Good gallbladder function is often overlooked when searching for solutions to common health complaints such constipation, flatulence, fat digestion problems, low or high cholesterol levels, nutritional deficiencies, or imbalances of gut bacteria and parasites, to name a few.
Clinical evidence confirms that optimising gallbladder function is often the key to resolving many seemingly unrelated problems and symptoms.
In this post I’ll explain how gallbladder can get out of order and what to do to correct it using natural medicines, supplements and nutrition.
Gallbladder has many very important functions to perform in our digestive and detox systems. It’s an organ that stores bile produced by the liver until it’s needed for digestion of fats we eat. Bile, a dark green or yellow-brown fluid, is the key substance responsible for the breakdown of fats and cholesterol in the digestive system to absorb and utilise them.
Main functions of bile are:
- Necessary for breakdown and absorption of fats and cholesterol.
- Absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as A, E, D, and K. People on low fat diets and many vegans often have deficiencies in these supper important vitamins.
- Antimicrobial and anti-parasitic – bile kills parasites and pathogenic bacteria helping to keep the gut balanced and healthy.
- Neutralises stomach acid before it moves to the small intestine with the food. If stomach acid is not neutralised before it reaches the small intestine this can irritate the gut wall causing reflux, bloating, indigestion, feeling of fullness, diarrhoea and nausea, among others.
- Absorbs and binds fat soluble toxins that are then excreted via the stool. This is the key liver detoxification processes: the amount of bile your liver makes daily is directly proportional to the amount of toxins you can eliminate.
Gallbladder function: problems, causes and symptoms
Like all organs, gallbladder can malfunction at times resulting in:
- Irritation and swelling
- Blocked bile duct (biliary obstruction) – the passage leading from the gallbladder to the small intestine
- Stones development
There are effective natural remedies for the above problems, however, the safest course of action if your gallbladder is painful or infected is to consult a doctor immediately to perform a detailed examination to determine best course of action which may include surgical procedures. The gallbladder is usually removed when there is an infection or partial blockage as a burst gall bladder is a health emergency.
When the gallbladder is removed the bile produced by the liver no longer has a storage place and it drips constantly directly to the small intestine. Most individuals with no gallbladder will need to either be careful with their dietary fat intake or take bile supplements and digestive enzymes to absorb the fats needed for good health (more on this below).
Symptoms of impaired gallbladder function include:
- Constipation – often unresolved for long time with other remedies or drugs
- Light coloured stool – grey, light brown or clay coloured
- Bloating and gas – excessive wind is an important symptom of gallbladder dysfunction
- SIBO/ IBS – bacterial imbalances in the gut
- Gut parasites – bile kills the parasites if in sufficient quantity
- Bitter taste in the mouth and/or bad breath
- Impaired fat digestion – intolerance to fatty foods, greasy stools
- Nausea, vomiting, headache – often first thing in the morning
- Feeling full after eating a small meal
- Chest discomfort or tightness
- Right shoulder pain or pain below the right scapula at the back
- Negative emotions – feeling resentful, frustrated or angry on a regular basis
Problems with bile flow are associated with:
- Gallbladder ejection fraction dysfunction resulting in low bile flow.
- Bile that is too thick – drinking water, eating beets/ drinking juice and more fibre should solve this.
- Low choline / phosphatidylcholine (PC) intake – choline helps the bile flow smoothly out of the gallbladder to the small intestine to aid digestion and keep bacteria and parasites out of the small intestine (see more on this below).
- Bile moderates cholesterol levels therefore high cholesterol can be caused by bile not flowing properly. PC helps to move triglycerides, a type of fat, out of the liver preventing fatty liver or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Bile flow is largely regulated by the ratio of phosphatidylcholine to cholesterol and other fatty acids. If the ratio of phosphatidylcholine to other bile components is less than 10:1, the susceptibility to gallstones and having gallbladder issues increases.
Importantly, if you’re struggling with gallbladder or bile issues, the root issue often involves both bile formation and flow, and both areas need to be addressed and corrected.
Top nutrients to increase bile production and flow naturally
- Amino acids glycine and taurine – they come from protein high foods especially grass fed red meat, poultry, eggs and fish.
- Lecithin / Choline – lecithin is an excellent source of choline. After ingesting lecithin, a key component of lecithin (phosphatidylcholine) breaks down into choline. Choline helps the bile flow from the liver, keeps fats thin out and slippery so they keep moving through the digestive track. Other important functions of choline include:
- Helps cells to remove fats and cholesterol from the blood and to utilise them
- Increases production of bile acids made from cholesterol thereby reducing the amount of cholesterol in the blood
- Serves as a structural material for every cell, particularly those of the brain and nerves.
- Acts as a methyl donor thus helping with methylation and enhances overall metabolism and detox function.
Top choline food sources are: eggs, liver, chicken, fish and red meat
Vegetarians and vegans are at high risk for choline deficiency which also increases the risk for developing fatty liver. It’s hard to get enough choline from plants (sources include beetroots, cauliflower, flaxseeds, lentils, quinoa or spinach) therefore vegetarians who eat eggs do better. Otherwise supplementation is often required to keep choline status at the levels needed for sufficient gallbladder function and good health.
You can find more information about choline here.
Gallbladder diet – foods to avoid
- Moderate fat consumption – a low fat diet doesn’t help as it prevents emptying of the gallbladder and leads to stone formation. Saturated fats are important but in moderate amounts, oils are better that solid fats as they increase fat soluble vitamins absorption.
- Avoid all ‘fake’ hydrogenated oils including margarines and ready made oil mixes
- Watch your nut consumption – especially if you no longer have a gallbladder as nuts are difficult to digest for many people and especially for people with gallbladder dysfunction. Some nuts may be better digested than others so experiment or do the Compatibility Food Testing to determine which foods are beneficial good for you and the gallbladder!
- Fried foods of any kind including potato chips.
- Processed foods – take-aways, most packaged foods.
- Chocolate – careful with chocolate intake! It can trigger a gallbladder attack in some people.
How to improve gallbladder function – diet, supplements and stress release
- Adequate hydration – water is very important for bile production and dehydration will result in thicker bile and sluggish bile flow. Find tips on drinking more water here.
- Weight loss – people who are overweight or obese have a significantly higher rate of developing gallstones, however, quick weight loss over a short period of time predisposes to the stone formation.
- Support stomach acid secretion as it stimulates bile secretion. Supplements such as betaine hydrochloride may be required (talk to your health practitioner before starting supplementation). Lemon juice, apple cider vinegar and other bitter foods will also stimulate stomach acid secretion.
- Eat fermented foods – fermented vegetables, sauerkraut, kimchi and pickles contain enzymes, organic acids and probiotic bacteria that stimulate stomach acid and bile secretion plus they provide good bacteria for the gut.
- Include more food containing choline needed for bile production – see the list of best food sources above.
- Eat smaller meals especially meals that contain more fat and need more bile for digestion. Smoothies and shakes work well for liver and gallbladder.
- Increase your intake of fibre – used bile with bound toxins is best excreted when there is plenty of fibre to carry them away to be excreted via stool.
- Take lecithin supplement with fat soluble vitamins or fat containing meals for better fat absorption. Best supplemental form is phosphatidylcholine.
- Supplement with ox bile if you don’t have a gallbladder or have very sluggish bile flow. You can take ox bile capsules just before meals or when taking fish/ cod liver oil or fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin D, A, K and E. You’ll have to experiment to find the right dose for you.
- Chew well and relax when eating! It will help with bile secretion and flow.
- Deal with and let go of any resentment, bitterness, frustration or anger you experience as people who regularly harbour these feelings are more prone to have liver and gallbladder issues. Start relaxing, meditating and feeling grateful for what you do have, and surround yourself with people who have positive attitudes.
Holistic Health and Lifestyle Therapist
Natural and Lifestyle Solutions for Chronic Diseases
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Joanna Sochan is a Natural Therapist and founder of Naturimedica Holistic Health & Wellness. She has a passion for helping her clients transform their lives by becoming healthy and well naturally. Joanna is a fatigue, sleep and gut health expert helping tired, stressed or unwell individuals to regain their energy, sleep better and be happier, more relaxed and calm. Joanna practices in Sydney and Lake Macquarie, Australia and also conducts online consultations for clients Australia-wide. View full bio.
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