Gall Bags, Spring, and Other Mysteries

Has Spring come to your part of the world? Because it is slow to arrive in Maine. Most of our world here is still a monotonous palate of gray, brown, pine green, white, dirty white and cold blue. April has promise, because today the sun felt warm even with the cool wind. And little shoots of yellow-green things are growing in the dirt!

Naturopathic Medicine heralds spring as the season of the liver – like trees stagnant over the winter our saps start to flow too. And our sap in this case in not blood, but bile. The ancient Greeks separated bilious humors into yellow, and black. Yellow bile is what we now call bile, stored in the gall bladder and useful in digestion. Black bile is a far more mysterious, melancholic and deadly humour, and one that I will have to investigate further when I am not studying for surgery exams.

So far this clerkship has been “general surgery” which has been primarily cholecystectomys and hernia repairs. The standard of care is to electively – or emergently – remove every gall bladder that presents with symptoms and evidence of stones or sludge. This makes sense because once one stone has caused problems, its pretty likely another will eventually. Complications can be pretty intense – gallstone pancreatitis with or without ileus is nasty, as is choledocolithiasis and ascending cholangitis. I am on board with this plan.

The best plan of action to avoid having gall bladder surgery is prevention. Inspired, committed lifestyle and nutritional prevention years before the problem starts. Not many people are willing, or have access to the knowledge to practice the kind of prevention that is required to avoidgallstones. By this I mean, too many people are never educated about the impact of food choices on health,  or just dont care enough to make the choices to eat an every day diet with good quality oils, moderate animal proteins and high fiber, high antioxidant, high phytonutrient grains and fruits/vegetables. (This is a whole other conversation about class, nutrition, education, access and economics.) Individuals also need to have the spark of interest to learn about plants as medicine and botanical therapies for liver health, as well as the initiative to either track down someone to act as a herbalist or dabble in self care. Because, once gallstones are formed there are some treatment options but…. not many. And IMHO, not many that are truly effective.

For those out there looking for guidance, herbal medicine combined with nutrition is the best way to maintain long term liver and gall bladder health. According to a PubMed Physiology text, bile is formulated in liver cells and modified by cholangiocytes as it travels through the bile canalicula. It is essentially a watery mix of cholesterol, bilirubin, phospholipids (fats), bile salts (broken down cholesterol bound to amino acids), proteins, bicarbonate, salts, and enzymes like alkaline phosphatase. Bile is classified as a mechanism to eliminate waste from the body, and I suspect it carries dubious products from the CYP enzymes that are not fully metabolized by an overburdened liver as well.


With this in mind, increasing bile flow with bitter alkaloids and other phytochemicals inherent in plant medicine are a logical way to improve gall bladder health. There is one botanical I know that have specific use for stones in the body called peumos baldo, but most of the hepatophillic herbs simply increase bile flow thereby decreasing stagnation and thus stone formation. One well-known liver loving botanicals is milk thistle (silybum marianum), which is insanely hepatoprotective and has multiple studies on it for chemical insults. This will not likely help with bile health directly, but it does protect hepatocytes from repeat insults from drugs metabolized by the CYP enzyme system such as antidepressants, anti-epilepsy drugs, birth control, alcohol, narcotics, and some antibiotics.

Dandilion (Taraxacum officionalis) and artichoke (Cynara scolymus) are often paired for their cholegogue effects. Its very common to see these three together in standardized formulations as they are probably the most well known players – and for good reason because they are safe for most healthy people and have a very long historical use for all sorts of “bilious” afflictions including gall stones. Of note, if you have lots of gall stones sitting in your gall bladder or have already had gall stone attacks,  taking high doses of cholegogues could precipitate an attack of acute cholecystitis. However, if you have already had your gall bladder removed they would be safe. There are many other plant medicines for bilious health employed by Naturopathic Doctors and herbalists world-wide, from many indigenous systems of medicine. Seeing an expert for individualized medicine is always the best choice for safe, effective and appropriate treatment as the liver, like all organs in the body rarely acts in isolation. Thus, the best medicine takes your whole health into account.

Finally, we think of natures medicine as extracted herbal “drugs”, but plain old water is so therapeutic for liver health. If bile is an aqueous solution, then chronic dehydration from caffeine/alcohol soda/sodium must lead to a concentrated and hypersoluble solution, right?

Vegetables are also medicinal plants. Spicy and bitter greens have the same cholegogue activity as dandilion and artichoke and are very safe to consume. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts have documented chemical constituents that improve estrogen metabolism, thereby improving bile flow. The fiber binds excess cholesterol and maintains bowel health, and they have documented anti-cancer properties. Eat your broccoli!  Beets and carrots are rich in carotenoids which give their vibrant colors. These have traditionally been used as healing foods for the liver and although I do not know the exact reason why, can they hurt? Only if you hate beets, I suppose.

I have to stop writing this post, because I have to be up at the crack of dawn for another laproscopic cholecystectomy tomorrow. Its a surgery that definitely needs to be done – the woman has had some significant blockage from a stone that miraculously moved on its own but caused an elevated bilirubin as well as weeks of abdomninal pain and distress. It would be unsafe for her to just wait around for that to happen again, because where there is one stone, there are probably two. And where there is a chronically dehydrated American taking multiple pharmaceuticals and eating the SAD, there will always be another gall bag to take out.

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DETOX 2015: Start the New Year With A Clean Metabolic Slate

tabula rasa – the latin term for “erased slate” referring to the emptiness of a slate sheet that was previously written on by chalk.

 To start the New Year with a fresh clean slate we need to erase the old clutter from our internal metabolic “chalk board”, which means DETOXIFICATION.

Why detoxify? Intermediate metabolites build up like desk clutter from all of the work that our liver has to do to break down hormones, pesticides, pollution, cholesterol, medications, bacteria, viruses, alcohol, caffeine, and everything else that we inhale or ingest. Symptoms of this “clutter” include allergies, skin disorders, constipation or diarrhea, heartburn, irritability, fuzzy thinking, headaches, low energy, fatigue and many more low grade but uncomfortable signs of poor health.

I do not believe in crazy diets, water  fasting, purges, enemas, or other “heroic” efforts. An effective detoxification process can be simple, inexpensive, easy to accomplish and leave you feeling fresh, renewed and in many cases with less weight! The focus is on fresh, whole foods, clean water, daily smoothies and supplements to improve liver detoxification.

I will be offering an all-inclusive program for one week in January – The tentative dates are January 10-17, 2015. One week is enough time to begin the detoxification process in the liver, but not so much time as to interrupt our busy lives. This program will be a group event, with individual introductory sessions to troubleshoot potential obstacles during the detoxification process.  This program will consist of:

  • A 30 minute detox interview and consultation to assess your personal needs. (The interview can be bypassed for Dr. Wright’s current patients.)
  • A 60 minute group meeting to introduce the program, review the basics of detoxification, and get you ready to start!
  • One week of detoxification with daily email support and a Facebook group for recipe sharing, troubleshooting and cheerleading.
  • A 30 minute group program review at the end to assess the effects, with suggestions on supplements and lifestyle options to maintain the beneficial effects of the detox.

Some people may choose to repeat the detox cycle for 1-3 more weeks in order to really delve into metabolic restoration; however this is an independent option.

Call Age Management Center today at 207-774-1356 IMG_1420or email Dr. Wright at thewrightnd@gmail.com and find out how our New Years Metabolic Detox program can help improve focus, increase energy, decrease allergies and enhance metabolic balance.

Cost: $250 inclusive, prepaid new patients or those needing individualized 30 minute support session.

Cost breakdown: 30 minute consultation: $75, Core Restore Detox Kit $100, 60 minute initial group consultation $50, 30 minute review session $25. Administration, daily emails during the detox program, Facebook group monitoring and detox troubleshooting included.

Current patient & friend/family rate: $175. (Does not include the 30 minute individual consultation.)

Some patients may choose additional Integrative Medicine consultations for more personalized care; individuals who choose to become patients of Dr. Wright’s during or after the program will have $75 taken off her initial consultation fee.

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Foods to Enhance Detoxifcation

tortellini-soup6+srgb.What you eat and how well you take care of yourself will affect how well your liver works. Therefore it’s important that you choose foods that will help maintain and support your liver. Good nutrition can also help to rebuild some damaged liver cells and help the liver form new cells.

The liver has two detoxification pathways called Phase One and Phase Two. To work, each of these phases requires specific vitamins and minerals. These in turn need other nutrients called phytochemicals and amino acids to help them. The liver has a big job to do and as you will see, it requires a team effort.

Phase One changes a toxic chemical to one that is less harmful, and free radicals are formed. Free radicals are unstable particles that react within the body and damage cells. If too many free radicals are made, they can hurt liver cells. In order to get rid of or reduce free radicals, our bodies need foods high in antioxidants and phytochemicals. Antioxidants are beta carotene, vitamins C and E, and selenium; phytochemicals are found in fruits, vegetables and whole grains. One of the most important antioxidants is an amino acid called glutathione that cannot be taken as an oral supplement. Glutathione is made by the body and is also found in some foods. B vitamins including folate are also very important in the Phase One process.

In Phase Two the liver adds a substance to the now less harmful chemical to make it water soluble. It can then be moved out of the body in urine or feces. During Phase Two, sources of sulphur compounds are needed. Some of the foods with a lot of sulphur compounds are (you know the kind, they smell when you cook them) cabbage, brussel sprouts, and broccoli.

Following is a list of foods that have the nutrients needed to help Phase One and Phase Two work as well as they can.

Foods to Help Phase One Detoxification (choose 2 per meal)

Beets contain antioxidants such as beta-carotene, other carotenoids and healing flavonoids. They also contain folic acid which is necessary for Phase One detoxification. Enjoy these as fresh vegetable juice, grated raw on salads, boiled or roasted.

Broccoli contains B vitamins and vitamin C both of which help Phase One detoxification; it also is a source of folic acid. Use raw as a snack with dips, lightly steamed or stir fried.

Brown Rice provides B vitamins and the antioxidant selenium.

Carrots contain beta-carotene and other carotenoids that help to protect the liver. Enjoy as freshly juiced (with beets!) grated raw on salads, steamed, roasted, or in soups and stews.

Eggs supply B vitamins.

Garlic has selenium and glutathione, both of which act as antioxidants.

Spinach provides folate and other B vitamins.

Tomatoes have vitamins C and E which are both needed for Phase One detoxification. They are also a good source of the antioxidant lycopene.

Wheatgerm contains selenium and vitamin E and is an excellent source of phytochemicals.

Melons and peppers are good sources of vitamin C.

Tomatillos, papaya, plantains, carambola and guava are good sources of the antioxidants beta-carotene and vitamin C.

 

Foods to Help Phase Two Detoxification (choose 2 per meal)

Broccoli contains natural sulfur compounds needed to enhance Phase Two detoxification.

Cabbage like broccoli, contains natural sulfur compounds.

Eggs contain methionine, a sulfur-containing compound needed for detoxification.

Brazil Nuts contain selenium, an antioxidant needed for detoxification.

Garlic has high levels of methionine which is needed for detoxification; also contains glutathione, a powerful antioxidant.

Onions have sulfur compounds which are important in both detoxification pathways; also a source of glutathione.

Asparagus and Watermelon are rich, natural sources of glutathione.

Papaya and Avocado help the body to produce glutathione.

Mushrooms are high in glutamic acid which is needed to produce glutathione and aids in detoxification pathways.

 

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