Let’s be more proactive about gallbladder health
Gallbladder removal – cholecystectomy – is a very common surgical procedure that may be medically advised for people who have developed gallstones that cause tissue inflammation and intense pain. Unresolved gallstones may also increase risk of developing gallbladder cancer. Removing these gallstones should be a relief, but any surgical procedure has risks; and life without a gallbladder may have some longer term consequences arising from changes in your tolerance for fats and higher fibre foods. Read more about this here. Moreover, removing a gallbladder does not resolve the underlying drivers for the formation of gallstones. If we understand what was going wrong, we should be able to make changes to resolve this health problem with more natural, less complicated, less uncomfortable and less costly options.
Your gallbladder lies below your right hand side liver - hence association with right side pain
Firstly understand that bile is needed to emulsify fat so that it can be digested by lipase, the fat digesting pancreatic enzyme. Bile contains water, bile acids, cholesterol, lecithin, potassium, sodium, choline, plus the breakdown products of many toxins, including excess chemicals, hormones, drugs, heavy metals, and bilirubin (from recycled red blood cells). It is produced in your liver, then stored and concentrated in your gallbladder. Your gallbladder is stimulated to contract, secreting bile into your small intestine, when acidic portions of predigested food pass from your stomach into the first part (duodenum) of your small intestine. Bile plus the toxins and excess cholesterol will become part of your faeces and excreted – as long as you are not constipated.
So things can go wrong when your liver is not producing bile well; when bile becomes too viscous; when stomach acid is too low to stimulate gallbladder contraction; when you are constipated and toxins and cholesterol are reabsorbed and recycled from your colon instead of being excreted. All of these drivers become more common as we age, and typically at an earlier age for women than men, as our livers have to deal with the hormonal changes during perimenopause and menopause on top of all its usual functions of metabolism and detoxification. Hence why supporting healthy liver function is so helpful, including reducing alcohol and other toxins; increasing foods that provide nutrients needed for the biochemical processes in our liver, especially those sulphur rich cruciferous vegetables; resolving constipation; reducing harmful stress that depletes us of vitally important nutrients and resilience.
Because cholesterol levels do trend up in menopause, many women are advised to follow low fat diets and to avoid cholesterol rich foods. However know that our bodies make most of our cholesterol endogenously; and we need cholesterol for production of hormones, which includes vitamin D; and we need magnesium to make vitamin D from endogenous cholesterol; and we need vitamin D and magnesium to help us absorb calcium; and we need magnesium to balance the effects of calcium, to prevent harmful calcification – including gallstones and atherosclerotic plaques. Cholesterol is not the problem, as much as dysregulated calcium in our bodies. Hence why increasing our food sources of magnesium and appropriate magnesium supplementation is so helpful, including reducing high cholesterol and gallstones, as well as atherosclerosis, hypertension and risk of cardiac disease and strokes.
Low stomach acid can be a problem at any age, and is a major cause of indigestion and regurgitation, which is commonly medically treated with acid-suppressing drugs like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Pantoprazole (and other drugs that end in ~ole), which exacerbates the problems caused by low stomach acid. PPIs have serious side effects, due to consequences of impaired digestive function and nutrient deficiencies. Hence why supporting digestive function is so important to enable our bodies to assimilate nutrients needed for our cellular biochemistry, including liver processes, including production of bile of the normal consistency.
Don’t be misled in believing that low-fat diets are a healthy solution, if you are excluding good fats and having to eat too much carbohydrates as your main energy source. Most people are consuming too many “bad” fats being the rancid and excess amounts of long chained fatty acids in common cooking oils, processed foods, processed meats and grain fed animal meats.
By good fats I’m referring to those with a more balanced fatty acid profile, including short- and medium chained fatty acids, in plant food, avocados, olives, raw nuts and seeds, meat and fats from grass-fed animals and wild fish. We need the right amounts of these fatty acids for the structural integrity of healthy cell membranes throughout the body, reducing inflammation, enhancing brain health, providing energy, enabling absorption of fat soluble vitamins and minerals, normalising bowel movements and supporting weight loss.
Low fat diets can lead to gallbladder problems because the gallbladder become sluggish without enough “work to do”. Bile stagnates in an under-worked gallbladder, thickens, becomes more viscous and sticky, and forms gallstones that block the bile ducts.
Without enough bile released into our intestine, fat cannot be emulsified and absorbed, leading to deficiencies associated with many adverse health consequences. Some undigested fat (from long chained fatty acids) enters the bloodstream, but not in the form of fatty acids that the body can use. Some of it is stored in fat cells along with the toxins. When fat weight increases, toxicity increases and inflammation increases. Other undigested fat combines with calcium and iron in the small intestine, preventing the absorption of these minerals, with health consequences of mineral deficiencies, including but not limited to increased risk of osteomalacia (soft bones) or osteoporosis (degradation of bone), iron deficiency and increased risk of anaemia. Undigested fat can also cover partially digested carbohydrates and protein, and which prevents them from being properly broken down. These undigested foods pass through to the large intestine (colon) where bacteria feed on them.
Yes, this sounds all quite complicated, but only when our digestive system goes wrong; and it goes wrong when we habitually make poor food choices! If you are more interested in avoiding health complications than relying on drug and surgical treatment options, then consider if you have symptoms of impaired digestion and sluggish bile flow, and come talk with me about how I can help you resolve these with dietary improvements and biochemic tissue salts.
Do you have symptoms of a sluggish bile flow?
Light or grey coloured stools
Waking in the middle of the night
Difficulty losing weight
Constipation (because bile lubricates the colon)
Toxic metals (revealed in hair tissue mineral analyses)
Symptoms of deficiencies in fat soluble vitamins
e.g. inability to drive at night or do close work (vitamin A deficiency)
Headaches/jaw pain – usually on right hand side
Right hand side shoulder pain and upper back
Hot flushes (because liver is not breaking down hormones)
Arthritis and/or joint or muscle inflammation
Sciatic pain down the side of the leg
Bitter taste in mouth
Not satisfied after a meal because good nutrients are not absorbed effectively
High cholesterol (because bile is predominantly made from cholesterol)
Lack of energy