What Is the Gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small, pear-shaped organ located on the right side of your abdomen. The gallbladder’s primary function is to store digestive fluid (bile) until it needs to be released into the small intestine for digestion.
As we eat, the gallbladder contracts and squeezes to discharge the bile into our digestive tract, where it is mixed with partially digested food.
The gallbladder is part of a biliary system in the body that includes the liver, gallbladder, and associated bile ducts or the tubes that let bile travel between your liver, gallbladder, and small intestine. The gallbladder holds between one to 2.7 fluid ounces of bile at a time.
Most people tend to forget about the gallbladder until they experience pain or issues in that area. Some common symptoms of pain associated with a gallbladder problem include:
- Pain that comes on suddenly and intensifies quickly
- Centered pain in the upper right area of the abdomen that can sometimes be felt on the upper right part of the back
- Pain after a meal, usually in the evening
- Pain that lasts minutes to hours long
Other digestive problems, including nausea and vomiting, could be a symptom of a gallbladder issue.
What Are The Most Common Gallbladder Problems?
Gallbladder problems usually arise from a blockage in the bile ducts. One of the most common issues that arise is gallstones.
Gallstones are hard pieces of materials that form in the gallbladder. They vary in size but are made up of cholesterol or a bile salt known as bilirubin. Gallstones typically cause no pain and symptoms and are most often discovered by chance on imaging scans performed for other reasons.
Gallbladder attack occurs when gallstones get stuck while they travel through the bile ducts to the stomach, blocking the flow of bile. This sudden halt causes the gallbladder to spasm and radiate pain that feels like being cut by a knife. The pain is severe and is often mistaken for a heart attack as the pain typically comes from the right side of the abdomen underneath the ribcage or the center of the abdomen.
Gallbladder cancer is another serious problem that doesn’t cause any symptoms until its later stages. Though it is a rare cancer, it can occur but is not usually discovered until it has spread beyond the gallbladder.
Cholecystitis is another common gallbladder problem that occurs when the gallbladder becomes inflamed, often due to a blockage caused by gallstones. The most common cholecystitis symptoms include pain in the upper right or center of the abdomen, fever, nausea or vomiting, a tender abdomen, pain that radiates to the right shoulder or back.
Choledocholithiasis is a gallbladder condition caused when a gallstone blocks the common bile duct that takes bile from the liver to the small intestine. This causes a build-up of bile in the liver causing pain, dark urine, jaundice, nausea or vomiting, and clay-colored stools.
Other gallbladder issues include gallbladder polyps, gallbladder disease without stones (acalculous gallbladder disease), gallbladder abscess (empyema), porcelain gallbladder, and gallbladder perforation.
Are Essential Oils Good For Gallbladder Health?
Several essential oils can positively affect your overall gallbladder health by supporting the organ when it becomes tired and overworked, supporting a gallbladder cleanse, and helping with gallbladder congestion.
These essential oils (diluted with a carrier oil) are most often massaged over the gallbladder, but they can also be used for heat compression or dropped into a bath.
Some essential oils like peppermint can be directly inhaled from the bottle. In contrast, other oils like Helichrysum should not be directly inhaled as they can be very irritating to the nasal passages.
(Wildflower honey is full of antioxidants and might also help, check out the article in a new tab.)
Essential Oils For Treating Gallbladder Problems
Citrus Essential Oils (Lime, Lemon, Grapefruit, Orange)
Citrus essential oils support gallbladder health and, due to their cleansing nature, can help with gallbladder congestion. They are high in a compound d-limonene, which has been shown to effectively dissolve gallstones without negative side effects.
How to use: Citrus oils can be mixed with other essential oils such as Rosemary and diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba or sweet almond oil (one tablespoon per 5 drops) and massaged onto the abdomen.
Helichrysum is an essential oil that has been traditionally used in Europe to treat gallbladder inflammation and pain due to its anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic, and regenerative properties.
How to use: Helichrysum can be mixed with citrus and other essential oils and diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba or sweet almond oil (one tablespoon per 5 drops) and massaged onto the abdomen.
One to three drops of Helichrysum can also be added to a heat compression tool.
Rosemary is an essential oil full of antioxidants such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, diterpenoids, as well as Vitamin A, C, and E.
Antioxidants, like those found in Rosemary essential oil, play an important role in gallstone formation brought on by oxidative stress and could be highly beneficial tools for preventing and treating gallstones.
How to use: Rosemary essential oil can be mixed with citrus and other essential oils and diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba or sweet almond oil (one tablespoon per 5 drops) and massaged onto the abdomen.
Peppermint essential oil (as well as peppermint tea) has been shown to help calm and treat gallbladder attacks, mainly due to its high menthol concentration.
Menthol is a type of terpene linked to preventing the formation of cholesterol crystals and may help dissolve those that have already formed. Peppermint essential oil is antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory, and analgesic, helping pass gallbladder stones.
How to use: Peppermint oil can be mixed with citrus and other essential oils and diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba or sweet almond oil (one tablespoon per 5 drops) and massaged onto the abdomen. A few drops of peppermint essential oil can also be added to a magnesium bath to ease pain and spasms.
Melissa essential oil, also known as lemon balm, is an anti-inflammatory oil that can be used to curb inflammation and dissolve gallstones.
By lowering inflammation, Melissa can help the gallbladder function effectively, boost bile production in the liver, and prevent future problems from arising. Melissa’s terpenes are also known to relax spastic muscles and improve digestive processes.
How to use: Melissa oil can be mixed with citrus and other essential oils and diluted in a carrier oil such as jojoba or sweet almond oil (one tablespoon per 3 drops) and massaged onto the abdomen.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is Bile?
Bile is a thick green, brown, or yellow liquid used to help the body break down fats. Bile is produced by the liver, which makes 27 to 34 fluid ounces per day on average. It is then stored in the gallbladder until we need it for digestion.
Where Is Your Gallbladder Located?
The gallbladder is located on the abdomen’s upper right side, somewhere between your navel and the bottom of the breastbone. Inside the body, the gallbladder lies underneath the liver.
Can Gallbladder Problems Be Prevented?
Gallbladder issues can be prevented or significantly lower your risk of developing gallbladder conditions by eating a low cholesterol diet.
You can reduce your fatty food intake by eating less sugar and consuming healthy fats such as fish, olive oil, and other foods common in the Mediterranean diet.
Making sure you are eating fruits, vegetables, fibrous whole grains, maintaining your weight, exercising, and eating on a regular schedule can also lower your risk.
How Many People Have Gallbladder Problems?
Harvard Medical School estimates that over 25 million individuals in the United States have gallstones, with the large majority of this group (65-75%) being women. Women are more than three times as likely to develop gallstones than men.