The gallbladder is a tiny organ located by the liver that is responsible for storing bile. Bile is a greenish liquid produced by the liver that is made up of bile acids, salts, cholesterol, pigments, phospholipids and water. Bile along with digestive enzymes released from the pancreas, help to break down dietary fats into single lipid molecules that can be easily absorbed.
Unfortunately, the gallbladder is vulnerable to certain dietary and lifestyle choices and as a result a lot can go wrong with its function, causing the development of gallstones and infections. Gallbladder removal or cholecystectomy is one of the most common surgical procedures in the UK, with around 60,000 operations taking place each year. The development of gallstones does not happen quickly, they are the often the result of many years of suboptimal digestion and liver function. Hypothyroidism is also a risk factor for developing gallstones; even if you haven’t been diagnosed with this condition it is worth considering and testing thyroid function in all gallstone cases.
For decades the gallbladder has been considered a “non-essential” organ and although humans are able to survive without it, new research is showing that removal of the gallbladder can have consequences to long term health that needs to be considered and supported.
The purpose of the gallbladder is to store bile; when fats need digesting, bile is released from the gallbladder in large enough quantities to effectively and efficiently break them down. When the gallbladder is no longer there, bile will constantly trickle through the bile duct and into the digestive tract. Since there is no bile accumulating in one place and released when needed, there will not be enough bile to meet the demands of digestion. Often once the gallbladder is removed patients will complain of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty digesting fats
- Fatty stools and stools that float
- Diarrhoea or constipation
- Excessive belching after meals
- Acid reflux
- Bloating very soon after meals to the point of looking pregnant
Some other symptoms that may also appear (also indicated with thyroid issues) are:
- Dry skin
- Dry hair
- Premature ageing
- Brittle nails
- Impaired cognitive function
- Lack of motivation
The long term effect of changes in bile flow are the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies associated with impaired absorption of fats and fat soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, reduced peristalsis (which is the wave like motions that help push the stool through the digestive tract), inefficient hormone and cholesterol metabolism, the risk further accumulation of gallstones in the liver and bile duct, changes in the microbiome which in turn may play a critical role in determining a person’s susceptibility to obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Personalised nutrition and lifestyle interventions are particularly important when you have had your gallbladder removed and some of the factors that would need to be considered are as follows:
- Support for oral and gut health. Supplementation may be appropriate in some cases
- Address any underlying food sensitivities
- Support the liver
- Test for and address any underlying nutritional insufficiencies or deficiencies
- Support thyroid and other hormone systems
If you have any problems at all after your gallbladder surgery always consult with your healthcare team.
It would be great to hear of your experiences post surgery