Dr. Joseph Mercola
with Rachael Droege
The New York Times regional newspaper interviewed me about gallbladders and I thought it would be useful to review this common problem. I have seen many hundreds of patients who have had their gallbladders removed and I don't recall anyone ever telling me that their surgeon advised them to do something to compensate for removing this important organ.
Just about every one of them was told they didn't need their gallbladder and that it was perfectly fine to have it removed. This is reprehensible ignorance as it condemns the patient to a lifelong deficiency of essential fatty acids.
Why? Because after your liver produces bile, which emulsifies fats for improved fat digestion, half of it goes to the small intestine, and the other half is stored in the gallbladder until it's needed.
About 500,000 gallbladders are removed each year in the United States, typically due to gallstones, which affect about 15 percent of Americans. Gallstones form when bile is in the gallbladder too long and it collects and settles. Although most gallstones dissolve naturally and produce no symptoms, if one ignores warning symptoms and does not address the reasons why their gallbladder is not functioning properly, then the disease can progress to the point where the pancreas is inflamed or the gallbladder is seriously infected and may have to be removed to save a person's life.
Signs of Gallbladder Disease
If you have any of the following symptoms then your gallbladder may not be functioning properly:
Pain when pressing on the gallbladder, which is directly under the last rib on the right on the same plane as one's nipple. This is usually due to gallbladder "sludge" (thick bile).
Stone on a gallbladder ultrasound.
Greasy stools that are loose and tend to float to the top of the toilet bowl. This indicates improper fat absorption.
As I said in my interview, regular exercise is one of the best things you can do to address gallbladder dysfunction. This is a great proactive prevention step but most people don't worry about their gallbladder until they have a problem. Unfortunately, by that time exercise alone is not going to cut it.
At that time a gallbladder flush may provide some relief and once the symptoms abate an aggressive cardiovascular exercise program can serve to permanently improve the gallbladder.
It is also imperative that you clean up your diet. One has to stop eating sugars, reduce or eliminate the grains and eliminate all fluids but water. You can consult my nutrition plan to make sure you're eating enough healthy foods.
Further, the gallbladder is frequently infected when it is diseased so large amounts of high-quality probiotics will also be helpful in correcting the problem.
What to do if You've had Your Gallbladder Removed
High-quality fats--especially omega-3 fats -- are essential for good health and if you don't have a gallbladder you will have an impaired ability to absorb them. Trying to digest fat without bile is like trying to wash greasy dishes without soap--it doesn't work very well. If your gallbladder is removed then you need to compensate by providing an increased level of fat digestive enzymes (lipase) to compensate for this.
Unless you receive a gallbladder transplant, which is unlikely, then you'll need to continue taking the enzymes for the rest of your life to ensure that fats can be absorbed and used by the body for their many important functions.