Your gallbladder…You probably do not give your gallbladder much thought, that is unless you have experienced gallstones or gallbladder attack. It is, after all, one of the most commonly removed organs in the United States. Your gallbladder is part of the biliary system. It is a small four-inch, pear shaped sac located just below the liver on the right side of the abdomen. The gallbladder’s primary function is to store a digestive enzyme called bile, which is produced in the liver. The gallbladder stores the bile until the small intestines releases a hormone called cholecystokinin. When cholecystokinin is released it sends a signal to the gallbladder to contract and secrete bile into the small intestines through the common bile duct. The bile helps in the digestive process by breaking up dietary fat. The quality and consistency of the bile is important. Bile that is thick and sludge like cannot perform its job and has difficulty being released from the gallbladder. The amount of bile required depends on the amount of fat a meal contains. The more fat the more bile; the less fat the less bile is needed. The gallbladder is not necessary for human survival but it does play an essential part of the digestive process.
Common problems that occur with the gallbladder are gallstones, gallbladder attack, and gallbladder disease. If you have experienced any of these issues you know that they can be extremely painful. One cause of these common gallbladder issues is poor diet. To maintain a healthy gallbladder, it is important to eat a diet that regularly consists of healthy fats. Healthy fats keep the gallbladder healthy by keeping the bile healthy and moving. Low fat and no-fat diets are probably one of the biggest contributors to gallbladder problems. Typically, the gallbladder can be saved and it is not necessary to remove this important organ, which I will go into more detail below.
The type of fat you consume directly determines the quality of the bile in the gallbladder. For a healthy gallbladder you should avoid fried, hydrogenated and trans fats along with highly refined/processed oils. These include canola oil, margarine, corn oil, cottonseed oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rice bran oil, peanut oil and other refined nut and seed oils. These types of fat will cause poor quality bile and they are also pro-inflammatory. Along with avoiding these poor-quality fats you want to make sure that you are eating enough high-quality fats. If you are not consuming enough good fats your gallbladder does not have a need to release bile, which can lead to the bile becoming thick and sludgy, which leads to gallbladder issues.
Several signs of poor fat digestion and gallbladder issues include greasy, light colored stools that float, gas, bloating and nausea. Other signs are upset stomach after eating greasy foods, pain below the right rib cage (where the gallbladder is located), pain between the shoulder blades and possibly headache above the eyes. Chest pain, shaking, chills and vomiting may also be more severe signs.
There are several foods that can help improve gallbladder health and help it perform its job. Cholagogues, which are foods that help stimulate bile such as dandelion greens or tea, artichokes, mustard greens and daikon radish. Other foods that can help include apple cider vinegar, beets, raw or slightly cooked egg yolk and cranberries.
If you are concerned about the health of your gallbladder, reach out and seek the appropriate help. I would recommend trying to heal your gallbladder before resorting to removing it. This can be done by eating nutrient dense whole foods and healthy fats that support a healthy gallbladder and the production of bile, many of which are mentioned above. Also avoid poor quality oils that lead to poor quality bile and inflammation. If you have already had your gallbladder removed a general recommendation would be to supplement with bile salts, basically your gallbladder in a bottle. Bile salts will help support proper fat digestion and take the burden off of the liver.
Jamey Floreck, NTP, CPT