Scientists in India have shown how curcumin (a compound derived from turmeric) and capsaicin (a compound found in chilies) work to prevent gallstone formation.
80 % of all gall stones are known as cholesterol stones. As their name implies they consist primarily of cholesterol crystals. The other 20% are known as pigmented stones. The two different types arise from different underlying pathologies.
Cholesterol stones are formed when cholesterol crystallizes in the gall bladder. They then either continue to grow or, if small enough, are flushed into the intestines with the bile. The initiation or inhibition of the crystallization process concerns the concentration of cholesterol as well as the presence or absence of certain types of protein in the bile.
A number of factors increase the risk of gall stone formation:
DIET: A diet high in saturated fat (particularly animal fat) increases cholesterol in the bile while a diet low in dietary fiber reduces gall bladder emptying. These two dietary factors increase the risk of gallstone development.
GENDER: Women are twice as likely to develop gall stones as men. This is because estrogen increases the amount of cholesterol in the bile and inhibits gall bladder emptying.
GENETICS: Gallstones run in families and certain ethnic groups such as Native Americans have a higher than normal incidence of gallstones.
WEIGHT: Overweight and obesity increase the risk of gall stone formation, especially in women.
WEIGHT LOSS: Rapid weight loss that occurs in crash dieting increases the amount of cholesterol in the bile and slows gall bladder emptying.
AGE: People over the age of 60 are more likely to develop gall stones.
DIABETES: The high circulating levels of fatty acids that occur in diabetic individuals makes them more susceptible to gallstone formation.
Researchers have found that adding curcumin (from turmeric) and capsaicin (from chilies) to the diet can help prevent the development of gall stones in these high risk groups. These two spice-derived compounds work by reducing the amount of cholesterol in the bile and inhibiting the crystallization process that is the first step in gallstone development.
By this means they can reduce the risk of gallstone development fourfold – even in high risk individuals.
Thus far, chilies and turmeric are the only two spices that have been tested in relation to gallstone formation. However other spices such as fenugreek, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and coriander have been shown to reduce several of the other factors that contribute to gallstone development.
Scientists have already shown that spices can help to prevent conditions such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.
Now, not only can we add gallstones to that steadily growing list but, we have even more incentive to include many more of these tasty foods in our diet.