Many websites propose cleansing the gallbladder (or the liver) in specific ways (frequently with fruit juice and oil) which they claim causes the gallbladder to expel cholesterol in the form of small balls.

Is there any scientific evidence that it actually does anything at all, and that these small balls are really formed by cholesterol?

Some references:

  • There seem to be several questions here. It would help to pick one: Are gallstones made of cholesterol? (Easy!) Do the mentioned diets flush the gallbladder? (I would have thought a high-fat meal would be the best way to flush the gall-bladder.) Does using these diets several times a month improve digestive health?
    – Oddthinking
    Jul 18, 2014 at 4:27

2 Answers 2


Many websites propose cleansing the gallbladder (or the liver) in specific ways (frequently with fruit juice and oil) which they claim causes the gallbladder to expel cholesterol in the form of small balls.

These claims are false. A study published in The Lancet found that the supposed "gallstones" are formed almost entirely of fatty acids (i.e. a substance similar to soap), which is completely different from the typical composition of gallstones. The researchers found that the "stones" could be produced in the laboratory by mixing the oil and lemon juice used in the cleanse with a small amount of potassium hydroxide. This implies that the "stones" are actually formed by the action of the digestive system on the oil, rather than being already present in the body. An examination of a woman with gallstones who had performed this treatment on herself found that her gallstones were not affected.

Quackwatch notes that this treatment can be used to produce a biologically implausible volume of "gallstones" if the treatment is repeated, and that it will even produce "gallstones" in patients whose gallbladder has been surgically removed (making it impossible for them to have gallstones).

As such, it seems pretty clear that these treatments do not function as described, and that they are unlikely to have any beneficial medical effect.


In this comprehensive review of gall bladder physiology, it states that

In the digestive period strong gallbladder contractions and sphincter of Oddi relaxation lead to the high rates of bile discharge flowing into the common bile duct and duodenum. During this period, the gallbladder motor activity like the rest of the gastrointestinal tract is influenced by the three phases of digestive process: cephalic, antral, and duodenal [16]. The cephalic phase is initiated by stimuli that activate the central nervous system, as individuals are exposed to olfactory, visual, and the taste of food. This phase is mediated by preganglionic vagal fibers that synapse with postganglionic cholinergic neurons. It is estimated that as much as 30–40% of the gallbladder bile may be emptied during this phase. Once food reaches the stomach it triggers an antral-gallbladder reflex also mediated by vagal fibers. The gallbladder empties most of its remaining contents during the intestinal phase induced by the release of CCK from the duodenum and proximal jejunum [1]

so that even just seeing or smelling food can cause 30-40% of the bile to be released into the duodenum. The rest of the gallbladder contents are emptied under neuroendocrine control.

Meals containing proteins and fats act on duodenal CCK containing endocrine cells that stimulate vagal sensory fibers followed by activation of pre- and postganglionic cholinergic neurons [1]

The above mixture includes oil, so it would act via the second part of this mechanism, but there is nothing in the known physiology to suggest it would be better than a meal.


[1] Jose Behar, “Physiology and Pathophysiology of the Biliary Tract: The Gallbladder and Sphincter of Oddi—A Review,” ISRN Physiology, vol. 2013, Article ID 837630, 15 pages, 2013. doi:10.1155/2013/837630

[16] I. Takahashi, M. K. Kern, W. J. Dodds et al., “Contraction pattern of opossum gallbladder during fasting and after feeding,” American Journal of Physiology, vol. 250, no. 2, pp. G227–G235, 1986. View at Scopus

  • 1
    what does the [16] refer to?
    – Sklivvz
    Jul 20, 2014 at 13:28
  • @Sklivvz Reference 16 below reference 1 ?
    – HappySpoon
    Jul 20, 2014 at 19:35
  • @HappySpoon So according to your sources, ingesting oil and fat liquids could indeed empty the gallbladder more than an average meal?
    – Einenlum
    Jul 26, 2014 at 9:22
  • What does an average meal contain? Mine contains very little fat, but yours may contain a lot.
    – HappySpoon
    Jul 26, 2014 at 10:09

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