In the 1960s, when cholesterol was mistakenly deemed the cause of heart disease, saturated fats were replaced with polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats were derived from seed oils, and because these seed oils were so volatile, they had to be highly processed and refined to become stable.
Today, clear-yellow plastic vegetable oil-filled bottles line the brightly-lit grocery store shelves – while even one photon of light would normally oxidize unrefined vegetable oils. These refined vegetables oils are used as preservatives in packaged foods, and are unappetizing to the residents of the microbiome, which typically feed on fatty acids… but not this type!
High consumption of these vegetable oils has been linked to digestive, cognitive, joint, blood sugar, liver and gallbladder concerns. (3)
These oils are one of the major culprits behind congested, thick and viscous bile. The medical term for this is “bile sludge.” This is the result of congestion of the bile ducts, the liver (which is in charge of making bile), and the gallbladder (which is in charge of storing bile).
In today’s world, gallbladder concerns have become the norm. Worldwide, one out of four women over 60 years of age will experience gallbladder issues. (1) Cholecystectomy (the removal of the gallbladder) is the most common elective abdominal surgery in America today, with over 750,000 surgeries per year. (2) Gallbladder disease has increased by 20 percent in the last 3 decades, costing America $6.2 billion a year in collective medical bills. (2)
Ayurvedic Herbs for Bile Sludge & Gallbladder Health
Thanks to Ayurveda, there are certain herbs that can help to defend against the destruction from refined vegetable oils and beat the bile sludge…
For years, as part of a formula I call Beet Cleanse, I have found beetroot, fenugreek, cinnamon and shilajit as invaluable for supporting healthy digestion – with particular affinity for the liver and gallbladder – which I believe are the kingpins of the digestion and detox pathways in the body.
These four herbs have been used for thousands of years, and are now backed by science to support optimal liver and gallbladder health.
The star of the show in this formula is beetroot. Beets are very rich in B vitamins, calcium, iron and powerful antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid (ALA). All of these support healthy liver function and bile flow. Poor bile flow is extremely common and is linked to weak stomach acid, inadequate liver detoxification and poor fat metabolism. (9)
In one study, both beets and okra were found to attach to bile in the intestines. (8) Once the bile is attached to certain types of fiber, in this case beet and okra fiber, the fiber’s job is to escort toxic bile to the toilet. This is important, as bile carries toxic cholesterol particles, environmental pollutants and a variety of other fat-soluble toxins that it picks up on its journey through the liver and intestines. Without adequate fiber, up to 94% of this toxic bile can be re-absorbed back to the liver and put back into circulation. (9)
Powerful Liver-Protective Support: In another study, mice who were fed beets for 10 days (2g/kg of body weight) produced a significant amount of enzymatic antioxidants. The mice who ate beets produced a large amount of the body’s two most powerful antioxidant liver enzymes: superoxide dismutase and glutathione. (11)
Blood Sugar-Balancing Boost: Surprisingly, beets, which are loaded with beet sugar, have been shown to help support healthy blood sugar levels. (10) Much of these benefits can be attributed to the high levels of alpha lipoic acid (ALA) found in beets, which seems to offset the effects of the beet sugar. ALA is both water and fat-soluble, which allows it to penetrate any tissue in the body. For this reason, it has become a popular skincare ingredient. As an antioxidant, it allows the ALA to penetrate many deep tissues of the body and help resolve free radical damage.
Performance Boost: Beets happen to be one of the highest sources of performance-enhancing nitrates. That’s right… nitrates from plants such as beets, celery and cauliflower are actually good for you, while nitrates found in packaged meats such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs, deli meats, packaged ham, pepperoni, and salami are quite toxic.
Plant-based nitrates in the diet convert easily into nitrites, which have a powerful vasodilation effect. Vasodilation refers to the widening of blood vessels, bile and pancreatic ducts. This can result in better circulation, more efficient delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the cells, as well as improved physical performance (6) and digestion. Poor blood flow, due to a lack of healthy vasodilation, may be a factor in the decline of physical and cognitive function associated with aging. (5,6)
Brain Boost: Beet juice has also been found to increase cerebral circulation to certain parts of the brain that govern executive function. (6) Execution function is what allows us to do things like organizing, planning, remembering details and managing time. As a vasodilator, the nitrates in beets may support healthy cognitive function and memory by enhancing blood supply to these specific areas of the brain. (6)
Circulation Boost: The vasodilation effects of beetroot have also been shown to support healthy blood pressure. In one study, drinking just 500ml of beet juice lowered blood pressure by 10 points in 3 hours, possibly due to the blood vessel-dilating effect of the nitrates in beets! (7)
I often recommend for my patients to try eating one fresh beet a day for 3 months to help thin the bile and flush the liver and gallbladder. Beets are best grated raw with lemon juice, but also have benefits when eaten cooked.
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Numerous studies suggest that fenugreek may be one of the most powerful herbs for liver, gallbladder and digestive health. Fenugreek works by taking cholesterol out of the bile and increasing the bile acid concentration by almost four times. (12,13)
Better bile flow is what it’s all about. Think of your bile as a Pac-Man that gobbles up toxic cholesterols, environmental toxins and other bad fats circulating in the blood. Bile breaks down the good fats we need for the heart, brain and skin and also buffers the stomach acids required to digest wheat and dairy.
Without adequate bile flow and liver function, the ability to break down fats and use them in the liver to manufacture hormones like muscle-building, belly fat-burning testosterone will be compromised. This suggests a strong link between better bile flow that is supported by fenugreek and the muscle strength, libido, sexual function, belly fat-burning, and more lean body composition mentioned above.
Blood Sugar Support: Perhaps the most well-documented benefit seen by fenugreek supplementation is its effect on blood sugar. Poor blood sugar regulation is linked to weight gain, along with a plethora of serious health concerns. Remember, blood sugar imbalances start in the liver – generally not in the pancreas – and the liver is where fenugreek shines! In one study, there was a 54% reduction of glucose in the first morning urine, along with significant positive changes in the ability to regulate fats in the liver. (14)
Fenugreek can be taken as a tea with meals, you can cook with it as a spice, or take it as a supplement.
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In about 91 percent of the population, the bile ducts join the pancreatic ducts, carrying digestive enzymes before they both reach the small intestines as the common bile duct. Bile sludge can negatively affect the function of both of these ducts. Cinnamon has been used traditionally in Ayurveda to support healthy blood sugar levels by supporting healthy bile flow and digestive enzyme flow through the pancreatic and bile ducts. (9)
Blood Sugar Support: Cinnamon has made headlines as an effective herb for blood sugar support, but its benefits have also recently been found to support healthy brain, liver and cognitive function. Studies show that whole cinnamon exerts health-promoting effects on blood sugar, insulin and lipids, in addition to promoting antioxidant activity and the brain’s natural ability to break down dangerous tau proteins. (15)
Brain Boost: New studies have looked deeper into the brain-boosting benefits of cinnamon, and have found it to mimic melatonin (21) and support the manufacture of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNFs) joining the prestigious company of:
Cinnamon converts into a chemical known as benzoate in the liver, which is linked to an increase of BDNF production, reducing brain glial cell activation, boosting neurotransmitter activation, supporting dopamine receptors and the natural regeneration of dopamine-carrying nerve cells.
Benzoate has also been shown to act as an antioxidant for the brain, as well as support the body’s natural ability to up-regulate proteins involved in the maintenance and regeneration of dopamine receptors in the brain. Optimal function of these receptors is necessary to maintain the integrity of nerve cells responsible for locomotion and fine motor control. (17-19)
Additionally, whole cinnamon, as a natural nutrient, is both non-toxic and readily enters the brain chemistry. These studies are encouraging researchers to investigate cinnamon and other natural substances to better support healthy brain function, as they are more easily delivered into the brain and generally non-toxic. (17-19)
About 50 million years ago, the Indian continent collided into Asia and formed the Himalayan mountain range. As the mountains formed, tropical forests were crushed and compacted between massive boulders.
The compressed forests gradually transformed into a nutrient- and mineral-rich biomass loaded with medicinal humic and fulvic acids.
Now, every summer as the mountains warm, India’s most prized herbal remedy literally oozes from these biomass resins in the high mountain crevasses.
Known as Shilajit, this resinous and nutrient-rich biomass has been touted for millennia by Ayurveda’s Materia Medica as the best carrier of energy and nutrition into the human body.
Shilajit is used in this formula as a driver to support the function of the beets, fenugreek and cinnamon. Shilajit as a bio-enhancer, or what Ayurveda calls yogavahi, was one of the classic usages of shilajit.
In this formula, it is also used as an agent to roto-rooter the bile and pancreatic ducts in support of healthy digestive function. (20)