The gallbladder is a pear shaped organ that lies below the liver. It stores and concentrates bile that we make in the liver.
After eating a meal which contains fat, the liver and gallbladder are stimulated to release bile. Between meals the gallbladder concentrates bile. The bile emulsifies the fat, cholesterol and fat soluble vitamins and breaks them into microscopic pieces.
If your gallbladder is not performing optimally you are likely to be deficient in fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K) and fatty acids. Gallbladder issues also indicate a poor functioning liver.
Inflammation of the gallbladder leads to pain and discomfit (cholecystitis).
Symptoms of gallbladder inflammation;
- food intolerances
- severe upper abdominal pain often radiating to the shoulder and mid back.
The most common digestive problem associated with the gallbladder is gallstones (cholelithiasis). Women are 2-4 times more likely than men to get gallstones.
There are two types of stones – pigmented stones (formed from bilirubin and calcium)and cholesterol stones (hardened cholesterol). Some people may have no symptoms whilst others get symptoms when the gallstones obstruct bile flow or when the stones cover the duct.
Obesity has been linked to gallstone formation as well as sedentary lifestyle and a diet rich in refined carbohydrates and sugar . This diet leads to an abnormal bile composition, altered gut microflora and hyperinsulemia (excess levels of insulin circulating in the blood relative to glucose. This can lead to metabolic diseases).
A gallbladder removal (cholecystectomy) is one of the most common surgeries undertaken in Australia. Some people have complete resolution of symptoms once their gallbladder is removed whilst others have more digestive issues than when they started. Problems like IBS and chronic diarrhoea. Dietary intervention is a fantastic place to start with gallbladder. Good liver health and prevention of gallstones through diet and lifestyle really is the way to go.
Diet plays a huge role in gallbladder disease. Some of the foods known to trigger gallbladder symptoms are; tomatoes, eggs, pork, milk, coffee, citrus, corn, beans, deep fried meals and nuts.
One of the theories as why people get gallstones is due to low fibre diets with lots of processed foods. A diet that is high in processed refined carbohydrates and fat and lower in fibre leads to a reduction in the synthesis of bile acids in the liver and a lower bile acid concentration in the gallbladder. A diet high in fibre is essential in the prevention of gallstones as well as the reversal of gallstones.
A predominately vegetarian diet has been shown to be protective against gallstone formation. They are not sure whether this could be simply from the increase in fibre.
There is some research on food allergies and their ability to bring on a gallbladder attack. An elimination diet may be useful to find out what foods affect you.
A high intake of refined sugar is a definite risk factor for gallstones. People with gallstones have lower transit time, increasing the risk of constipation which can lead to other digestive conditions.
Foods to increase in your diet
Bitter foods – spinach, kale, rocket, dandelion greens, watercress as they encourage bile production and release.
Essential Fatty Acids- wheatgerm, linseed, walnuts, oily fish (salmon,sardines, tuna, mackerel, herrings, or fish oil capsules).
High fibre foods -fruit and vegetables, oats, oat bran, artichokes,beetroots and lecithin as these solubilise cholesterol and emulsifies fat.
Drink 2-3 cups of dandelion root tea per day as this helps with liver stimulation which will improve bile synthesis.
Use digestive enzymes with meals especially lipase. You may need to supplement fat soluble Vitamins A,D, E, K as they will be depleted. A deficiency of Vitamin C has also been shown to cause gallstones so include loads of vitamin C rich foods like berries, kiwi fruit, dark leafy greens and papaya to name a few.
Now its your turn. Have you had your gallbladder removed? How was your digestion after that?