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Your Gallbladder & Why It's Not Useless

What’s the Deal with the Gallbladder?

Approximately 100,000 Gallbladders are removed in Canada every year. It is by and large one of the most common surgeries our patients have had and we're often conversing with patients after the fact about what this little but mighty organ does. We discuss not only its function but also why it's important and what you can do to support your system with or without it.

If you’ve been in Dr. Lia’s office you would have noticed the very bright and colourful GI Apron.  This is a fantastic teaching tool but when I got it as a gift from Dr. Jones -- It didn’t come with a Gallbladder. It’s such an important part of the digestive tract and the conversations we have with patients, that Dr. Lia had her M-I-L sew one on.

The Gall Bladder is a small pear-shaped sack that stores and most importantly - concentrates bile.  It is connected to the liver by the hepatic duct and the bile that the liver produces flows into it so that it can be concentrated by up to 50x.  When you have a meal, the hormone cholecystokinin is produced by cells in the intestinal wall and is secreted into the bloodstream where it travels to the gall bladder.  This stimulus tells the small organ to contract and 'dump' the goods into the common bile duct so that it can make its way to the duodenum [small intestine].  The concentrated bile takes dietary fat, breaks it into small particles and allows the action of lipase to complete the steps needed for absorption.  But that's not all that it does!  Bile also helps with the absorption of other nutrients, neutralizes stomach acid, kills microbes found in foods, helps eliminate toxic compounds and balances cholesterol.  

Why do people get stones?

Sometimes substances can crystalize in the gallbladder and form gallstones, these small, hard concretions are painful, especially after fatty meals and often cause an irritation in the gall bladder [cholecystitis] that leads to the suggestion of removal.  We find this more often in women, aged over 40 with metabolic concerns and a higher level of inflammation. An estimated 22% of those diagnosed with gallbladder dysfunction are referred for gallbladder removal. 

Can people treat this naturally? absolutely! But it takes dietary changes and supplementation to get a handle on the problem -- and it's something patients truly have to be committed to. We rarely get the chance to contribute to cases as patients are often finding their way to us post-surgery. But when given the opportunity - we love using the tools in our toolbelt to turn around the inflammatory issues in the gallbladder.

Ethnicity also plays a major role in the prevalence of gallbladder stones. Native Americans and Hispanics have much higher rates of disease than other ethnicities. Women are also twice as likely to develop gallstones than men.

What happens when you don't have a gallbladder?

When the gallbladder is removed unconcentrated bile is formed in the liver & released into the duodenum but this release is not timed with the arrival of food from the stomach. Because of this mistiming -- all kinds of problems can arise such as:

  • indigestion

  • deficiencies of fat-based vitamins 

  • overgrowth of unwanted and opportunistic bacteria

  • increased risk of gastric carcinoma

  • difficulties with blood sugar regulation and risk of diabetes

  • inactivation of pancreatic enzymes - and further malnutrition

We suggest you mitigate this by taking a good quality digestive aid around your meals - most likely one containing supplementary bile acids. We also suggest that you stay on top of your blood work and consider looking at advanced testing to understand your nutrient status. Check-in with your ND, they will help you navigate which one would be the most appropriate for your overall health. 

What kind of dietary changes can you make?

Some things to consider for overall health but especially for your gallbladder:

  • avoid processed saturated fats, hydrogenated fats and fried foods

  • avoid high sugar, high refined carbohydrates

  • avoid foods you know that trigger you

  • avoiding dairy for some can be helpful as it can be somewhat pro-inflammatory depending on the source

  • eat a high fiber diet (35g of fiber every day!)

  • eat your veggies - especially those greens, beets, artichokes, etc

  • use healthy unrefined fats like olive oil and avocado oil

  • eat healthy, good quality lean protein

Avoid having yo-yo diets that lead to massive weight loss. If you have large amounts of visceral fat (extra around all your organs) - you are more at risk. Rapid weight loss or major shifts in electrolytes will put stress on the liver and gallbladder and you are more likely to form stones.

There is lots more to consider - talk to your ND today!

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