The gallbladder is one of the most underrated organs. Many doctors don’t consider it “essential” because you don’t need it to survive. But the gallbladder plays a vital role in digestion. Gallbladder removal can lead to imbalances and inevitable disease.
If you want to keep your health and longevity, you need to keep your gallbladder. Fortunately, the proper diet and lifestyle can protect against deadly gallbladder-related complications.
The important function of the gallbladder
The gallbladder is a tiny pouch-like organ, only about eight centimeters long. It has the critical job of storing, concentrating, and releasing bile into the intestine.
Bile is a fluid produced by the liver that helps the body digest fats. When fatty food enters the stomach, the gallbladder releases bile into the small intestine. From there, bile breaks down large fat molecules into smaller, more digestible particles.
Without the gallbladder, bile has nowhere for storage. The liver must release bile straight into the intestine. This can lead to fat malabsorption, disruption of the gut microbiome, and a cascade of other related health issues.
Your body needs healthy fats
You need to keep your gallbladder because it plays such a supportive role in digesting fats. Fats are essential to a healthy diet. However, there has been widespread controversy over fats for decades.
In the 1960s, the low-fat craze took over America. People started eating fewer fats and replacing them with high-sugar and high-carb diets. This caused Americans to get sicker and obesity, heart problems, and diabetes to skyrocket.
The real culprits of gallbladder disease are the sugar and processed foods that took over our country. Certain fats are essential to a healthy diet, but it’s important to differentiate good fats from bad fats.
When it comes to unhealthy fats, think fast food, deep-fried, baked goods, or anything processed. Many of these foods contain high levels of trans fat. These types of fat can cause cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes. Avoid them at all costs.
The best fats for your health include monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats that contain vital nutrients called essential fatty acids. Some great sources of these are avocados, olive oil, eggs, nuts, and fatty fish.
Healthy fats are an essential source of energy and support health in many ways. Fats are the building blocks of cell membranes, and they make up 80 percent of the brain. They’re also necessary for the absorption of certain vitamins.
Consumption of healthy fats and fatty acids are protective against many conditions, including:
The days of low-fat ideology are over, and the research is clear – the body needs fat to function well. And fat needs a gallbladder for proper digestion.
The consequences of gallbladder removal
Gallbladder removal, or a cholecystectomy, is one of the most common surgical procedures. It is performed primarily because of cholecystitis, or inflammation of the gallbladder.
This condition is often caused by gallstones, which occur when bile hardens into small masses. Gallstones may cause intense pain, GI upset, blockages of bile ducts, and deadly complications. Some early signs of gallbladder disease include:
- Pain in the right-upper or mid-upper section of the abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Unexplained fever
- Yellowing of the eyes
If gallstones cause severe symptoms or complications, doctors usually recommend surgical removal. While the gallbladder may not be “essential,” this procedure doesn’t come without potential repercussions.
One possible complication is post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS), affecting 10-15 percent of people who undergo the procedure. This syndrome causes continued digestive problems and may become a life-long chronic condition.
The main concern is the possible long-term effects on digestion and fat absorption. Without a gallbladder, there may not be appropriate breakdown or absorption of fats. Lack of essential fatty acids can leave the body prone to nutrient deficiencies, which can contribute to disease risk.
Gallbladder disease and cardiovascular health
The gallbladder may seem unrelated to your heart health, but in reality, the two are closely linked. Research shows that a history of gallbladder disease creates a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
What causes this? Gallbladder removal disrupts the gut microbiome – the delicate balance of microbes that keeps your gut strong. This can lead to leaky gut and inflammation, contributing to heart disease.
Gallbladder removal is also linked with metabolic syndrome, increasing the risk of obesity, abnormal cholesterol, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. People with metabolic syndrome have a 2.5 to 2.8-fold higher risk of cardiovascular death.
While a cholecystectomy may not cause immediate consequences, it can set off a chain reaction of deadly conditions. This is not a procedure to take lightly.
To keep your gallbladder, prevention is key
Nutrition and lifestyle can promote gallbladder health and protect against gallstones. Research has shown that poor diet and obesity are two major risk factors for gallstone formation and growth.
Fats are actually an essential component of gallbladder health. That’s right; a low-fat diet can harm your gallbladder. Daily consumption of healthy fats causes the regular release of bile, so if you don’t eat fat, the gallbladder never gets triggered.
Follow these research-backed recommendations for foods that promote gallbladder health:
- Healthy fats: Olive oil, nuts, and avocados
- Fiber-rich vegetables: Broccoli, greens, and cauliflower
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Wild-caught fatty fish, nuts, and seeds
- Vitamin C: Brussel sprouts, kale, and tomatoes. Consider taking a Vitamin C supplement if you’re deficient.
Your daily cup of joe could even be good for your gallbladder. Research suggests that regular, organic coffee intake may support gallbladder motility and bile flow.
For your best gallbladder health, you must avoid certain foods, especially if you have a history of gallstones. Stay away from those nasty trans fats and cut out processed foods and refined sugar as much as possible.
Support your gallbladder before it’s too late
You want to get out ahead of gallbladder disease as much as possible. Gallstones may start without symptoms, so you may not even know you have a problem until it’s too late. If left untreated, gallstones can cause progressive inflammation.
In extreme cases of acute cholecystitis, bile may become infected and lead to life-threatening rupture. At this point, surgery may be unavoidable.
Gallbladder disease can be devastating for your health. Thankfully, it’s easily preventable through a healthy diet and lifestyle. You don’t want to lose your gallbladder, so do everything in your power to keep it healthy. If you’re showing early signs of gallbladder disease, reach out to one of the doctors here at Natural Heart Doctor for guidance.
Note: Seek emergency medical care if you have severe abdominal pain in the upper right area of the stomach for more than two hours or if you have a fever. You may also vomit and feel nauseous.
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Medical Review 2022: Dr. Lauren Lattanza NMD