Gallbladder pain? Gallstones? It hurts and you just want the pain to stop. Surgery sounds very enticing, right?
You can live without your gallbladder but there are some things you should know before making the decision to have it removed. In most cases, you can avoid gallbladder surgery.
What Good is your Gallbladder Anyway?
The liver produces bile so that dietary lipids (fat) can be emulsified and absorbed into the body. About half of the bile is released into the small intestine and the other half is stored in the gallbladder for later use.
Bile is made up of water, bile salts, bile acids, cholesterol, bilirubin and phospholipids like phosphatidylcholine. Bile acts like a detergent by emulsifying fat into tiny droplets allowing the digestive enzymes to do their job.
Bile is also the major pathway that excess cholesterol is eliminated. Know anybody with high cholesterol? A healthy gallbladder and liver are essential for cholesterol management.
When the intestine senses the presence of fat, it signals the gallbladder via a hormone called Cholesystokinin (CCK) to squeeze the gallbladder to release some bile. CCK also signals the pancreas to release some enzymes to complete the digestive process of fat.
Your gallbladder is a 4 inch sac that is located just under your right rib cage and behind your liver. You may, however, experience pain in other areas from a gallbladder attack.
Why the Low-Fat Craze has Wreaked Havoc on Millions of Gallbladders
The dietary powers that be started preaching in the 1960s that our nation’s increase in heart disease was caused by too much dietary fat. Thus began the low-fat craze that is still perpetuated today.
It has become ingrained in us to avoid fat like the plague. We think that if we eat fat, we will get fat. (No, if we eat too much sugar, we will get fat, but that’s another story).
Sadly, we now know that this fat/heart disease information was completely incorrect and based on a flawed study. In fact, there is NO link between dietary fat and heart disease, NOT EVEN with saturated fat.
Healthy fat is crucial to our health:
- We need fat to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
- A bi-layer of fat surrounds every cell in our bodies.
- Fat is our preferred slow-burning fuel source over glucose.
- The brain depends on fat for optimal function and mood elevation.
- Fat is essential for inflammation management.
- Fat slows down the absorption of nutrients for energy management.
Without healthy fat, our bodies simply cannot function optimally. We can limp along in life without fat, but likely live with pain, depression, malnourishment, cognitive decline, fatigue and many other maladies.
I emphasize consumption of HEALTHY dietary fats such as you would find in avocados, nuts, olives, coconut oil, olive oil, etc. Unfortunately, most of the dietary fats our nation consumes are the unhealthy fats like hydrogenated fats and processed vegetable oils.
But here’s the thing…you still need a healthy flow of bile to digest the bad fats as well as the good!
If you avoid fat in your diet, then the bile that is stored in your gallbladder never gets used and becomes thick and gunky (called biliary stasis) and can cause pain and even disease. When you do eat a high fat meal, that thick bile can’t be released properly.
That’s why a high fat meal can cause pain. But avoiding fat can only make things worse.
If you have your gallbladder removed, called a Cholesystectomy, and you consume a meal with fat in it, the liver may not supply enough bile to do the job. The liver supplies a constant trickle of bile but that may not be enough to digest the fat, depending on what you eat.
It’s like a faucet that is constantly dripping but not enough water flow to wash the dishes when you need it.
What Causes Gallstones?
When the small intestine detects the presence of fat, receptor cells in the lining send the hormone CCK to alert the gallbladder to release bile. If those receptor cells are impaired, the CCK signal is not sent out.
If the intestines are damaged and the CCK signal is not sent out, the gallbladder may never empty completely. If the gallbladder is filled with bile that is full of high levels of cholesterol, and low levels of phospholipids and bile salts, it can form a thick sludge. This is the perfect environment for crystal-like substances to form and precipitate out. These substances are known as gallstones and they can cause irritation. If the stones are large enough, they may get lodged in the cystic duct or common bile duct.
What can impair those receptor cells in the first place? A lot of things, unfortunately.
Food allergies and sensitivities are a primary cause of gallstone symptoms. Most commonly eggs, pork and onions. Also fowl, milk, coffee, oranges, corn, beans, nuts, apples, and tomatoes. More recently, gluten and cow’s milk protein have been associated with gallstone disease.
Be Kind to your Liver and Gallbladder
Approximately 750,000 gallbladder removal surgeries are performed each year in the U.S. Women are twice as likely to have gallstones as men.
Unfortunately, many people find that their symptoms do not resolve after the surgery and some even get a whole new set of problems like fat malabsorption or vitamin deficiencies.
“Removing the gallbladder is like throwing out the garbage pail instead of simply emptying it.” Leslie E. Korn says in her book Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health.
What can you do to support your liver and gallbladder? Glad you asked.
- Eliminate the foods you are sensitive or allergic to. How do you know? There are several lab tests (ask me about them) or you can simply do an elimination diet, You eliminate the most common food allergens and then one by one add those foods back into your regimen to gauge your reaction. A good elimination diet is discussed in The Elimination Diet by Tom Malterre.
- Take digestive enzymes. Quality matters with enzymes. I recommend Biotics Beta TCP which includes Pancrelipase, Taurine, Organic Beets, Vitamin C, SOD, and Catalase. Alternately Beta Plus from Biotics includes Ox Bile, Pancrelipase, Organic Beets and is recommended especially for those who have had their gallbladders removed.
- Eat your fruits and veggies. A minimum of 6 servings of vegetables and 1-2 servings of fruit per day. Broccoli sprouts are particularly helpful in preventing gallstone formation. Beets and beet juice are high in betaine which is supportive of the liver and bile ducts.
- Take a couple teaspoons of Apple Cider Vinegar. Mix with water and take before meals as digestive support.
- Take a bile lubricant. One of the following: Phosphatidylcholine (soy lecithin), Dandelion Root Extract, Milk Thistle (Sylmarin) or Turmeric. These will keep the bile flowing smoothly.
- Limit dietary sugar. Sugar intake correlates with gallstone formation.
- Take Taurine. Taurine is an amino acid used by the liver to make bile. Women tend to make less Taurine than men.
- Do a Liver/Gallbladder Flush. This flush forces the gallbladder to empty itself.
Here’s your simple change for the day: Avoid gallbladder surgery by taking care of your gallbladder.
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Joli Tripp and Simple Changes Healthy Results are not medical doctors nor licensed medical professionals. No comment or recommendation should be construed as being a medical diagnosis. If you suffer from a medical or pathological condition, you should consult an appropriate healthcare provider.
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Nutrition Essentials for Mental Health, Leslie E. Korn, 2016
7-Day Detox Miracle, Peter Bennett and Stephen Barrie, N.D., 2001
Digestive Wellness, Elizabeth Lipski, 2012