When trying to determine the root cause of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) or any chronic illness, it’s important to look into your timeline. Functional medicine recognizes the significance of and seeks to explore how these past events may be triggering current medical symptoms. We can all remember learning about the body systems in school (digestive, respiratory, circulatory, etc.) but rarely did we think how these separate systems are truly all connected and impact another.
Today we are going to dig deeper into the digestive system so that you can understand the role of the gallbladder in the system and how its dysfunction or removal can cause a disruption in the system and lead to secondary symptoms such as IBS. The digestive system is made up of salivary glands, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small intestines, large intestines, rectum, and the accessory digestive organs: liver, gallbladder, and pancreas.
Your liver is still making bile. It’s just that without a gallbladder, there is no where to store it.
Zooming in on the gallbladder, its role in the system is like that of a holding tank. Its stores the bile that is produced by the liver until it is needed for the digestion of fats. When you eat a fatty meal, your body sends a signal to the gallbladder to release bile to help break down the fat. A visual to help you understand the importance of bile is to picture a glass of water. Dump in a spoonful of olive oil. What happens? The oil is in a ball floating around in the water. Now dump in dish soap (this is the bile) and give the glass a stir. The fat becomes broken down and distributed throughout the glass. In your body, these smaller pieces of fat are easier for your body to digest and use. Fat is necessary for optimum health and plays a vital role in brain function as well as aiding in the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamin A, D, E and K.
Can you live without a gallbladder? Yes you can because your liver is still making bile. The problem is there’s just no where to keep the storage. So, your liver keeps making bile and it drips into the digestive system much like a leaky faucet. The problem is there is no way to adjust the flow so when you consume a fatty meal, there is no difference in the amount of bile released to help you digest the fat. This can lead to a speedy exit out of your system because the body can’t fully digest.
4 Things that you can do to help restore digestive function after gallbladder removal
1. Choose Healthy Fats and Remove Processed Oils
Without a gallbladder to hold bile, you need to be careful with the type of fat that you consume because they are not all equal. Some fats are easier to digest than others. Chris Kresser advises, “Coconut oil is a very good fat for people without a gallbladder because it doesn’t require bile acids for absorption, so it’s rapidly absorbed… So, coconut oil is definitely your friend if you’re lacking a gallbladder.”
Other healthy fats are extra virgin olive oil, avocados, and salmon. Avoid refined vegetable oils (like sunflower, safflower, canola, corn, etc. which are harder for the body to digest and are also higher in Omega 6 fats which can cause inflammation in the body in excess.
2. Eat Bitter Foods
Bitter leafy greens simulate your liver to produce bile, which helps thin sticky bile and get things moving. Before heavy meals, you can take herbal digestive bitters. Make sure you taste and chew the bitters well because the first line of signaling for bile comes from the tongue.
3. Adding digestive enzymes and ox bile before meals.
Talk to your doctor about taking a complete digestive enzyme before meals such as Now Brand, Super Enzymes that contain Ox bile, Betaine HCl and Lipase. Bile from oxen is most similar to humans’ so it makes a huge difference. Digestive enzymes help your body to break down the food so that you can better digest and absorb vitamins and minerals.
4. Removing any food sensitivities
Determine if there are any food sensitivities and remove from the diet. This can be done through testing or by mindfully completing an elimination diet such as Whole30 or the IFM 21 day Elimination Diet. The gallbladder become “sludge filled” or dysfunctional for a reason that required its removal. Digging into the “why” did it become this way is important for the health of the rest of your body. Often times, unknown food sensitivities can the be the root cause for illness.
Interested in learning more about your gallbladder? These are some wonderful links to explore for more information
Mark Hyman – video on how to eat without a gallbladder
Dr. Berg – What happens with the systems when you don’t have a gall bladder