder support are also liver-supportive. This is because the two are so closely connected, and the health of one influences how healthy the other one is.
Top Herbs for Gallbladder Support
Milk thistle falls into the category of a liver-supportive herb that can also boost gallbladder function. It does so mainly because it helps to cleanse the liver of toxins and stimulates bile production. It even has an anti-inflammatory effect on the liver that also carries over to your gallbladder. (1)
Because it is a bitter herb, milk thistle also stimulates digestive enzymes that further help your body to break down food.
In addition, the main active compound in milk thistle, silymarin, has powerful antioxidant activity that supports detox in your whole body and particularly in your gallbladder and liver. (2)
At this point, you've probably already heard of turmeric- the bright orange spice with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. What you may not know is that it strongly supports liver health by stimulating bile production and is therefore highly beneficial for your gallbladder.
Studies have also shown that curcumin, the main active compound in turmeric, may help the gallbladder to contract, which can reduce inflammation and help it to empty properly. (3)
Like milk thistle, dandelion root is a bitter herb that has been used for centuries to improve liver function and stimulate digestion. It helps your liver to cleanse itself of toxins and has a "decongesting" effect.
By stimulating and supporting the liver, dandelion root can help promote the flow of bile from your liver to your gallbladder. Both the root and the leaves are also full of nutrients (particularly iron) and antioxidants, which help to nourish your body even as they cleanse it.
Barberry can refer to a number of related shrubs that are known botanically as Berberis. The bark, roots, and berries of these shrubs contain a substance known as berberine that has anti-inflammatory power and may support gallbladder health.
Berberine and other plant compounds in barberry give this herb a bitter quality that stimulates bile secretion and can help to detox both the liver and gallbladder. In fact, barberry has a long history of use for both gallbladder pain and gallstones as well as liver disease. (4)
One way to use this herb is to make a bitter tea with dried barberry roots. If that's too bitter for you, you can try taking an extract instead.
Globe artichokes (also called 'true artichokes' to distinguish them from Jerusalem artichokes) contain compounds that have been shown to stimulate bile production and boost both liver and gallbladder function. The leaves, specifically, contain a compound known as cynarine, which is thought to be responsible for promoting healthy bile production. (5)
To get these benefits, you can include artichokes as a regular part of your diet, or use them in supplement form as an extract. However, one thing to keep in mind is that artichoke is a long-term remedy, so use it consistently for a few months to get the full effect.
Along with supporting liver function, another way to help your gallbladder out is to increase your fiber intake. Of course, you'll want to do that by eating more whole fruits, vegetables, etc., but psyllium is an herb that can help you easily get some extra fiber.
Psyllium refers to the seeds that come from a specific type of plantain plant. The outer husks are almost all fiber (and a good constipation remedy), while the inner part of the seed is high in mucilage that is soothing for digestion and helps to keep things moving.
Some older studies have shown that the specific type of fiber is psyllium may also help to prevent gallstone formation. (6)
Other Natural Ways to Support Your Gallbladder
Castor Oil Packs or Hot Compresses
If you are experiencing pain from gallbladder attacks, two ways to help manage this naturally are with a castor oil pack or a hot compress (or both).
Castor oil has many uses in traditional medicine for skin, hair, reducing inflammation, lymphatic function, and supporting tissue and organ repair. To try it for gallbladder pain, soak an old cloth in the oil and lay it over your abdomen. (Be careful because the oil can stain.)
You can cover the castor pack with a clean rag (optional) to help keep the oil from dripping, then cover it with plastic wrap to seal everything in and keep it in place. Leave it on for at least 30-45 minutes (an hour is even better).
For added effectiveness, place a hot water bottle or heating pad over the castor oil pack.
If you don't have castor oil, simply using a hot compress made of a towel soaked in warm water, a heating pad, or a hot water bottle can also be effective.
There are a variety of foods that support a healthy gallbladder, but beets may be at the top of the list.
These deep red root vegetables contain betaine, which is a substance that supports liver function and helps to thin bile and keep it moving. This, in turn, supports gallbladder function and may help to prevent something called gallbladder insufficiency. (7)
Your body naturally produces some betaine, but beets are one of the best food sources of this substance to boost your intake.
Many people think of the digestive system as only including the stomach and intestines, but your liver, gallbladder, and pancreas are also a part of your digestive tract.
For this reason, supplementing with digestive enzymes may help to support the function of your gallbladder (and liver).
Lipase is specific enzyme that has been shown to help maintain gallbladder function in studies and also helps with the digestion of fats. You can look for a digestive enzyme formula that contains lipase (like these Digestive Enzyme capsules from Ancient Nutrition) to get a "full spectrum" effect for your whole digestion.
Healthy Diet + Exercise
Eating healthy food and getting a good amount of exercise is good for your whole body and particularly for gallbladder health.
Generally speaking, a gallbladder diet is high on fiber (especially from fruits, vegetables, beans, seeds, and nuts), lean protein, and a limited amount of healthy fats like coconut oil or olive oil. High fat foods and heavy meals should be minimized because these put extra strain on your gallbladder and may worsen existing symptoms.
Exercise is thought to benefit gallbladder health because it can help to lower cholesterol (something that contributes to gallstones) and helps you maintain a healthy weight. (8)
If you already have abdominal pain from gallbladder problems, some types of exercise may not be suitable for you, but less strenuous activities (like walking or swimming) will still be helpful.
Herbs can be extremely helpful for gallbladder support, but they are best used under the guidance of a professional herbalist or naturopath. Some are contraindicated during pregnancy and/or breastfeeding and may have other interactions, so be sure to do your research before using them.
If you are having severe symptoms related to your gallbladder, always be sure to see a qualified medical professional for help, and ask them about adding herbs and other natural therapies to your treatment plan.
Supporting Your Gallbladder Naturally
Herbs and other natural remedies and lifestyle changes can provide a lot of support for your gallbladder, liver, and the rest of your digestive system.
Just remember, herbs are not the same thing as medication. They don't work instantly (like so many of us are used to!) and should be given time before you evaluate their effects.
Add them to a healthier lifestyle, and your gallbladder will thank you!
Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute medical advice and should not be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your health care provider, herbalist, midwife, or naturopathic physician before taking herbs, supplements, etc. Here's the link to our full disclaimer.