I hear my husband shout for me from downstairs. “Call 911!”
“What?!? Are you serious?” was my response. I was in shock that he was in that much pain curled up on the floor clutching his waist.
This was serious. The ambulance came and whisked him to the hospital. I had to stay home with our infant son who was sick at the time. My husband would occasionally call with updates but I really didn’t know what was going on. He had a similar pain before but removing his gallbladder was supposed to take care of it. Now the pain was back with a vengeance and the doctors were worried about his survival.
What we didn’t know was that removing the gallbladder doesn’t always get rid of the pain. This is because surgery doesn’t address the causes of dysfunction. Cholecystectomy also puts you at an increased risk of pancreatic cancer and certain liver diseases. When you remove the canary from the coal mine, you don’t remove the risk. The unseen threat is still present even when you remove the warning signs.
Over half a million gall bladder removal surgeries (also called cholecystectomy) are preformed every year. It has become a routine outpatient procedure without regard to the consequences of removal or the cause of dysfunction. I remember my husband’s surgeon explaining that he didn’t need his gallbladder anyway. I didn’t know any better at the time. I thought doctors are supposed to know how the body works. But his statement about the gallbladder was undeniably false.
Humans aren’t created with unnecessary parts. Every organ, tissue, and cell plays an important role in our health. The question that often gets overlooked is “WHY?” Why is the gallbladder not working like it’s supposed to and causing pain?
The answer lies in understanding the purpose of the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores bile to be released when fat is ingested. A hormone called cholecystokinin is released from the small intestine when fat is present that signals the gallbladder to expel its bile into the small intestine. The bile emulsifies the fat so that it can be properly assimilated, it is also necessary for the absorption of fat soluble vitamins, like Vitamins A, D, E, and K. Bile also helps eliminate excess hormones and other metabolic byproducts from the body.
Bile is formed in the liver and is made up of water, cholesterol, lecithin, bile acids, bilirubin and other fats. If the concentration of cholesterol becomes too high, it can form gallstones. Many people mistakenly believe that high cholesterol is caused by a high fat diet. This is not true. We now understand that high cholesterol is caused by inflammation in the body and a high sugar diet. The truth is, eating too much sugar plays a bigger role in high cholesterol than eating too much fat.
Often times, people with gallbladder problems are told to follow a low fat diet. This only makes things worse. When someone follows a low fat diet their carbohydrate consumption increases. Excess carbohydrates are converted into fat in the liver. The liver can become bogged down with too many sugars and produce unhealthy bile as a result.
One of the biggest contributors to gallbladder dysfunction is a low fat or bad fat diet. If you don’t eat enough fat to trigger the release of bile it becomes more viscous or like sludge in the gallbladder. Consuming trans fats from hydrogenated oils can also cause bile stasis and inflammation, which in turn leads to dysfunction and the formation of gallstones.
The fundamental treatment for fixing gallbladder dysfunction is to improve digestion and liver function. Unfortunately, most conventional doctors don’t understand this because they aren’t taught nutrition in medical school.
Reversing gallbladder dysfunction is simple with the right foods and supplements. However, taking the natural route to heal your gallbladder takes time and requires patience. The key is to not wait until the pain is unbearable and you become desperate for relief.
The first and most important thing you can do for your gallbladder is to eat real food with a balance of healthy fats. Avoid processed and refined foods, like sugars, flours and vegetable oils. Do not switch to a low fat diet. Instead, aim for 30-40% of your diet to come from healthy fat sources like avocado, coconut, olives, nuts and grass fed butter or ghee. Avoid deep fried foods because they contain hydrogenated oils and rancid fats.
The next step is to make sure your digestion is working properly. Adequate stomach acid is critical to promote the release of cholecystokinin which stimulates the gallbladder. I’ve written about the importance of adequate stomach acid before. If you take acid reflux medication you will want to work with a health practitioner to wean off of it. You can support stomach acid production with digestive bitters or apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar has also been shown to help dissolve gallstones.
The third step is to support liver function for healthy bile production.
Here are the top three foods for better bile.
- Milk thistle
You can add beets to your salad and drink milk thistle tea daily. I generally recommend a therapeutic liver and gallbladder supplement to support the healing process. It’s best to work with a knowledgeable health practitioner when using supplements to make sure you are getting exactly what you need.
If you are dealing with gallbladder dysfunction, I strongly encourage you to work with a holistic nutritionist or functional medicine doctor. Your gallbladder is important and you want to do everything you can to save it. Without a gallbladder your body may not be able to properly absorb fat and fat soluble vitamins. These types of deficiencies can cause their own problems. If you don’t have your gallbladder anymore you may benefit from a bile supplement. Again, it’s best to work with a practitioner who understands how to naturally support the digestive process.
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