Can Apple Cider Vinegar Help Gallstones?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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apple cider vinegar in clear cup next to cut apple

Gallstones (also called cholelithiasis) plague many people, but pregnant women and Native Americans tend to be more susceptible than the general population. Gallstones occur when excess bits of cholesterol bond together in the gallbladder to form hard, pebble-like stones. They may not cause any trouble or symptoms, but if one of them shifts and blocks the common bile duct that shunts bile from the gallbladder into the small intestine, then you will feel pain and may experience other symptoms of gallstones.

Perhaps because gallstones can be very painful, some people seek to reduce their risk of developing them, sometimes by using questionable treatments. One such treatment is an apple cider vinegar gallbladder flush. Does apple cider vinegar for gallstones really work? What are the risks of using these types of preventive ‘treatments’? Before trying a home remedy for gallstones, it’s important to know the facts, benefits and risks of these heavily marketed flushes—and healthy tips for gallstone prevention.

Can You Prevent Gallstones?

Some people believe the human body needs outside assistance to regularly ‘flush’ and ‘detoxify’ itself, but this simply is not true. In fact, the human body works miraculously well if you fuel it properly and give it plenty of exercise. 

The idea that you need to regularly flush your gallbladder or liver—or ‘cleanse’ your colon—lacks any scientific merit. Instead, you can reduce your risk of gallstones and keep your gallbladder, liver and colon working well by engaging in a healthy lifestyle that includes:

  • Eating more fiber, which doctors say can help prevent gallstones. To increase the amount of healthy fiber in your diet, eat more vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.

  • Consuming healthy fats. Olive oil and fish oil stimulate gallbladder contraction, which causes it to empty regularly. Stones may form when bile stored in the gallbladder doesn’t empty frequently. A good, healthy diet can stimulate the gallbladder without the need to use a pricey, potentially dangerous ‘flush.’

  • Avoiding fried foods and unhealthy fats.

  • Reducing your consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates like white bread.

  • Engaging in regular physical activity that helps you maintain a healthy weight and reduces your cholesterol levels. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week.

It’s not possible to eliminate your risk of developing gallstones, but taking a holistic, lifestyle approach offers you a better chance of avoiding gallbladder disease than unproven methods like an apple cider vinegar gallbladder cleanse.

Can Apple Cider Vinegar Dissolve Gallstones?

The proponents of gallstone flushes and cleanses never seem to state how these approaches work. Do they believe that ingesting apple cider vinegar can dissolve gallstones?

If you placed some gallstones in a petri dish and poured apple cider vinegar over them, the stones quite possibly would dissolve. Vinegar is an acid, after all—acetic acid, to be precise.

However, no one can directly expose their gallstones to acetic acid. First, you must drink the apple cider vinegar. By the time the cider has gone through the digestive process, has been broken down into various chemical components, enters the bloodstream and eventually reaches the gallbladder, it’s no longer an acid. It likely will not have any effect whatsoever on any stones that may be residing in your gallbladder. 

Diet Considerations After Gallbladder Removal

You can live a long, healthy life without your gallbladder, if necessary. You also do not need to follow a special diet after gallbladder removal. Eating a low-fat diet for the first month after cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) can help the body digest fats better and may help you avoid getting diarrhea

Some people claim that drinking apple cider vinegar after gallbladder removal conveys some type of benefit, though it’s unclear what benefit. No research studies support the idea that apple cider vinegar consumption can help you recover from cholecystectomy or function better after having your gallbladder removed.

Bottom Line: Gallbladder Flushes are Unnecessary and Potentially Dangerous

For some people, doing a liver or gallbladder flush or cleanse can be dangerous. Many of these recipes call for ingesting large quantities of fruit juices (dangerous for people with diabetes or insulin resistance) and Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate), which can cause life-threatening side effects. Commercial gallbladder flush products often contain herbs that can interact with medications you may be taking.

Gallstones themselves also can be life-threatening if not treated with appropriate medical intervention. A blocked bile duct can cause the gallbladder to rupture, which can ultimately lead to sepsis and death in some cases. If you experience the symptoms of gallstones—such as pain under your right rib cage, especially after eating—seek medical attention. Do not turn to natural remedies like apple cider vinegar.

Taking care of your gallbladder by eating a nutritious diet and exercising regularly offers the best chance to avoid getting gallstones. If you have a family history of gallbladder disease, talk with your doctor about how to reduce your risk of likewise developing this painful condition.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Aug 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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