Do We Really Need Our Gallbadder?
Updated: Jun 29, 2019
Most of us probably aren’t aware of our gallbladder unless we’ve had trouble with it. I know I never gave it much thought until I started experiencing pain under my right rib cage. It came on suddenly, after eating, and didn’t happen often at first. It was a cramping/piercing/burning discomfort on my right side. Eventually the pain became ever present and I couldn’t wait to get the thing out!
Many people live their entire lives without thinking about their gallbladder. What does it even do and why should we be concerned about the health of the small organ?
In fact, the gallbladder is a very important part of our digestive system. It stores the digestive substance called bile, which is created in the liver. Bile is composed of bile salts, cholesterol, bilirubin, phospholipids, water, and trace minerals. When we eat fatty food, the gallbladder receives a signal to release bile which breaks down the lipids (fats) in the chyme (the mix of broken down food and stomach acid that exits the stomach). Bile is also an alkaline substance so another function is to neutralize the stomach acid in chyme so it doesn’t burn our intestines as it makes its way through the digestive system.
But the gallbladder can be a troublesome little organ. Gallstones, which form from cholesterol and other things in the bile, are common and can be a source of gallbladder attacks. Many people have gallstones without realizing it, but others experience significant discomfort. Stones can become lodged in the common bile duct, which is very painful and can lead to pancreatitis. It is also common for polyps to grow in the gallbladder. Cancer of the gallbladder is rare but when polyps are found, the organ is often removed as a precaution.
So what happens after the gallbladder is removed? Without the storage unit bile constantly drips from the bile duct. For many people this is enough bile to break down fats properly. After the brief recovery time and small adjustments in diet (such as being careful with fatty foods) life returns to normal.
For others digestion is never the same. They struggle with loose stool after eating fat. Some become deficient in fat soluble vitamins. Others deal with BAM (bile acid malabsorption) which is chronic loose stool. A few develop bile reflux—bile flushing back into the stomach causing gastritis and refluxing into the esophagus. Still others develop SOD (Sphincter of Oddi dysfunction) which is the inability of the sphincter in the common bile duct to contract and relax properly resulting in significant pain and can also lead to pancreatitis.
As you can see, while we can live without the gallbladder, its absence has the potential to cause a lot of pain and digestive distress.
CAN IT BE SAVED?
So what are the alternatives to removing the gallbladder? In some cases, the gallbladder is too far gone. It might have become septic or the gallstones are simply too large. But if a patient would like to try to keep their gallbladder, there are a few things to try. Doctors can prescribe medications like ursodiol to help dissolve the gallstones. There are supplements (turmeric, magnesium, milk thistle, etc.) and foods (increased vegetable intake, especially beets, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables) that will support the liver and bile production, helping the gallbladder function more efficiently.
I specialize in working with people who have digestive problems after having their gallbladder removed. I create an individualized diet and supplement plan as well as offering support for lifestyle modifications and stress management.
If you would like support for digestive issues related to gallbladder dysfunction or removal, please contact me! email@example.com