The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) may have a protective effect on the gallbladder. A French study found women who most closely followed the eating plan had an 11-percent lower likelihood of undergoing the surgical removal of the gallbladder, an operation called a cholecystectomy.

“We found that higher intakes of legumes, fruit, vegetable oil, and (whole grain) bread were associated with decreased cholecystectomy risk, and a higher intake of ham was associated with higher risk of cholecystectomy,” wrote the authors in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.
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Approximately 700,000 cholecystectomies are performed in the U.S. each year, a statistic that shows it’s a very common surgery. The intervention is needed when a blockage from gallstones develops in the bile duct, which results in intense pain.

In the study led by Amelie Barre at the University of Paris Sud in Orsay, researchers examined data on 64,000 women born between 1925 and 1950. Every two years, the participants provided information on their lifestyle, health status and medical history.

During the course of 18 years, 2,778 of the women had gall bladder surgeries. Those whose diet included more whole grain breads, fruit, vegetable oil and legumes had a 13- to 27-percent lower risk of having a cholecystectomy than those whose diet included the least of these foods.

When researchers assigned MedDiet scores to the participants’ eating habits, the women with the highest scores had an 11-percent lower likelihood of having the surgery compared to the women with the lowest scores.

“I am never surprised when I see a study outcome like this one that shows an advantage of the MedDiet,” naturopathic doctor Holly Lucille of West Hollywood, California told Olive Oil Times. “The benefits are most likely due to the fact that it is low in sugars and refined foods, moderate in protein and fruits and high in fresh vegetables and healthy fats.”

A western diet — comprised of high amounts of processed meat, rice, pizza, pasta, potatoes, cake, canned fish and alcohol — wasn’t associated with an increased or decreased risk of cholecystectomies. The one food that was an exception was ham, which was linked to a higher risk.

Because the study was observational, it doesn’t prove that following the MedDiet can decrease the likelihood of gall bladder surgery or that ham can raise the risk. Moreover, since dietary information was reported only once during the study’s period, it may not accurately reflect the women’s diets that may have changed over time. Nonetheless, as the eating plan is linked to an array of health benefits, it’s not unreasonable to include gall bladder protection as one of them.

“Research links the eating plan to either prevention or reversal of conditions such as metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and cancer,” added Lucille. “Studies also associate it with a reduced risk for rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease and even adult acne and psoriasis.

“My thoughts on the MedDiet are that sometimes it’s not just about what the diet includes but also what it excludes. What you don’t eat is as important as what you do. The body responds amazingly when inflammatory foods like sugar, trans-fats and processed items are removed.”

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