The Gallbladder: Signs of Problems, Causes, and What To Do
By Dr. Sarah Myhill, MD* •
February 15, 2012
Dr. Sarah Myhill is a UK-based physician and licensed clinical nutritionist with a special interest in fatigue. This information is excerpted with kind permission from her educational website (DrMyhill.co.uk).*
The gallbladder is a small organ that aids in fat digestion. It concentrates fat-digesting bile, which contains bile salts produced in the liver, and delivers it through a small bile duct to the duodenum (the first section of the small intestine, just below the stomach). There, the bile emulsifies fats in partly digested foods. This process supports the efficient assimilation of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, and essential fatty acids.
Gallbladder Disease and Gallstones
The text books will tell you this condition affects fair, fat, fertile females of forty. It is a disease of people eating Western diets.
People eating Stone Age diets do not suffer gallbladder disease. [This diet emphasizes meat/fish/eggs, vegetables, nuts/seeds and fruit. Avoids starchy foods and sugar, favors nut/seed/olive oils.]
• Classically this presents with bouts of pain under the ribs on the right which often radiates around into the back.
• There is nearly always nausea and vomiting, often a mild fever, the sufferer feels ill.
• If the bile duct is involved, this can cause biliary colic - a fluctuating severe pain which comes and goes over several hours. The pain may be so severe as to require admission to hospital for pain control with morphine.
• Admission may also be necessary if the vomiting is severe enough to cause dehydration.
• If the bile duct is blocked for a short time by a stone, there may be an episode of jaundice [yellow skin and eyes], dark urine and pale stools.
• Tests taken at the time of the pain may show raised white cell count (sign of inflammation - ask for hematology), or abnormal liver function, or raised amylase if inflammation spills over into the pancreas. [Amylase is an enzyme specific to the pancreas, and raised levels suggest damage to the pancreas.]
• However, tests may also be normal.
Gallbladder disease can either be due to gallstones or cholecystitis. Cholecystitis means inflammation of the gallbladder and is caused by:
• Allergy to foods.
• Gallstones: Easily diagnosed by ultrasound scan. Gallstones result from a low fat diet - one needs fat in the diet to make bile, if insufficient then bile crystallizes out to form gallstones.
• Infection: One cannot take samples from the gallbladder, and antibiotics are prescribed "blind."
• Tumors: Pancreatic tumors are very difficult to diagnose at an early stage because there aren't any cheap, simple investigations to pick them up. Most patients are diagnosed late, either at operation, or through having an MRI body scan.
• Insufficient bile salts: Gallstones may result from insufficient production of bile salts. This can be tested for as part of a Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis. Available from Genova Diagnostics in the US. But do ask for bile salts as an extra because it is not a routine part of the basic testing. [Oral bile salts may be prescribed for those tested for low bile salt or who have had their gallbladder removed.]
• In the short term the treatment is a low fat diet. This is because fat makes the gallbladder contract and this may be painful if it is full of stones.
• With established gallbladder disease and large stones, the only effective curative short term treatment is surgery. Fortunately, this is a fairly straightforward operation and the new techniques using endoscopy mean this is even less traumatic now.
• For small stones it may be possible to dissolve them using bile acids. These are available on NHS prescription for this purpose as ursodeoxycholic acid 150mgs tabs 6-12mgs per kg daily taken with food. One can also purchase them without prescription. [Sometimes prescribed for those on low-fat rapid weightloss diets.]
Indeed it may be that gallstones arise because of poor production of bile acids! That may be a symptom of a low fat diet - another problem of Western diets.
• Eating a high fat diet (but the right sort of fats - see Phospholipid Exchange) will further help to dissolve stones. [Phospholipid exchange is a nutritional strategy for replenishing cell membranes with the proportion of omega 6 to omega 3 oils and other nutrients that best supports and restores cellular and mitochondrial health. The 'Western Diet' includes too many omega 6 fatty acids, and not enough omega 3s as found for example in fatty fish/fish oil, coconut oil, and flax seed oil.]
• This is in line with the Stone Age diet. Gallbladder disease can be largely avoided by doing a Stone Age diet. I say that because gallstones are not seen in societies eating primitive stoneage diets. Having gallstones should be a wake up call to do a Stone Age Diet!
* This article is reproduced with kind permission from Dr. Sarah Myhill’s educational website (DrMyhill.co.uk)® Sarah Myhill Limited, Registered in England and Wales: Reg. No. 4545198.
Note: This information has not been reviewed by the FDA. It is general information, based on the research and opinions of Dr. Myhill unless otherwise noted, and is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any condition, illness or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.
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