We focus a lot on people that have had gallbladder removal surgery (cholecystectomy), but most people who have underwent gallbladder surgery, didn’t get to that point overnight. They likely experienced symptoms associated with gallbladder dysfunction for months or even years prior to undergoing the knife!

Symptoms of an improperly working gallbladder:

It is unlikely that you will have all of the following symptoms, but it is probable that you will have more than one of these symptoms if your gallbladder isn’t working at 100%.  You may not have symptoms constantly or even consistently however.  Up to 70% of people with gallstones do not have extreme symptoms and the gallstones are found during check-ups for other conditions.  many people think that gas, bloating, indigestion, or constipation is *normal* for them, and they do not associate it with an improperly functioning gallbladder.

Gas Bloating
Indigestion Bile reflux
Constipation Diarrhea
Nausea after eating Fatigue after eating
Headaches after eating Shoulder pain (left)
Colic type pain Belching
Light colored or floating stools Frequent hunger or cravings
Weight gain, or inability to lose weight
Who is at risk for developing gallbladder dysfunction?

With our Standard American Diet (SAD) it sometimes appears that everyone is at risk, but certain populations are more at risk than others. Here is a list of things associated with gallbladder dysfunction and disease:

Women, increases for those who have kids 40+ years of age
Obesity History of bariatric surgery
Hypothyroidism Food sensitivities and/or allergies
Elevated cholesterol Ethnicity (Native Indian, Mexican, and Asian)
Habitual Dieters Alcohol intake
Diabetes,  insulin resistance Inflammatory Bowel Disease
PCOS Menopause (especially with HRT)
Lack of exercise Pregnancy (due to increased hormones)
Use of antacids, PPI’s Extreme diets of any type
Family history of gallbladder disease Low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria)
Use of antidepressants Use of cholesterol medications
Use of immunosuppressive medications People with chronic heartburn
Gluten intolerance Use of HRT, estrogen, or progesterone
What can you do to take care of your gallbladder? 

You could write a book on all of the things that one could do to help their gallbladder function optimally, so for the sake of brevity, I will keep this list short and expand on it at a future date.

  • Avoid extreme diets and QUICK weight loss. Slow losses are much safer
  • Moderate alcohol intake is protective against gallstone formation, however drinking more than 5 drinks a week increases your risk. Moderation is key.
  • Regular vigorous physical activity, such as walking after meals is protective.
  • If you are diabetic, keep your blood sugar under control
  • Eat a healthy diet, avoiding processed foods
  • Make sure to consume adequate amounts of protein
  • Consider supplementing with bile acids, beet extracts, pancrelipase, digestive enzymes, vitamin C, magnesium, lecithin, peppermint oil, artichoke, etc.
  • Consider taking digestive bitters, or chewing a piece of a bitter herb (even parsley) prior to eating. The bitterness triggers your gb to work more efficiently
  • Drink tea
  • Eat more vegetables, particularly those known for their fiber content
  • Make sure healthy fats are a part of your daily diet
  • Consider IgG and IgE blood allergy testing for food sensitivities and eliminate trigger foods
  • If you take medications known to exacerbate gb issues, speak to your physician about alternatives
When all else fails

Cholecystectomy is one of the most commonly performed surgeries in the united States and is one that could largely be avoided in many people. There are cases in which the gallbladder clearly needs to go due to infection, cancer, or other issues — however this is a decision you should make after receiving a fully informed consent from your physician. If you have any doubts, or you feel pressured – please seek a second opinion! I would like to note that the British Medical Association cautions its physicians to educate their patients that cholecystectomy is associated with weight gain in 68% of women and 87% of men! 1 In another long term study of women post-cholecystectomy, only 11.1% were able to maintain their weight within 5 lbs over a 16 year follow-up period.2 Despite this obvious association, few American physicians appear to educate their patients on this very real side effect of gallbladder removal. In fact, many patients are told that there may be some ‘digestive discomfort’ for the first 6 weeks post-operatively, but after that they will have NO SYMPTOMS. This however is not my clinical observation, nor the reality of most of the people I have consulted with. Lastly, I would urge extreme caution to anyone considering ‘gallbladder cleanses’ that are promoted heavily on some websites. Not only have these flushes whereby people consume a low-fat diet for several days then drink a lemon juice/olive oil mixture under the guise of eliminating gallstones, been proven to be ineffective (studies show that the hardened blobs eliminated are saponified fats, not gallstones) but they can be very dangerous and causing extreme stress to a gallbladder could dislodge an asymptomatic stone into a bile duct and result in the need for emergency surgery!

Please see my post Is your gallbladder (or lack of) stopping your weight loss? for further information about post-cholecystectomy issues and weight gain.

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1443570/?page=1
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10075614