Removal of the gallbladder is one of the most common surgeries performed in the USA and Australia today. Gallstones are incredibly common and they occur in 10 to 15 percent of the population. The problem does tend to run in families. Women are more likely to experience gallbladder problems than men and this is partly due to the effects of the female hormone estrogen.
A gallbladder performs several important roles in your body:
- Enables fat digestion
- Enables absorption of fat soluble antioxidants and vitamins A, E, D and K
- Assists the removal of cholesterol from your body
- Assists the removal of toxins that have been broken down by the liver
Obviously you can survive without a gallbladder, but you are more prone to developing certain health problems. In particular you are at greater risk of developing a fatty liver, experiencing indigestion and developing deficiencies of essential fatty acids and fat soluble nutrients
What happens when you don’t have a gallbladder?
Your liver continues to manufacture bile, but there is no longer a place to store it or concentrate it. Therefore bile continually slowly trickles into the intestines. If you eat a fatty meal, you will not be able to secrete a large enough amount of bile into your intestines, therefore the fat will be poorly digested. This means many people experience diarrhea, bloating, nausea or indigestion.
Not digesting fat well means you will not be able to digest essential fatty acids, including omega 3 and omega 6 fats. It also means you’ll have a hard time absorbing fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins D, E, A and K. A lot of the antioxidants in vegetables are fat soluble: lycopene, lutein and carotenoids are all fat soluble. If you don’t produce adequate bile, you will not be adequately absorbing these life saving compounds from foods. If you take any of the above mentioned nutrients in supplement form, without sufficient bile you will sadly not absorb them well.
Some common symptoms of poor fat digestion are dry, brittle hair; dry skin and premature aging of the skin; weak nails and painful joints. Essential fatty acids are important for optimal brain health, therefore low mood, anxiety, depression and impaired cognitive function are all possible manifestations of poor fat digestion.
How to have a healthy liver and good digestion without a gallbladder
First of all it’s important to realise that you developed a gallbladder problem in the first place because you had an unhealthy liver and a problem with your digestive system. If your liver is not healthy, it will make poor quality bile. The bile will be prone to forming sludge and stones. Just removing the gallbladder doesn’t solve that problem, and in fact sludge and stones can form within the liver, compromising its function.
Here are some vital tips to follow:
- Keep your intake of dairy products and grains to a minimum or avoid them altogether. Dairy products (milk, cheese, ice-cream, yoghurt) worsen all cases of gallbladder disease, liver disease and they are very difficult to digest. Food intolerance is a common cause of gallbladder problems, and there is research that links gluten intolerance with gallstones. A good reason to keep your intake of grains low is to reduce the risk of developing a fatty liver. There is a great deal of helpful information in our book Save your Gallbladder, and what to do if you’ve already lost it.
- Take a good quality liver tonic such as Livatone. The herbs St Mary’s thistle, dandelion root and globe artichoke leaves all increase bile production and bile flow. Taurine is an amino acid necessary for bile production. This should help to make you feel more comfortable after a meal, and should reduce the risk of stones forming inside your liver.
- Take an ox bile supplement. This is the most important recommendation for people who have lost their gallbladder. A lack of bile can produce symptoms such as bloating and indigestion after meals, light colored stools, diarrhea, fatigue after meals and nutrient deficiencies. Taking a good quality ox bile supplement with each meal is wonderful for completely eliminating these symptoms in most individuals.
- Take a Digestive Enzymes supplement. The majority of people who developed a gallbladder problem have suffered with poor digestion for many years. If your stomach and intestines are not in optimal health, they will not send signals to your gallbladder, telling it to contract properly. Irritable bowel syndrome, dysbiosis, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and Candida overgrowth are common in people with a gallbladder problem. If you have had your gallbladder removed, you may continue to suffer symptoms due to those conditions. These digestive problems also cause insufficient digestive enzyme production. Taking digestive enzymes in supplement form helps to restore good digestive health and reduces symptoms of indigestion.
- Eat some good fats and avoid the bad fats. Your doctor may have recommended you follow a low fat diet after having your gallbladder removed. This is not necessary and in fact it is harmful. Your body desperately needs good fats and I recommend you include moderate quantities of extra virgin olive oil, avocados, coconut milk and oil, nuts and seeds in your diet.
- You may need a vitamin D3 supplement. People with compromised liver or digestive function are often vitamin D deficient. Exposure of your skin to the sun’s UVB rays enables your body to manufacture vitamin D. However, this process occurs in your liver and kidneys. People with a sluggish liver often do not manufacture vitamin D adequately. Therefore it’s a good idea to get a blood test and take a supplement. 5000 IU of vitamin D3 is a safe and effective dose for most people, but it’s best to be guided by your own doctor.
- Include some bitter and sour foods in your diet. They should help to improve your digestion and make it easier to tolerate good fats in your diet. Suitable bitter and sour foods include lemons, limes, radicchio lettuce, chicory, endive and dandelion leaves. These leaves are fairly easy to grow at home if you are lucky enough to have your own veggie patch.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.