Most people don’t think about their gallbladder unless painful gallstones require them to have surgery. However, even if there are no obvious symptoms, the gallbladder can still cause gut problems or chronic inflammatory issues.
In fact, when people have chronic gastrointestinal symptoms that are difficult to resolve, gallbladder issues are one of the most common and overlooked causes.
The gallbladder stores bile, which it secrets to emulsify dietary fats. The issue with many cases of poor gallbladder health isn’t gallbladder stones but a condition called biliary stasis. This is when the bile becomes overly thick and doesn’t secrete well to assist in digesting fats.
Due to the hormonal impact on the gallbladder, biliary stasis is especially common in overweight women over the age of 40 who have had children.
Gallstones are obvious and easy to diagnose by checking for the following symptoms:
- Severe and sudden pain in the upper right abdomen and possibly extending to the upper back
- Fever and shivering
- Severe nausea and vomiting
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
- Clay colored stools or dark urine
Usually, gallstones will send you to the emergency room and require gallbladder removal surgery, one of the most commonly performed surgeries today.
Instead of waiting for a problem to develop in the future, tending to your gallbladder health now will improve your gut function and lower inflammation in the present. Not only that, you will most likely avoid an unnecessary surgery which increases the risks of developing other health problems.
In some cases of biliary stasis, an ultrasound will show gallstones that have formed but not yet obstructed the gallbladder. However, for many people, the problem is that the bile is too thick which can be identified by the following symptoms:
- Bloating after meals
- Burping after meals
- Fish oil burps from fish oil capsules
- Fatty foods make you feel worse
- Floating stools
- Chronic constipation
To avoid these uncomfortable symptoms, many people with poor gallbladder function and biliary stasis significantly reduce their consumption of fats, even healthy fats like olive oil and avocado oil. They may also stop eating fish or taking fish oils because they don’t like the “fishy burps.”
Unfortunately, reducing healthy fat intake comes with its own health risks, particularly for the brain and the hormones, because the body needs ample healthy fats for optimal function. It also leads to deficiencies in the vital fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.
The symptoms above can be caused by other imbalances, which means that conventional doctors may dismiss them altogether. Sufficient bile flow is necessary to digest fats making it crucial to address gallbladder function and biliary stasis as undigested fats cause imbalances elsewhere in the body.
For example, this can lead to poor sphincter function in the digestive tract, which facilitates the transport of bacteria from the large intestine into the small intestine, causing a condition called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO causes multiple symptoms including chronic constipation, chronic diarrhea, or both. Another common SIBO symptom is bloating.
Biliary stasis also backs up the liver’s detoxification pathways which means it can’t effectively detoxify hormones, toxins, and other metabolites. This increases the toxic burden on your system, creating more inflammation in the body.
If you are currently taking GI supplements and following an appropriate diet for gut health and your symptoms are still not improving, you may want to consider addressing your gallbladder.
Improving your gallbladder health
Fortunately, there are nutritional compounds that support gallbladder health, fat digestion, and liver detoxification, including dandelion root, milk thistle seed extract, ginger root, phosphatidylcholine, and taurine. These compounds, along with ox bile, can help even if your gallbladder has been removed.
Practicing the following habits will also be helpful in improving and maintaining gallbladder health:
- Eating 25–38 grams of fiber a day
- Avoiding processed and excess starchy carbohydrates (white flour, sugar, potatoes, pasta, etc.)
- Avoiding trans fats, hydrogenated fats, and processed vegetable oils
- Getting plenty of essential fatty acids and omega 3s
- Eliminating foods to which you have an immune response; gluten and dairy are the two most common
- Supporting low thyroid function or autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
Contact my office to learn more about supporting your gallbladder health, or your overall health if your gallbladder has been removed.
For additional information on the gallbladder, click the links below: