The gallbladder is a small sac that stores bile from the liver, and it’s found just beneath your liver. It releases bile through ducts into the small intestine to help break down the foods you eat, particularly fatty foods. Typically, the gallbladder doesn’t cause too many problems or much concern. But if something slows or blocks the flow of bile from the gallbladder, a number of problems can result.
Gallbladder Problem Statistics
Gallbladder disease is one of the leading causes of problems with digestion that result in hospital admissions. Did you know that around 10% of the population (on average) in most Western countries have gallstones? Most of these are “silent” but about 4% of patients with stones develop symptoms each year. For about half of them, the symptoms reoccur within 12 months. More men compared to the women suffer from acute gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis). More women compared to men experience gallstones (men have more kidney stones), and married women with children have more gallstones than unmarried women.
The term “gallbladder disease” is in one sense a misnomer. For it is the liver, bile ducts and gallbladder that form the system that enables your body to digest fats and all are likely to participate in gallbladder problems.
The main function of the gallbladder is to collect and concentrate bile produced by the liver that the body uses to digest fats. Your gallbladder makes plenty of its own type of “degreasing liquid” called bile. Bile becomes up to twelve times more concentrated in the gallbladder (and hence much more effective) than it was in your liver. Think about this, with your gallbladder gone, your liver now has to produce, store and secrete bile. It can do this but not as effectively as it can without that little purse called the gallbladder hanging by its side.
The liver makes between 600-900mls of bile each day. The bile not sent during meals to the duodenum directly via the liver’s main duct to emulsify fat will be diverted through a smaller duct to the gallbladder for storage until required. When fat in a meal reaches the duodenum, hormones enter the circulation and along with nerve signals, stimulate the gallbladder to contract. This contraction, assisted by the small intestine’s contractions, induces the gallbladder’s small round muscle and the stored bile is propelled into the duodenum where it mixes with food from your stomach and pancreatic juices from the pancreas by way of the pancreatic duct. When one eats a fairly fatty meal (fish and chips for example), the gallbladder can empty completely within one hour. It is this combination of bile and fats that can make one feel “queasy” at times after a fatty meal.
2 Main Functions
Bile itself is made up of water, salts, fatty acids, lecithin, cholesterol, bilirubin, and mucus. It has two main functions: to help in the absorption and digestion of fats; and to eliminate certain waste products from the body, especially excess cholesterol and the hemoglobin from worn out red blood cells, which have an average lifespan of 3 months.
Other functions include:
- increases the solubility of fat-soluble vitamins, fats and cholesterol to assist in their
- stimulates secretion of water by the colon to help move its contents along,
- serves as a medium for excretion of bilirubin (the chief bile pigment) as a waste product of destroyed red blood cells, other waste products, medical drugs and their degradation products, and other toxins.
Bile salts are in fact re-absorbed into the small intestine and re-secreted into the bile after extraction by the liver. All bile salts in the body re-circulate some 10 to 12 times a day by means of this so-called enterohepatic circulation. In each circulation, small amounts of bile salts enter the colon where bacteria break them down for excretion with the feces.
Those at the greatest risk of gallstones include:
- Female gender: women outnumber men at least 2:1
- Family history
- Forty or more years of age
- 3 children or more
- Diet: low calorie, low cholesterol, low fat. (Especially a diet like this after a diet high in fat).
- Diet: previously high in refined carbs, alcohol, chocolate, chips, etc.
- High cholesterol history
- Constipation history
- Rapid weight loss
- Food allergy history
- Dehydration due to not enough water
- Liver problems like cirrhosis or past hepatitis infection
- Sensitive to penicillin antibiotics
This is a condition in which small stones, or sometimes larger ones, develop inside the gallbladder. These stones form from substances found in bile, including cholesterol and a pigment called bilirubin. Gallstones may cause pain known as biliary colic, but about 90 percent of people with gallstones will have no symptoms. Most symptomatic gallstones will have been present for a number of years. For unknown reasons, if you have gallstones for more than 10 years, they are less likely to cause symptoms.
This term is often used to describe severe episodes of pain that can occur when gallstones block the flow of bile to the small intestine. The gallbladder contracts vigorously against the blockage, causing severe pain in spasms, or sometimes constant pain. Biliary colic episodes usually last one to five hours, with mild pain lingering for up to 24 hours. They’re especially common after large or fatty meals, particularly if you’ve been fasting beforehand.
Inflamed Gallbladder (Cholecystitis)
Inflammation of the gallbladder can be caused by gallstones, excessive alcohol use, infections, or even tumors that cause bile buildup. But the most common cause of cholecystitis is gallstones. In this case, irritation by gallstones causes the gallbladder walls to become swollen and painful. An episode of inflammation can last for several hours, or even a few days. Fever is not unusual. Sometimes, the inflamed gallbladder is invaded by intestinal bacteria and becomes infected. Occasionally, the gallbladder actually ruptures, which is a surgical emergency. Suspected episodes of cholecystitis always require medical attention, particularly if you have a fever.
Acalculous Biliary Pain
This refers to pain in the bile ducts that isn’t followed by any gallstones appearing in imaging tests. It may be due to improper emptying of the gallbladder, overly sensitive bile ducts or small intestine, or gallstones that are too small to be seen on imaging scans or passed through already. Surgery to remove the gallbladder is often successful at resolving biliary pain without gallstones.
AIDS-Related Narrowing of Bile Ducts
In people with AIDS, a weakened immune system can lead to frequent and widespread infections, some of which can result in the bile ducts narrowing
Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
This refers to inflammation that causes scarring and narrowing of the bile ducts, and isn’t caused by any other known condition. While the causes of primary sclerosing cholangitis aren’t completely understood, doctors believe it’s most likely an autoimmune disorder, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own tissues.
Most gallbladder symptoms start with pain in the upper abdominal area, either in the upper right or middle. Specific symptoms may vary according to what type of gallbladder condition you have, although many symptoms are common among the various types of gallbladder problems.
Some common symptoms of gallbladder problems include:
- Severe pain in the upper right or center of your abdomen
- Tenderness in the abdomen, particularly the right upper quadrant
- Pain that may extend beneath the right shoulder blade or to the back
- Pain that worsens after eating a heavy meal, particularly fatty or greasy foods
- Abdominal pain lasting several hours
- Pain that feels dull, sharp, or crampy
- Pain that increases when you breathe in deeply
- Heartburn, indigestion, and excessive gas
- Chest pain
- A feeling of fullness in the abdomen
- Fever, ranging from low-grade to severe
- Shaking with chills
- Stools of an unusual color (often lighter, like clay)
- Dark urine (often described as tea-colored)
Some gallbladder problems, like simple gallstones that are not blocking the bile ducts, often cause no symptoms at all.
If you spot any symptoms of gallbladder trouble, see your doctor for a diagnosis and prompt treatment to get your digestive tract running smoothly again. It’s essential to seek immediate treatment if you develop a severe gallstone complication that causes any of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal pain so severe you can’t sit or lie still or keep food down
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Severe fever with chills
Eliminate refined sugar and other refined carbohydrates, because it is these foods which in particular increases the cholesterol saturation of bile. Gallbladder problems don’t generally happen in underdeveloped countries, they are a phenomenon of the Western developed world. We call these sorts of health problems the “diseases of modern civilization”. You will find that our Western diet is the highly refined one. Most people eat foods from the supermarket and our diets are the ones high in the refined sugars, starches and flours.
Foods and drinks to strictly avoid
One of the worst beverages to drink with gallbladder issues is coffee whether decaffeinated or not. It aggravates symptoms by causing the gallbladder to contract along with sugar. Sugar and coffee is not a good idea. Patients should avoid chocolate, deep-fried foods and saturated animal fats in general.
Foods with Favorable Effect
Gallbladder foods which have a particularly favorable effect include beetroot, Brussels sprouts, fennel, sauerkraut, parsley, artichokes, pears, granny smith apples and the bitter foods such as rocket, endive, chicory, and capers.
Consume a little olive oil daily, which is one way to prevent the build-up of gallstones by eating some oil, particularly extra virgin olive oil, daily. This encourages the gallbladder to contract and to daily “sand dump” its contents into the small intestine, preventing sludge from accumulating and forming gallstones.
Warm castor oil packs
All you need is 200ml castor oil, and old saucepan, an old cloth, and an old towel. Just warm the old cloth in the pot of oil until it is quite warm, squeeze it out and apply it over the region of the gallbladder – central a little to the right just near where your ribcage finishes. Cover with the old towel, place a hot water bottle on top for added warmth and lie down for fifteen to twenty minutes, then rub the area for 2 minutes with an ice cube in a cloth-repeat 3 times once daily for a week can sometimes dislodge gallstones, and is especially a powerful treatment if used in conjunction with the flush and dietary approach. Careful with castor oil, it can stain.
Liver and gallbladder flush
There are many different gallbladder and liver flushes that will work if you have had recurrent gallbladder problems and your diet has been typically Kiwi. You really need to work in with your health-care professional like your naturopath here. For a gallbladder “attack” try these recipes. Here are a couple of tips to try with acute pain, if the pain doesn’t subside, seek a medical opinion.
- Drink 1 tbsp of apple cider in a glass of apple juice (warmed). This should relieve the pain quickly.
- In a small glass add /4 tsp turmeric, /4 tsp cumin, and 1 tsp Manuka honey – top with boiling water, stir to dissolve and mix together, drink when warm. Take 3 times a day.
- Citrus tea: have 3 glasses daily of tea made by boiling for 20 minutes in water the rind of a grapefruit.
Recommendations for stopping future gallbladder attacks
Gallbladder Attack Flush
Each morning, drink a “gallbladder attack flush”; 300mls Apple juice (or dilute with water), 3 cloves of raw finely chopped garlic, 1-2 inches of raw finely chopped ginger root, mix well in blender. This drink helps soften sludge and helps prepare your gallbladder to dump rubbish.
Liver & Gallbladder Flush
One simple flush is to drink 3 Tbs of extra-virgin olive oil with the juice of a lemon before retiring and on awakening for at least 3 days, or until no more stones pass. I have other flushes but tend to use them in a consultation with the patient only. This is one procedure, in my opinion, you are best not to do yourself at home without any guidance, but get the advice from a qualified Naturopath, preferably one with experience in this area.
Eat a well-balanced diet of 50% raw or partially steamed foods and fresh juices, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts/seeds. This low saturated fat, high fiber diet is a must for healing gallbladder disorders. Flaxseed and olive oil are great additions to your diet for repair and prevention of gallstones. Bitter foods (see below) are a great addition and will help prevent a buildup in future. The two top foods to consume? – Lemon juice and olive oil.
Increased your intake of Vitamin C can help with gallbladder ailments. Replenish your vitamin C stores by eating plenty of vitamin C-rich fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Good sources include capsicums (red/green/yellow), berries, lemons, and broccoli/green leafy veg. I recommend a high-grade Vitamin C powder daily for the prevention and maintenance of many conditions in the body.
Herbal detoxification products may be helpful in stopping and reversing a gallbladder attack. I suggest using formulas that use organic, whole herbs. There are some excellent products available.