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Most of us know someone who has had their gallbladder removed.  This procedure, also known as a cholecystectomy, is one of the most common surgeries performed in the US.  An estimated 20% of otherwise healthy adults have some form of gallbladder disease, and of those, about 80% will have theirs removed.

Those are large numbers.  Today let’s look at symptoms of gallbladder distress; ways you can support your gallbladder health; how to prevent having it removed; and how to proceed going forward if yours has already been removed.

Located under your ribcage on your right side, the gallbladder’s primary function is to produce and store bile.  Bile is essential for breaking down dietary fats, and dietary fats are essential for many reasons, including brain function and hormone production.  So this tiny (and some might say underappreciated) organ plays a big role in the body.  Here are the various roles of bile in the human body:

  • Breakdown of dietary fats
  • Maintenance of stomach acidity, which prevents overgrowth of unfriendly bacteria
  • Detoxification of harmful substances removed by the liver
  • Blood sugar regulation, by breaking down fats which helps to prevent blood sugar spikes from carbohydrate ingestion

 

Now that we see the many ways the gallbladder functions, we realize that dysfunction of the gallbladder can be more than inconvenient; it can be life-changing.  What does gallbladder disease look like?  In most cases, the first symptoms of gallbladder disease happen when a gallstone is stuck in the bile duct.  Also known as cholelithiasis, the presence of gallstones is very common, in fact, most people have them but are asymptomatic.  The body can pass small gallstones undetected, so you may not even be aware you have them.  However, there are several forms of gallbladder disease:

  • Cholelithiasis, or gallstones
  • Congenital gallbladder defects
  • Tumors in the bile ducts or gallbladder
  • Cholecystitis, or inflammation of the gallbladder
  • Chronic acalculous gallbladder disease
  • Gangrene or abscess
  • Sclerosing cholangitis

 

The common symptoms of gallbladder disease:

  • Pain and Tenderness in your upper right abdomen, which may be more prevalent after eating fattier foods.
  • Jaundice, or yellowing skin
  • Dark urine
  • Light-colored stools
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sudden blood pressure drop
  • Fever, nausea, vomiting, and chills

 

Risk factors that may increase the chances of gallbladder disease include:

  • Low fiber diet
  • Highly processed diet
  • Genetic predisposition
  • Being female
  • Age over 40
  • Diabetes
  • Pregnancy
  • Insufficient water intake
  • Being overweight
  • Structural causes – curvature of the thoracic spine

 

When you experience any of the conditions listed above, Western medicine generally recommends gallbladder removal.  However, now that we know the important role of bile, perhaps improving the health of the gallbladder should be the first thing we try.  If you find yourself in this position, you may want to consider non-surgical options for improving your gallbladder health, such as:

  • Lithotripsy – the use of sound waves to break up large gallstones so they can pass easily.
  • Liver flush – Various recipes for liver flushing are available, but we caution you to work with a health professional before proceeding with a liver flush. If you are interested in learning more, contact us at Body in Harmony to schedule a consult with our nutrition specialist.
  • NUCCA – Proper alignment of your spine can reduce or eliminate the thoracic spine curvature that can lead to gallstones.
  • Nutrition – Many foods support gallbladder function and health, such as beets, leafy greens, flax seed, beans, oranges, and fermented foods. Foods that detract from gallbladder health include trans fats (or hydrogenated oils), refined sugar, and processed meats.
  • Supplementation – If you experience a gallbladder attack or have had your gallbladder removed, supplementation can be extremely helpful. At Body in Harmony, we specialize in supplement programs to support your best health and your most pressing health concerns. Contact us today to develop a program that best suits your needs.  For the month of June 2022, we will be featuring the following supplements at a 10% discount:
    • Standard Process Betafood – Supports digestion by reducing belching, bloating, and gas after meals. Helpful for those with gallbladder problems, fatty liver, food allergies, and low blood sugar.  Optimizes bile flow from the liver and gallbladder.
    • Standard Process Okra Pepsin E3 – Supportive for patients with constipation, diarrhea, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, ulcers, gout, poor absorption, and more. Helps cleanse and repair the intestinal walls.
    • Standard Process Cholacol – Supportive for those who have had their gallbladder removed or experience bile insufficiency symptoms such as light-colored stools, constipation, fat intolerance, and more. Improves fat digestion, improves bile flow, and decongests the liver.

 

Since the gallbladder acts as a storage sac for bile, removing it eliminates storage capabilities.  Your liver can produce bile as well but has no storage capacity, so may have trouble keeping up with demand, particularly during meals; and may result in bile salts free-cycling, which could lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.   Another common problem for those who have no gallbladder is fat-soluble vitamin deficiencies.  If your body cannot digest fat, it cannot absorb Vitamins A, D, E, and K, even if you are consuming otherwise adequate amounts.  Gallbladder removal is also associated with elevated liver enzymes.

At Body in Harmony, we recognize that there are long-term consequences to gallbladder removal.  If you have already had your gallbladder removed, or are interested in keeping your gallbladder healthy, contact us today to develop a supplement and nutrition program that supports gallbladder health, optimal digestion, and your health at large.

 

 

References:

Sarchenko, Dr. Richard; Sarchenko, Catherine. (2016).  Gallbladder Matters: Keep Yours For Life. Fort Collins, CO: Selene River Press.

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