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Q:I have been diagnosed with gallstones. What foods can I eat to help them dissolve so I don’t have to have surgery?

A: I wish dietary changes could dissolve gallstones. Unfortunately, studies on diet and gallstones haven’t provided us with a clear picture of what foods might make a difference.

People who consume large quantities of simple sugars and dietary fats are more likely to have gallstones compared to people who eat what is considered a “heart healthy diet.” However, this is just an association. There is no proof that sugar and fat cause gallstones.

While the types of foods a person eats don’t reliably influence the formation of gallstones, the amount of calories you eat does matter. Overweight people, especially women, tend to develop more gallstones than people at healthy weights.

Body size is one part of the equation. The other just-as-important risk factor for gallstones is rapid change in body weight. Gallstones often form when someone gains or loses a significant amount of weight over a relatively short period of time.

Even though you can’t dissolve the stones you have, managing how you put on pounds and how you take them off matters. If you need to lose weight, do it slowly. Don’t go on a crash diet. And definitely don’t allow yourself to gain weight rapidly.

The one kind of diet I recommend when people have symptoms related to gallstones is a low fat diet, and I mean really low fat. A low fat diet decreases contractions of the gallbladder. This may prevent stones from moving out of the gallbladder into the bile duct where they may get stuck. So, a low fat diet may decrease the risk of future attacks of pain related to the gall stones, known as biliary colic.

A low fat diet won’t dissolve the stones, but by preventing biliary colic, the diet may allow a person to put off surgery to remove the gallbladder, at least for a while.

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