The gallbladder is a little organ that houses bile made in the liver. The gallbladder is very sensitive to the outside environment, hormone imbalances, and poor stomach acid. It is often removed in people who have stones, inflammation, or is sluggish in contracting. Over 300,000 gallbladders are removed each year and an estimated 20 million people have gallstones. There is research that suggests 75% of people who get the gallbladder removed would have done just fine if they had left it alone.
So let’s talk about why the gallbladder is so important – it is vital for the digestive process. The bile acid inside the gallbladder is used to break down the fats you eat. Without it, you can’t get the benefits of all those healthy fats you are eating. This leads to issues of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), bloating, gas, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and eventually oxalates in the system. Oxalates (molecules that bind calcium during digestion) occur when the gut bacteria in the colon eat the undigested and mal-absorbed fats you consume. These oxalates cause us to waste Sulfur into the urine. Sulfur is vital for every process in the body. Signs of oxalate overload can be kidney stones, Thyroiditis, all-over painful joints, and digestive issues like IBS.
The gallbladder plays a crucial role in hormone metabolism, especially estrogen. It is believed that the gallbladder is the most estrogen sensitive organ in the body – that is why females make up the vast majority of gallbladders removed. Bile is used to breakdown estrogen in the gut so you can poop it out. When you have excess estrogen – from poor gut health – you eventually can cause the gallbladder to back up and get inflamed. Stones build up and can get stuck causing more pain and inflammation.
The gallbladder is an immune system organ as well. Bile acts like soap in the digestive tract by helping clean up the area. When bile acids are not strong and plentiful, you have the potential to get infections in the gut. Over 50% of people who have their gallbladder removed will end up with SIBO. This overgrowth leads to many digestive complaints, fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases. It has been stated over and over again that all disease starts in the gut – a dysfunctional gallbladder makes sense.
What else could cause the gallbladder to not function very well? The number one cause is low stomach acid. When there is not adequate stomach acid, the gallbladder does not get the signal to squeeze which should release bile into the small intestine. The gallbladder essentially sits there and the bile starts to thicken inside. Stones form, you get diagnosed with a sluggish gallbladder and maybe have a gallbladder attack. To some, a sign that it needs to be removed. An acute gallbladder attack is painful due to the inflammation and stone(s) being stuck. Some of the signs of a possible gallbladder stone I look for is tenderness under the right rib cage, right shoulder blade pain that will not go away with treatment, swelling in the legs/feet, and/or heartburn/burping/bloating after meals consisting of fats and protein.
Gallbladders can get better with time!
We know what affects the gallbladder, but how do we help it function better? Great question! First we need to make sure we are producing adequate stomach acid. Next, using things like Taurine, B6, Glycine, and Choline are very beneficial. Also, using bile acids to help with the healing process is key. If you do not have a gallbladder I highly recommend you use them with every meal to help digest your food. Once these are taken, I like to support the liver as this is where the bile is being produced and distilled into the gallbladder. We live in a toxic environment and doing a detoxification program is a great way to help the health of the liver and the body. Lastly, we want to make sure we are breaking down the estrogen in the body and removing it in a safe way. I like to use an estrogen detox to help the body do this effectively.
In other words, you NEED your gallbladder! It is not just something that should be removed. Look for ways to help your body heal and function better. As always reach out to us with questions and we can guide you through this process.
-Dr. Brian Opp, Chiropractor