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Every year, 20 million people are diagnosed with gallbladder problems. Of those 20 million, about half will have their gallbladder removed as a part of their treatment plan.
Given some of the symptoms of gallbladder trouble, it’s understandable why people would be moved to extreme measures in an attempt to correct the problem, but often, removal of the gallbladder won’t fix the problem.
Changes in diet may provide relief for many people with gallbladder symptoms, including problems that won’t be corrected by removal.
But what does the gallbladder do?
The gallbladder, unlike other parts of the digestive system, does not produce or digest anything. The gallbladder serves as a holding tank for bile made by the liver.
Bile breaks fats down into fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins A, E, D, and K, and is dispensed into the intestines by bile ducts on the side of the gallbladder. Because bile is made in one place (the liver) and used in another (the intestines), it is routed through the gallbladder.
Bile serves many purposes in the body, but the major ones to remember are the digestion of fat, and the regulation of cholesterol.
What are the most common problems with the gallbladder?
Most people have heard of gallstones, and understand them to be painful, potentially dangerous, and extremely disruptive to one’s digestion. Gallstones are certainly one of the better known gallbladder ailments, and they are generally caused by a lack of bile.
A gallstone can obstruct the bile duct and prevent bile from reaching the intestines, causing difficulty digesting fat and fat-soluble vitamins, as well as the possibility of infections in the blocked gallbladder.
The gallbladder’s bile duct can become irritated by gallstones or fat buildup, and this can in turn irritate the phrenic nerve. Phrenic nerve irritation most often causes pain in the right shoulder and right side of the neck, but the severity and reach of the pain varies greatly.
Some people experience pain as far as in their right-side extremities; many experience headaches or pain under the right scapula (shoulder blade).
The phrenic nerve originates on the right side of the neck, and runs down the right side, embedding into the soft tissue near the gallbladder. For this reason, ailments of the gallbladder, bile duct, and liver can all affect the nerve and result in pain farther up the body.
Why doesn’t removal correct these problems?
If your body doesn’t have enough bile, and you remove your body’s bile holding tank, will that help your lack of bile?
Absolutely not! On top of that, gallbladder removal does not include removal of the duct that so frequently irritates the phrenic nerve. A bile duct that doesn’t have enough bile coming through it may suffer irritating fat buildup, and cause still more gallbladder-related phrenic nerve pain.
Removal can also cause new problems with digesting fat. If you can’t effectively digest fat, you will have trouble getting enough of vitamins A, E, D, and K.
Your body will sense that something is missing, and you may feel unsatisfied with your food and crave sweets and fried foods.
Other Gallbladder Symptoms
Gallbladder ailments can cause a whole host of digestive symptoms easily mistaken for something else. Bloating, constipation, localized pain, and excessive belching can all be caused by the gallbladder. But these symptoms can be caused by other things, too.
A sick gallbladder is especially troubling because of the difficult symptoms it causes in other parts of the body.
90% of all headaches are phrenic nerve and gallbladder-related, including migraines, and headaches accompanied by nausea. Itching, sneezing, and hives also occur in some patients.
How can I take care of my gallbladder?
If you’re working on healthier eating habits, you’re on the right track. Common sense food choices, like limited fried food, sweets, refined carbohydrates, and alcohol are all good ideas if you’re looking out for the health of your gallbladder.
There are, however, a couple of tips I give patients that are more specific to gallbladder health.
One of the things I see a lot is gallbladder irritation caused by eating too many raw nuts. Raw nuts are an obvious choice when you’re looking for a quick, easy, healthy snack, but too much of a good thing is, indeed, a bad thing.
Roasted nuts are also tough on your gallbladder in excess. The fat in nuts can be difficult to digest without the proper digestive enzymes. What you want instead is germinated nuts.
This is a simple process you can do at home. Soak raw nuts overnight, in plain water, rinse them, then dry them in a dehydrator or your oven on low heat. This process releases digestive enzymes that help to break down the protein and fat in the nuts.
Soy is another major culprit in gallbladder problems. Soy is a cheap source of plant protein, and is found in more foods than you might expect. This is especially true of meat substitutes, protein powder, and protein bars.
Too much soy is hard on the gallbladder and liver, and some of these food items are too-common choices by people looking to lose weight and get healthy. Drop the soy protein! Soy triggers estrogen production, which can constrict the bile duct.
Heavily cooked proteins (like steak) also take a lot to digest, but they aren’t off-limits. As long as you’re eating lots of green vegetables, you are helping to keep your liver and gallbladder clear of fat and cholesterol buildup and fat-soluble toxins.
If you feel you need a little more help than an extra serving of kale with your dinner, you can take a tablet of Gallbladder Formula before your meals. The formula contains bile salts and other natural ingredients that prevent bloating, indigestion, and the formation of gallstones.
Gallbladder formula is not a substitute for changes in diet, but can be an additional boost for people who are especially prone to gallbladder trouble.
Understand your body and see more Digestion advice from Dr. Berg Video Blog.