Tag Archives: lecithin for gallbladder sludge

Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy – What Now?

Go figure that pregnancy with all of it’s rapidly and vastly changing hormones is one of the most common triggers for gallbladder sludge, and it’s also one of the hardest times to do anything about it. Let’s look at why it happens and what you can do about it. If you’re unclear about what the gallbladder does, and what sludge is then read this post first.

Symptoms of Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy

Gallbladder can cause a wide range of issues ranging from mild to severe, but any issue is worth discussing with your doctor because untreated disease can lead to complications for the pregnancy. Symptoms include:

Why is Gallbladder Sludge So Common in Pregnancy?

Gallbladder sludge essentially happens when your gallbladder is overwhelmed by too much cholesterol and not enough bile.  You’ll recall that the bile acts as kind of a “soap” to emulsify fats and make them more water soluble so that they can be both excreted and absorbed in the digestive tract. Just like with dish soap, if there is too much fat or grease and not enough soap you get a sludgy goo that tends to stick to everything and generally get in the way. Hence gallbladder sludge. But why does this happen in pregnancy? Many reasons:

  • Huge hormone shifts – Rapid changes in hormone levels mean that lots of hormones (fat soluble) are being excreted by the liver, and fat soluble toxins are excreted via bile. In fact, below are pictures of a cholesterol molecule and an estrogen molecule – no doubt you’ll notice the similarities (and estrogen along with the other sex hormones is made in your body from cholesterol).

    Estrogen and testosterone (progesterone as well, but it's not pictured) are incredibly similar to cholesterol, which is why gallbladder sludge in pregnancy is such an issue.

    Estrogen and testosterone (progesterone as well, but it’s not pictured) are incredibly similar to cholesterol, which is why gallbladder sludge in pregnancy is such an issue.

  • High Water Use – Pregnancy uses a lot of water – your body is building a human and that’s no small task. It requires that you also create lots of extra blood, extra fluid to protect and support the baby and of course, all the water that goes into the baby.  Not only that but there are thousands of extra metabolic processes happening to make all of this go.  It’s just a big time for water, and so mild to moderate dehydration is incredibly common – especially in early pregnancy before mama’s intake has adjusted sufficiently to cover it all.  Dehydration is also a risk factor for gallbladder sludge just because all bodily fluids, including bile, get a little thicker and sludgier if there is less water to go around.
  • Estrogen – High estrogen is a risk factor for gallbladder sludge, or cholestasis, independent of pregnancy as well (at least it is in animal studies). In fact, the risk factors for gallstones are called the five F’s – Fair, Female, Fat Fertile and Forty. Lovely.
  • Genetics – There are some genetic conditions associated with gallbladder sludge (more specifically with Intrahepatic Cholestasis of Pregnancy, or ICP). So chances are if your mother, aunties, sisters or grandmother had troubles, you may be at greater risk.

Are There Natural Ways to Help Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy?

Yes and no. Pregnancy is a risky time to use any natural or medical treatment and many drugs and supplements are off limits because they may cause harm to the baby. If you’re not pregnant, then here’s a whole post about gallbladder sludge and stones. If you are, then here are the things you can do:

  • Diet – Pregnancy is a great time for a healthy diet anyway, so might as well do a healthy gallbladder-friendly diet. This means:
    • No fried foods
    • Lots of fruits
    • Limited red meat, butter, shellfish and eggs
    • LOTS of veggies – especially dark green leafy veg
    • Good lean meat, poultry and fish
    • High fiber foods – aim for 30 – 50 g per day – some examples below
      • Split peas – 16.3 g per cup cooked (split pea soup. Yummy.)
      • Lentils – 15.6 g per cup cooked
      • Black beans – 15 g per cup cooked
      • Artichokes – 10.3 g each and also gently boost liver function
      • Broccoli – 5.3 g per cup boiled
      • Raspberries – the yummiest 8 g per cup ever
      • Bran flakes – 7 g per cup
      • Avocado – 12 g each



  • Water – Bump the water WAY up. Aim for 12 eight ounce cups with 8 eight ounce cups being the absolute minimum. This will suck because pregnancy makes you pee all the time anyway and drinking this much water will have you running to the bathroom constantly. Sorry! It’s better than a gallbladder attack, believe me.
  • Lecithin – Lecithin is safe in both pregnancy and nursing because as it turns out, one of it’s major ingredients, choline, is great for baby. Typically midwives and doctors suggest 1200 mg 3-4 times per day with lots of water, but here’s more information about lecithin and it’s use in gallbladder issues. It’s also great for blocked ducts when you’re nursing and gallbladder sludge even when you’re not preggers.
  • Gentle Exercise Regularly – Exercise is good for everything in the human body, including the gallbladder. For many women this will actually eliminate mild symptoms.
  • Castor Oil – Topical (NOT INTERNAL) castor oil over the right side of your abdomen and back can help your body to deal with some of the sludge in a gentle way. Here’s a whole post on it with more detailed information. And Here’s info on a great lazy method of doing a castor oil pack. This is both anti-inflammatory and also good for the functioning of the liver and gallbladder.
  • Lukewarm Epsom Salts Baths – The magnesium in the Epsom salts will help to relax the bile duct and allow sludge to pass more easily, and the lukewarm bath can help to relieve the itching.

    Doing all of this in 9 months isn't easy! Great picture from free image.com/Jose Torres.

    Doing all of this in 9 months isn’t easy! Gallbladder is one of the places that fallout can happen. Great picture from free image.com/Jose Torres.

What About Not-Natural Ways to Relieve Gallbladder Sludge in Pregnancy?

If you’re having gallbladder attacks on top of the already uncomfortable state of being pregnant, then sometimes you want a faster option. Also severe gallbladder attacks with protracted vomiting, inflammation or infection can be a serious risk to your baby, so there’s that too.

  • Ursodiol – this prescription drug may be suggested by your doctor to help manage symptoms and increase bile flow.
  • Surgery – It is possible to have your gallbladder removed during pregnancy and sometimes it’s necessary. The second trimester is considered the safest time for both mother and baby to undergo this procedure. Depending on your doctor they  may suggest laparoscopic removal or open gallbladder surgery.

Remember pregnancy is a rough time anyway because your body is doing so much, changing so fast and generally working so hard. Be gentle with yourself, talk with your doctor, and don’t judge – sometimes you can use the natural methods for working with gallbladder sludge in pregnancy and sometimes you really do need something more intense, like surgery.



Lecithin for Blocked Ducts and Gallbladder Sludge

If you’ve had gallbladder sludge, blocked ducts in your gallbladder or blocked ducts in your breast you know just how painful and horrible this can truly be. In good news there is a reasonably simple food supplement that can make a huge difference while you’re working on clearing things out, called lecithin.

What is Lecithin?

Lecithin is naturally occurring in such common foods as soy, egg and sunflower seeds. It’s a compound called a phospholipid, which is a phosphate head bound to long lipid tails. The phosphate head is water soluble, and the lipid tails are fat soluble so lecithin is a great natural emulsifier, meaning it helps to blend fat and water. Lecithin  is used as a food additive frequently for this very reason – it helps to keep fats suspended in a water solution. As a supplement it is sold in both a granule form that you can add to cereal, oatmeal, soups or just about any other food as well as a capsule.  The granules have a nice, nutty sort of flavor that adds well to things and the capsules are , well, just capsules.

Lecithin helps emulsify gallbladder sludge and open blocked ducts in the gallbladder or breast. It's commonly found in soy, sunflower and egg. Photo by John Sullivan

Lecithin helps emulsify gallbladder sludge and open blocked ducts in the gallbladder or breast. It’s commonly found in soy, sunflower and egg. Photo by John Sullivan

Why Does Lecithin Work for Blocked Ducts And Gallbladder Sludge?

Gallbladder sludge is a thick waxy build up of cholesterol and other sterol-type fats bound to bile salts.  Under normal circumstances this is a fluid mixture, but when it gets too thick it becomes waxy and semi-solid.  Blocked breast ducts are also filled with a condensed form of breast milk that is very fat-rich.  Therapeutically , we are looking for this same emulsifying action – we want to allow water to easily add into the mixture to loosen things up and get them moving. Quite literally we want to emulsify the gallbladder sludge or thickened breast milk with water so that it can pass.Lecithen, as a potent emulsifier, does a great job.

How To Take Lecithin For Gallbladder Sludge

If you’re having mild trouble with gallbladder sludge that gives you low-grade symptoms or frequent mini-attacks then 4000 – 5000 mg per day in divided doses will help to prevent further attacks and keep the sludge moving.




If you’re having a strong acute attack that isn’t serious enough for the hospital then 4000-5000 mg every 4 hours with lots of water until it resolves (not more than 24 hours without talking to your doctor or knowing for sure that it truly is gallbladder sludge and not a gallstone emergency). If the lecithin isn’t producing any changes or the symptoms get worse please do seek medical attention because if gallstones get stuck in a duct and block bile flow completely it can be a medical emergency.

How to Take Lecithin for Blocked Milk Ducts

If you’re having recurrent blocked ducts or always feel like you’re hovering on the cusp of a blocked duct then 1200 mg four times daily will help to prevent further issues.

If you’ve already got a blocked duct that you’re trying to loosen up then 4000 – 5000 mg every 4 hours with lots of water until it resolves.

How to Make The Lecithin Work it’s Best

There are a few things you can do to support the action of lecithin so that you’re getting the most benefit from it:

  1. Water – obviously we’ve got the fat, but we need the water to make the emulsifier work.  Aim for 10 8 oz glasses per day if you’re having issues with blocked ducts or gallbladder sludge. **Lecithin will not work without water**
  2. Heat – physically warming up the area can help to relax and open ducts, as well as “melt” the fatty plug. A hot compress such as a hot water bottle, infrared heating pad or wash cloth soaked in hot water over the breast area or gallbladder area (on your right side just under your rib cage straight below the nipple from the front to the back at the same area) will help to loosen things up and get them moving.
  3. Castor Oil – if you’ve read my blog before you know how much I love castor oil. *Love* castor oil. It can be rubbed on the breast tissue (be sure to wipe off completely before your baby nurses) or over the entire liver/gallbladder area to reduce inflammation and help to get things moving as well.  Even better is the combo of castor oil + heat.  Just be sure to put on an old T-shirt because the oil is heavy and will stain clothes. Here’s more information about castor oil in general and castor oil for gallbladder health.
  4. Rest – blocked ducts and gallbladder sludge are both reasonably difficult for your body.  They produce a lot of inflammation and can lead to infection and other problems if left untreated so you will need more rest, more support and generally a little more TLC while this is going on.

Other Uses for Lecithin

Lecithin, as it turns out is great for lots of things:

  • Natural source of choline
  • Improves brain heath, cognitive function and memory, possibly even ADHD
  • Reduce cholesterol and triglycerides and increases HDL (the good cholesterol)
  • Used in the formation of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine
  • Supportive in pregnancy, as a source of choline, to help prevent neural tube defects and help healthy brain development
  • Mildly anti-inflammatory
  • Helps to gently improve anxiety
  • Helps to supplement nutritional deficiencies created by alcohol consumption.

Lecithin is a simple, safe, low-cost, beneficial supplement for blocked ducts, gallbladder sludge, and blocked bile ducts but don’t forget the water!