DEAR DR. BLONZ: I am 45 years old, and quit smoking a year and a half ago as I have attempted to work back to better health. Since these stoppages I have gained 20 pounds and now have some gallstones. I was wondering whether a liver flush is a good thing to do to rid the liver of the gallstones and help return it to its optimal performance. -- F.S., San Jose, California
DEAR F.S.: It is not unusual to gain weight after quitting smoking. But, all things considered, that weight gain is less harmful than smoking. The best way to keep a lid on the poundage is to pay more attention to your diet, slow down at the table and increase your activity gradually. Check with your physician if there are health issues that need to be considered.
As you know, I am not a medical doctor, nor am I a specialist in liver ailments or problems with the gallbladder, but I can report that there is no solid basis to support the “liver flush” as a helpful procedure. I want to take you through my reasoning.
The gallbladder is a small gland in your midsection, close to the liver and the digestive tract. The liver produces bile, a substance that works like a detergent to help emulsify the fats in the foods we eat and make them easier to digest. Bile gets stored in the gallbladder, and when fat is present in food, a squirt of bile leaves the gallbladder, passes down the common bile duct and mixes with the food as it leaves the stomach.
Gallstones are hard, crystalline structures that vary in size from a grain of sand to the size of a golf ball. Most gallstones are made of hardened cholesterol, but some can be made of a pigment called bilirubin. Problems occur if stones clog things up in the liver or the gallbladder, or they block the common bile duct, which is also used by the pancreas. It is estimated that 10 to 15 percent of people in the U.S. have gallstones, but some may never experience symptoms. Check out a more in-depth explanation at blonz.org/v7qss.
The dubious procedure known as the “liver flush” is promoted as a natural, painless way to rid the body of its gallstones. There may be minor variations, but the flush usually involves a specialized fast or no-fat diet for a number of days, leading up to a day when you ingest Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), followed by a hefty intake of olive oil together with some lemon juice before going to sleep.
The next day, your stool may contain some small, round opaque objects that are touted as the gallstones that have been hanging around your liver and gallbladder and causing all sorts of problems. Amazing! Or is it? These opaque globules, it turns out, are unlikely to be gallstones, but are more likely a product of the liver-flush recipe itself. A fascinating article in the April 16, 2005 issue of the prestigious medical journal Lancet titled "Could these be gallstones?" followed a 40-year-old patient who did a liver flush and passed a bunch of “stones” the following day. Upon a microscopic examination, it was discovered that those items were made up of congealed olive oil plus the other ingredients that had been administered the day before. Irrespective of the lack of evidence that it is effective, the concept of the “liver flush” continues to be promoted. My sincere congrats on stopping smoking, but please consider taking a pass on the flush.
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