Gallbladder Love

The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ often referred to as a vestigial organ. In medical terms vestigial means ‘not critical for life; the appendix is another organ that is an example of this. However, if you've had your gallbladder removed, in many cases your bile duct will dilate and eventually form a sort of new gallbladder. If your body is able to miraculously go through this process, there must be some wisdom to this, some important function that the gallbladder is doing for us, right?

Sooo, what does the gallbladder do?

  • The gallbladder stores and concentrates bile, which is secreted into the intestines during digestion, particularly with a fatty meal. In those with their gallbladder removed, the bile can constantly “drip,” which can cause fat malabsorption and gastrointestinal issues.
  • Bile is an emulsifier. Without it, the fat we ingest would remain in a "blob" that is difficult to absorb, sort of like oil that separates from the vinegar in a salad dressing.

What can we do to give our gallbladder the serious love it deserves?

  • Get plenty of fiber! Adequate fiber in the diet is important to gallbladder health. Fiber helps to bind fats like cholesterol and eliminate them out of the body. In a diet lacking adequate fiber, the cholesterol used to make bile tends to be recycled over and over. As we all know, oils can go rancid, and cholesterol is no exception! As a result, the gallbladder can form “sludge,” which can lead to the formation of gallstones. In addition to getting fiber in your diet, ensuring that your omega-3 (unsaturated) fat intake is increased relative to your saturated fat (meat and such) intake, is also important.
  • Be kind to your liver. Think of the liver as the gallbladder’s “big brother”. The liver is responsible for making the bile that then gets stored in the gallbladder. Watch your alcohol consumption and reduce saturated fats, especially fried foods, as these can impact liver function and bile acid production. Foods like root vegetables, lemon, bitter greens like dandelion, garlic, onion, brassica vegetables, and artichoke are very healthful to the liver and gallbladder.
  • Maintain a healthy weight by having a wholesome, balanced diet and getting regular exercise. Being overweight is a risk factor for developing gallstones. Losing weight too quickly as well as pregnancy also increase the risk of developing gallstones.
  • Try a gallbladder “flush,” useful for clearing small gallstones and sludge. It is important to undertake this carefully as large stones (greater than 5mm) can obstruct the bile duct. A flush should always be done under the guidance of a health professional. There are many variations of the traditional gallbladder flush, but here’s my favorite easy recipe:
    • Drink 1 qt of unfiltered apple juice daily for 6 days (it can be sipped throughout the day).
    • On the 6th day do not eat anything after 6pm.
      • At 6pm, take 480 mg of magnesium citrate/malate with a full glass of water. Repeat this again at 8pm.
      • At 10pm, mix ½ cup olive oil with ½ cup lemon juice and drink. Go right to bed, lying on your right side, with your right knee pulled into your chest for 30 minutes, then go to sleep for the night.
    • If the flush is successful, the stones and sludge will be passed with your bowel movement the next day.  

That’s it! If you do venture to try the flush, let me know how it went.

My disclaimer: Please consult with a healthcare professional to safely assess, prevent, and treat gallbladder disease. If you experience fever, sweating, pain, nausea, or vomiting, seek medical attention right away, as these can be signs of a life-threatening gallbladder infection

scientists in lab

Into the Uber-Health Zone with Zonulin

Ever heard of zonulin? Although it sounds like a sinister space invader, zonulin is actually a protein made by the body. In a healthy person, the cells that line the inside of the intestines are packed very closely together. Fittingly, these places where the cells meet are called ‘tight junctions.’ It is important for proper digestion that the tight junctions don’t let anything slip between the cells, so that food particles are broken down and taken into the body properly.

Enter zonulin. When there is too much zonulin, it causes intestinal permeability. The tight junctions open up more than usual, and larger protein complexes which have not been properly digested, as well as other things like bacteria, are able to make their way into the body’s circulation. This leads to all sorts of problems, including increased inflammation throughout the body.

Scientists have discovered that too much zonulin can not only lead to intestinal permeability, but can also play a part in autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 Diabetes and Crohn’s disease, as well as celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity (NCGS), irritable bowel syndrome, and others.

Zonulin also has an effect on the brain by compromising the so-called blood-brain barrier. Of course, proper brain chemistry is essential, but if your body is making too much zonulin, proteins and chemicals are getting into your brain that shouldn’t be, and that spells trouble.

A new serum zonulin test is now available to easily test for intestinal permeability, a key factor in a variety of autoimmune and gastrointestinal conditions, as well as brain or central nervous system challenges. If you suffer from an autoimmune condition, or a brain or central nervous system disorder, you may want to ask your doc about having your zonulin level tested. It's a simple in-and-out blood draw. Voila!


woman taking her pulse

Sensitivity Test Yourself (definitely cheaper, possibly better...)

Coca Pulse Testing. Back to basics... When I was in naturopathic med school, I learned about a very simple method to discern how the body feels about certain foods. It's called Coca Pulse Testing, and I consider it a golden nugget gleaned from one of my naturopathic elders.

The premise of Coca Pulse Testing is simple: if the body is ok with the food, the radial pulse (your pulse at the wrist) stays more or less the same after ingesting the food. If it balks at the food, your pulse will change.

Up for trying out the Coca Pulse Testing?

Here's what you do:

  1. Sit down in a comfortable chair, by the table on which are placed the food items that you would like to test. They have to be single foods, such as a slice of cheese, a sip of milk, a piece of fruit, a single cooked/uncooked veggie bite, a piece of unseasoned prepared meat).
  2. Once you have been sitting for two minutes, take your pulse x 60 seconds and record the number of beats in that minute. This is your "resting pulse rate."
  3. Put a single piece of food in your mouth. Hold it there x 60 seconds. Do not swallow it.
  4. Retake your pulse x 60 secs with the food still in your mouth, and record the number of beats.
  5. A change of 4 or more beats (greater or less than your resting pulse rate) is considered a sensitive reaction. Typically, the greater the change in pulse, the higher the sensitivity reaction.
  6. Spit out the tested food, and rinse out your mouth.
  7. When your pulse returns to its resting pulse rate, you can proceed to the next food, repeating steps 1-6 again.

Note: Coca Pulse Testing results may not be valid if you are taking a medication that controls heart rate, such as a beta blocker or a calcium channel blocker. Also, this testing procedures cannot be applied to foods that would normally induce a change in pulse rate, such as sugar and caffeine-containing foods.

Let me know how it goes, or if you have questions...

gut model

What does the gut have to do with autoimmune disease?

Autoimmune disease. Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, is known to have said "all disease begins in the gut." After that, it seems the Western world had a sort of Medical Middle Ages. However, the profession is shifting towards (I hope) a more whole body-oriented way of diagnosing and treating people. Just a few years ago, routine testing for Vitamin D was unheard of; it is now commonplace.  The same is true for the VAP test, a comprehensive cardiovascular check that is much more thorough than the standard "bad cholesterol, good cholesterol, total cholesterol" test. Same goes for the more and more commonplace recommendation of taking probiotics along with antibiotics.

Now on to autoimmunity, and back to the gut. When a person is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, such as Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, Grave's Disease, Celiac Disease, or one of many others, there are a few elements that absolutely have to be considered.

Determining Autoimmune Disease Factors

  1. Determining and regulating immune function at the level of the intestinal epithelial barrier is key to diagnosis and treatment.  In this age of poor dietary habits and strong, often toxic medicines, many of which directly and indirectly trigger leaky gut (which will the be the topic of another post) and mucosal inflammation, the risk of dysregulating the fine balance of GI flora and cellular structure and function increases.
  2. There are now some excellent predictive autoantibody tests that can determine one's chance of acquiring specific autoimmune illnesses, sometime decades before symptoms present themselves.  This is a medical breakthrough. My opinion is that these tests should be selectively conducted during preventive visits. An ounce of prevention...
  3. Chronic infections can over activate and in a way confuse the immune system, which may then attempt to go after its own proteins, hence predisposing to autoimmunity.
  4. Pro-inflammatory dietary & lifestyle triggers can severely interfere with proper balanced functioning of the immune system, especially when repeated offenders enter the body on a daily basis.
Two of the four stated points underlying the initiation of autoimmunity have to do with the gut.  My lovely grandmother told me when I was a child: "food is your best medicine."  I remember those words every day when seeing patients, feeding my children, shopping for groceries. There is a simple trick which I encourage my patients to implement. It can make a world of difference to the gut, and thereby can help the whole body move towards better health and reduce autoimmune triggers. Here's the trick: When about to eat or drink something, ask the simple question: "Is this good for me OR bad for me?"  It really is that simple. But it gives the body that one second to recalibrate away from mindless eating and towards thoughtful dietary choices.
Where to start? I recommend the Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis, which tests for a number of inflammatory, digestive, infectious, and other elements in the stool, thereby giving a clear and objective measure of gut health. I also highly recommend testing for specific predictive antibodies. And eating your veggies.