The gallbladder isn’t the sexiest topic, but it is something that affects a wide range of people. Decreased gallbladder function is something that affects around 10-15% of adults. The gallbladders main purpose is the storage then release of bile into the intestine for the breakdown of fats. This is an essential part of the digestive process, as fats cannot be absorbed or broken down in the intestine without the presence of bile. The health of our gallbladder is key for many other parts of the body to function correctly.
When we are not digesting fats we are not absorbing key fat soluble vitamins like A,D,E, and K. If the gallbladder is not allowing bile to flow this can cause downstream problems, specifically in the thyroid creating a circle of malfunction that feeds into each other. A sluggish gallbladder will inhibit the conversion of thyroid hormones T4 to T3. This then slows metabolism to a crawl, reduces energy, and starts to wreck thyroid function.
Sluggish bile flow (gallbladder not clearing often enough) can result in the formation of gallstones, inflammation of the gallbladder, and possibly serious infection. The most common solution to this is the complete removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). This reroutes the bile pathway to come straight from the liver where it is produced. Many people still suffer from gallstones and bile issues after this procedure because the underlying physiological problems have not been corrected. We should aim to keep and maintain the health of our gallbladder before these issues come to fruition or get worse. Here are some things that stimulate healthy gallbladder function.
Get In The Right Nutrients
Choline is an essential part in bile production and fat metabolism. It is known as a lipotropic nutrient, meaning it stimulates bile flow from the liver. This is key in the process of emptying the gallbladder. Eggs are one of the most dense and common sources of choline. If you have an egg allergy beef liver has the highest concentration followed by other cuts of beef.
Another option is to take soy or sunflower lecithin. Lecithin is a precursor to choline and is a very efficient source of it. Make sure the lecithin non-GMO/
Bitter foods are something that we do not get a lot of today. They have been traditionally used to dramatically improve the rate and efficacy of digestion. Bitters are often in the form of bitter herbal or mineral extracts. These are taken mixed with something else in a drink or straight up by themselves. We have bitter taste receptors called TR2s. These receptors play a big role in triggering and improving digestive processes.
When we eat something bitter the TR2 receptor triggers an uptick in our digestive processes, including the secretion of bile from the gallbladder. Eat bitter foods or extracts like dandelion root, curcumin, ginger, and milk-thistle to stimulate bile production.
Eat Enough (healthy) Fat
The gallbladders job is to store concentrated bile to be released into the digestive tract. When bile isn’t emptied often enough gallstones are formed. Dietary fat causes the biggest surge of gallbladder emptying. The more dietary fat consumed means the more often the gallbladder is emptied, resulting in less gallstones.
In this study, high-fat and low-fat dieters were looked at to see gallstone formation trends. 45% of the low-fat group developed gallstones while none of the high-fat group did. As I said before more dietary fat results in frequent emptying of the gallbladder and less chance of gallstones.
Make sure the fat you are eating is coming from good quality animal and plant sources. Steer clear of inflammatory seed oils and low quality processed meat. Omega-3 heavy fats coming from fish and grass-fed butter and beef should be prioritized.
Heal The Gut And Lower Inflammation
I’ve discussed leaky gut in the past. By now we all know leaky gut is caused by inflammatory foods and lifestyle habits. The intestinal barrier becomes permeable and microbes leak into the bloodstream where the body treats them as invaders and triggers an auto immune response.
Now studies are showing that these microbes from having a leaky gut affects systems involved in bile uptake and secretion, as well as gene expression in the liver. This results in improper secretion of bile from the liver, a sluggish gallbladder, and less bile in the intestines where it belongs. Less bile in the intestine results in more leaky gut due to improper digestion and absorption of nutrients. The cycle then keep perpetuating itself.
Here are some ways to heal the gut and restore the gut-bile duct axis of health.
- Get rid of gluten. This study shows how gluten signals a release in zonulin, a potent antagonist of the intestinal wall. Even in those who are not celiac (gluten intolerant), zonulin is released and creates holes in the gut barrier. This isn’t an excuse to go buying every candy bar and rice flour bun that is labeled gluten-free. Just cut out the wheat and bread in general.
- Get in probiotics. Probiotics are living microbes that we ingest to create a balanced gut microbiome. They make sense in theory, but how do they work in practice? Pretty effectively it turns out.This study sums it up nicely. Supplementation with a spore based probiotic reduced symptoms associated with leaky gut syndrom.
- Getting adequate sunlight is absolutely essential for most bodily functions, including the regulation of our gut biome. Vitamin D has been shown to regulate any imbalance in our gut, and protect from Inflammatory Bowel Disease symptoms. Considering how much time we spend inside, it’s no wonder why most people are vitamin D deficient. Make an effort to get a good 20 minutes of sun exposure a day. In the winter months or in northern areas, get a good vitamin D3 supplement to make up for the lack of full spectrum sun exposure.
This is all fine for those trying to prevent future gallstones but what do you do if you already have them? As I mentioned in the beginning the most common solution is the complete removal of the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). This should be avoided at all costs. Treatments using ultrasound to break up the stones into easy to pass pieces are very effective. Ursodeoxycholic acid (UCDA) is a safe and historical drug that can dissolve gallstones.
Thats it for today everyone. Leave any questions or comments below and don’t forget to click the link below to sign up for our Wellness Wednesday Newsletter!
Elliot Steele is a Primal Health Coach based in Chelan WA. He strives to empower those looking to regain their health after a lifetime of misinformed practices. This is the essence of Steele Back Your Health, to truly learn how to be healthy with sustainable habits. Check out the coaching and blog page for more info!