Eat Your Green, Leafy Vegetables

McClatchy Tribune Newspapers

Looking for another good reason to eat your vegetables? Green leafy veggies are high in magnesium, and magnesium seems to be good for your gallbladder.

A recent study in the American Journal of Gastroenterology showed that adequate magnesium consumption can reduce your risk of gallstones. In this study, more than 42,000 men were followed for 16 years; those who had the highest intake of magnesium from foods (on average 454 mg per day) also had a 30 percent lower risk of developing gallstones.

Magnesium is important for multiple biochemical processes in the body, and adequate levels are needed for the health of our heart, bones, blood, nervous and immune systems, and multiple other tissues. Inadequate magnesium intake seems to increase the risk of abnormal blood cholesterol levels as well as increased secretion of insulin and development of the metabolic syndrome (elevated blood pressure, blood sugar, blood lipids, weight, and waist circumference), and these together are felt to increase the risk of gallstones. Magnesium deficiency is also associated with a higher risk of inflammation, osteoporosis, heart disease and stroke.

Magnesium is found in many foods including spinach, broccoli, nuts (especially almonds), beans, whole grains and seafood. High-fiber foods, dairy products, some meats, and chocolate (yes!) also tend to be high in magnesium. Results from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) suggested that many Americans were deficient in their intake of this mineral; intake was lowest among older folks. Once again, even though we may describe ourselves as the "best fed" nation in the world, there are many in our midst with nutrient deficiencies. Vitamin D, another nutrient that many people don't get enough of, is needed to help absorb magnesium (as well as calcium) from the gut.

Gallstones are very common in the United States; NHANES suggested that more than 20 million Americans have gallbladder disease. There are a number of things that increase the risk of gallbladder disease including:

  • Genetics and gender: Native Americans have one of the highest rates in the United States. Women in general are at higher risk than men, especially Hispanic women. Having a first-degree relative with gallstones also adds to your risk.
  • Age: the highest incidence of gallstones occurs in adults between the ages of 40 and 70.
  • Obesity and sudden weight loss.
  • Diabetes and elevated lipids.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Estrogen: women who are pregnant are at higher risk; birth control pills and estrogen replacement therapy after menopause also increase risk.

But here's the good news: besides magnesium, there are a number of things that can protect you from gallbladder disease include the following:

Coffee: 2-4 cups of regular coffee per day has been shown to reduce the incidence of gallbladder disease by up to 45 percent; decaf coffee did not provide the same benefit.

  • Vitamin C: the NHANES study showed that women with the highest level of vitamin C had a reduced risk of gallbladder disease.
  • Vegetable protein and healthy oils like olive and safflower oils also seem protective.

In summary, to reduce your risk of gallstones, consider the following:

  • Eat plenty of foods high in magnesium and vitamin C
  • Go for healthy oils instead of animal fats
  • Increase your intake of vegetable protein
  • Exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight
  • If you lose weight, do so gradually
  • If the caffeine doesn't bother you, drink regular coffee every day
  • For insurance, take a multivitamin with minerals every day that has both vitamin C and magnesium.
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