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