Stress that’s allowed to go unchecked can affect your health. In fact, many will agree that they get sick easier when they’re stressed than when they’re not. But really, can stress cause gallstones? Isn’t that a bit of a stretch or is there some truth to that claim?
In this article, we will objectively discuss this question. Before anything else, here are some basic things about gallstones and the gallbladder. It helps to understand how they work before we link them to stress.
The Gallbladder and What it Does for You?
Unlike the other organs in your body, the gallbladder doesn’t get as much attention from you. In fact, my guess is that you’ve never bothered about it before.
The gallbladder is a sac located underneath the liver. It acts as a tank for bile, which the liver produces throughout the day.
Bile is vital in the digestion and absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins. It also helps eliminate bilirubin and other waste products.
It’s fair to say that the gallbladder acts as a “storage facility” to make bile available in large amount and in more concentrated form. Without it, there may not be enough bile present in the intestines during mealtimes.
Gallstones and Why They are a Menace?
Gallstones are formed from cholesterol and other bile components that clump together. They can range in size from as small as a particle of sand to as large as 5 centimeters in diameter. Most cases of gallstones are composed mainly of undissolved cholesterol, and are called cholesterol gallstones.
Gallstones that are dark brown or black in color are made of bilirubin and other waste products. They are normally found in patients with liver conditions, such as liver cirrhosis and biliary tract infections.
The mere presence of gallstones doesn’t always spell trouble. Some gallstones don’t cause symptoms for many years.
They become a problem only when they obstruct the passage of bile or when they cause infection in the gallbladder or the bile duct.
Pain often signals either of these conditions and removal of the gallbladder is almost always the solution.
Causes of Gallstones
At this point we know that gallstones form from bile components like cholesterol and bilirubin. But what causes them to form?
- When the gallbladder contains more cholesterol than the bile acids can dissolve, the excess will form crystals which later solidify to become gallstones.
- It is much the same thing with bilirubin and other waste products. When there’s more of them than the bile can carry and dispose of, they accumulate and stick together to form stones.
- The problem also occurs when the gallbladder does not empty efficiently. If bile is retained in the gallbladder for a long time, it thickens and darkens in color, and may eventually become gallstones.
Can Stress Cause Gallstones?
From the causes stated above, it’s clear that stress does not directly cause gallstone formation. If not, can stress cause gallstones indirectly then?
Stress has a way of changing how a healthy body behaves. That’s how it lowers your natural defenses and contributes to most illnesses.
When you’re stressed, your energy is diverted from its normal functions. For instance, your body uses up energy getting stressed and preparing for a perceived threat or problem. While you’re at it, you deprive your body the energy it needs to do vital functions like emptying the gallbladder. Retained bile, as mentioned earlier, is one of the causes of gallstones.
So you see, stress does not cause gallstones to form but it contributes to the cause of the problem.
Here’s another. If you’re like most people under stress, it’s highly likely that you shy away from food when you’re stressed. When you eat less, the gallbladder will not be stimulated to empty its bile content to the intestines. If this happens often, bile retention would become the norm and gallstone formation would be inevitable.
What You Can Do?
Don’t let stress take over you. If possible, avoid stressful situations or stressful people. Find ways to manage stress – exercise, rest, dance, find a sympathetic shoulder, or whatever works for you.
And whatever you do, don’t skip meals.
While we can’t put all the blame on stress, it’s not that innocent. Not only can stress cause gallstones in some indirect way, chronic stress can also weaken the immune system. However, stress is a fact of life. And if it’s any consolation, remember that some stress can do you good. It’s how you react and handle stress that affects you.