Intermittent fasting (IF) has gained popularity as a non-traditional way of losing weight and improving metabolic biomarkers. Many swear by its efficacy, but is IF safe for everyone? Will it work for people with gallbladder issues? Or can fasting cause gallstones to act up?
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting is a form of diet which works around a cycle of fasting and eating.
It emphasizes on WHEN you eat, and not so much on WHAT and HOW MUCH food you eat.
There are several methods of intermittent fasting, but the two most popular variations are:
- 16/8 – fasting period of 16 hours and eating period of 8 hours per day; take only water, tea, or coffee during the fasting period
- 5:2 – fasting period for 2 days per week; don’t consume more than 500-600 calories during the fasting period
This weight loss regimen is very simple to implement and has become the trend. Its followers claim that it has not only helped them lose weight, but has also made it easy for them to control other health indicators. Since you restrict your window of time for eating, you also restrict your calorie intake.
However, IF and other fasting diets can have negative effects to people with gallbladder issues, including those who have silent gallstones.
Is intermittent fasting good or bad for gallstones?
A study conducted on 4,730 women shows that fasting raises the incidence of hospitalization due to gallstones and gallbladder diseases. It also confirms that if you increase the length of your fasting period, you also increase the chance that gallstone problems will recur and require medical attention.
So could fasting cause gallstone attacks? Yes, there’s enough reason to believe so.
People who had been diagnosed with “silent” gallstones suddenly had attacks in quick succession after implementing the IF eating pattern. In this regimen, fasting is repeatedly done and sustained over long periods. This long no-food interval is quite extreme and unnecessarily strains the health of people with gallbladder issues. Needless to say, it compounds the risk of a gallstone attack.
How can intermittent fasting cause other gallbladder issues?
The liver produces bile, which is stored and concentrated in the gallbladder. Every time you eat, bile is released from the gallbladder and into the intestines to aid digestion. The liver continues to produce bile, which the gallbladder stores again for your next meal.
As you can see, it’s an efficient cycle.
However, when you do fasting, at least three things happen:
- The stored bile stays stagnant longer than normal. The cycle gets messed up, and the bile gets thicker the longer it stays in the gallbladder.
- Once the liver detects low cholesterol in your system because you haven’t been eating, it’s quick to compensate for this lack. It produces and releases more cholesterol into the bile.
- Fasting for long hours encourages binge eating. A huge meal stimulates the emptying of bile.
So what’s that got to do with gallstones?
- Gallstones are made up of thickened bile components. With the infrequent flow, it’s like giving bile the perfect conditions to harden into gallstones.
- 80% of gallstone cases are made up of un-dissolved cholesterol. Excess cholesterol in the bile will crystallize in no time and form gallstones.
- Existing silent gallstones can get dislodged as the gallbladder discharges a big flow of bile. Gallstones will go with the bile flow toward the ducts. If they’re too big, they can get stuck. That’s when the pain starts. Blocked ducts can also result to inflammation and other complications of gallstones.
As you can see, intermittent fasting can have detrimental effects to those who already have silent gallstones and those who are at risk of developing them.
If, for some reasons, you have to go on intermittent fasting, you may try lowering the hours of fasting to 10 or 12. This will at least allow the gallbladder to be more active than it were in the strict IF regimen.
A shorter fasting period will allow your bile to flow more often, but it’s still far from ideal. The risk is still there.
Majority of people with gallstones suffer no symptoms. It’s highly likely that they take well-planned meals and avoid gallstone-triggering food. They keep their body fit, exercising moderately and avoiding sudden weight loss or gain. They eat small but frequent meals to keep the bile moving regularly.
Intermittent fasting, on the hand, is anything but this. Instead, this regimen imposes extreme conditions which will not go well with your gallstones. It’s gaining popularity because it’s an easy and passive way to lose weight.
Intermittent fasting can be beneficial for many people, unfortunately, it’s not for everyone. Even its proponents acknowledge that it’s not recommended for pregnant women, very young children, seniors, and people with gallbladder issues.
It can even worsen your condition and lead to complications of gallstones.
Surely, you can find a better health program to manage your weight? Don’t be afraid to spend more time and effort in it. After all, it could mean not having to go through the ordeal of another gallstone attack, couldn’t it?