Since we provide nutritional counseling and support for our patients in the office, we run across our fair share of organ issues. One of the most common, especially dealing with the pregnant patient is gallbladder issues. Almost everyone knows someone (or is that someone) who had had gallbladder attacks and many unfortunately have had to have their gallbladder removed. So why does this happen?? Are there any natural alternatives to surgery and gallbladder attacks?? What’s so special about the gallbladder anyway? Can’t I live without one?
Let’s start with what the gallbladder really does for us. Medicine has deemed the gallbladder an expendable organ an routinely removes them (even on 33 week pregnant moms!!). But the gallbladder is not just an extra organ, it has some very important roles in the body.
What exactly does the gallbladder do??
One of the biggest misconceptions/scams of our time has been the whole cholesterol issue. ”Good” cholesterol vs “Bad” cholesterol and what that means for heart disease and stroke has created an entire generation of drugs and of people who stay away from much needed fats in their diet thinking that will prevent cholesterol build-up in the body. Contrary to this theory, fats are very VERY necessary in the body and for normal function and healing in the nervous system. Interestingly enough, one of the organs in the body most responsible for allowing our bodies to absorb fats out of our diet…..the gallbladder. In digestion what happens is that when you eat fats (like some coconut oil for example), the fat is not broken down at all until it gets to your small intestine. It actually skips the mouth and the stomach and goes straight to the small intestines. When it gets there it causes the release of a hormone called Cholecystokinin. The job of this hormone is 2 fold: 1. Close the pyloric sphincter to the stomach to basically prevent some of the fats from re-entering the stomach once they are in the intestines and then keeping more stuff from joining them and 2. Signaling the gallbladder to release bile to help with fat breakdown. Once the bile is released it helps to emulsify the fats or really to spread them out so that we can absorb them through the lining in the small intestines (the site for which most of everything we absorb in the body is absorbed). Without the gallbladder we would have no way of prepping the fats we eat for absorption and would be deficient in these healing fats. Also, if you can’t absorb your fats correctly, then you will become deficient in fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, K, E, and D (makes you wonder if the Vitamin D deficiency in our country is really a fat deficiency doesn’t it??). The bile your gallbladder produces is also a powerful antioxidant for the liver, helping to remove toxins from the organ.
So what causes the gallbladder to become congested and to begin malfunctioning?? Here’s a list of many of the things that can lead to gallbladder problems:
- Rapid weight loss
- Estrogen intake and birth control pills(estrogen increases the concentration of cholesterol in the bile)
- Hashimoto’s Thyroid Disease
- Over age 40 and increase in risk as one ages
- Female especially those who have had children
- Ethnicity (Pima Indians and Mexican-Americans)
- High triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol, decreased HDL cholesterol, (look at ratio, not levels)
- Alcohol intake
- Family history of gallbladder disease (Heredity)
- Cholesterol-lowering drugs, immunosuppressive drugs and others
- Very Low Calorie Diets
- Diet high in saturated fats (not good animal fats, bad fats from fried foods, etc.)
- Diet high in refined foods and sugars
- Diet low in fiber (which is what the refined diets are) and not enough vegetables
- Non-fat diets (diets of no fat at all will create pressure in the gallbladder)
- Low-fat diets
- Diseases such as chronic inflammatory bowel disease, chrons disease (ulcerative colitis is controversial) Hemolytic anemias
So the biggest issues out of that list that I see in the office are overweight, estrogen dominance (due to either birth control pills, hormone replacement, or general estrogen dominance due to environment), horrible diets (no fats or bad fats), and major stress for years.
Well, over long periods of time with either bad diet, stress, or lack of function and circulation, the flow of bile becomes sluggish and gallstones are formed, known as Cholelithiasis. Gallstones are made up of calcium, cholesterol, and bilirubin. As the size and amount of gallstones increases over time, the main bile duct that the gallbladder uses to transport bile to the intestines can become blocked causing inflammation to the bile duct (Choleangitis) or inflammation in the gallbladder (Cholecystitis).
So what are the symptoms I would experience?
Well, interestingly enough, most of the gallbladder issues I’ve uncovered in the office came in complaining of back pain!! That’s right. There’s a neurological phenomenon that occurs with organs called “referral pain”. Basically, every organ has a site that it will refer pain to if in trouble. The gallbladder will refer pain under the right shoulder blade. The pain is an intense, cramping pain that patients describe as feeling like someone is driving a spear straight through from the front to the back. So with the back pain you could experience associated pain in the abdomen on the right side, just under your rib cage, in the area of the gallbladder. Other symptoms include intense itching all over the body, jaundice or yellowing of the skin due to stress on the liver, fatty stools and clotting problems in the blood.
So how do you know if you have problems with your gallbladder??
Unfortunately, most people will have some congestion in their gallbladder just from years of living. But you don’t have to have major symptoms to be having some issues with the organ. The best way to know is to have it tested, either by your chiropractor (we do a specific pressure test for it), or an ultrasound by your primary doc to see if you have any stones forming at all.
If you find that you have problems with your gallbladder or you’ve been having problems and attacks for awhile is surgery the only option?? Absolutely NOT!! Luckily, the body is created so perfectly that as long as we give it what it needs, it will heal on its own. There are a couple things you can do to help your gallbladder repair itself:
1. Gallbladder flush: This is a quicker, more direct way to address gallbladder congestion and stone formation. Before you do this cleanse you really need to check with your doctor (chiropractor or GP) to make sure they feel you are ready for this cleanse and can handle it. It is only a day an a half, but is pretty intense. It works really well to re-set the gallbladder though and help move congestion and sludge through the body to help it function better. Go here to check out this cleanse to see if it is something for you.
2. Nutritional Support: To take a more gradual approach that is easier on the body but still seriously effective, try the following supplements:
A-F Betafood/Betafood: These two supplements are made up of concentrated betain or beet juice enzymes which have been found to help dissolve gallstones and help to clean out the gallbladder and liver ducts responsible for creating and producing bile. Take regular Betafood if you’re pregnant because the A-F Betafood has extra Vitamin A in it and you don’t need that much extra “A” getting to the baby because their liver is so sensitive. We’ve used this product many many times and it works really well. We carry this product in the office but you can also find it at Sunflower Shop as well with a referral.
Cholacol: If you’re truly going to help support the gallbladder then you need to take this product with the Betafood because this product contains the bile salts your gallbladder needs to help produce normal bile. Taking this helps to take the pressure off of the gallbladder to produce so much so that it can rest and repair.
I normally recommend going through one entire bottle of each and then re-evaluating how you’re feeling. If you’re doing great then stop them, if you’re still queasy or having problems with digestion, then go through another bottle of each.
So what if you’ve already taken yours out?? What then??
Well, you’ll never digest or process fats the same again, that’s for sure. But luckily, since your body is so amazing, your liver will take over some of the gallbladder’s job and help to produce more bile. This taxes the liver more so you need to be diligent to support the liver by doing liver cleanses or supplements throughout the year. Also, if you’ve had yours taken out, I recommend my patients to take Cholacol indefinitely. This allows your body the extra support to help produce the bile to help you process the fats that you need.
Hopefully that clears up some of the misconceptions about the “extra organ” commonly referred to as the Gallbladder. We need this organ so much so at all cost you want to heal and preserve yours!!