Gallbladder Dysfunction and Diarrhea

A dysfunctional gallbladder may be at the root of many cases of unexplained chronic diarrhea and a cholesterol-lowering drug which binds to the bile acids normally stored in the gallbladder may benefit patients with chronic diarrhea who did not respond to other treatments.

Researchers gave the cholesterol-lowering drug cholestyramine, which binds to the bile acids normally stored in the gallbladder, to 19 patients with chronic diarrhea unresponsive to previous treatments.

All 19 of the patients improved on the medication within 24 hours.

  • Chronic diarrhea is a common problem among many Americans and many of these people are diagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

  • About 10% of people who have had their gallbladders removed suffer from chronic diarrhea due to excess bile production, which usually comes on immediately following a meal.

  • In the study, the patients underwent testing to measure gallbladder functioning, in which all 19 patients scored poorly, indicating their gallbladders were functioning anywhere from not at all to only 42% of normal.

  • Researchers report that with the medication, the patients improved to the point that those who had previously had 4 to 10 bowel movements per day went down to having only one.

While further investigations are taking place in this area, researchers suggest that if a patient has chronic diarrhea that cannot be attributed to other causes, their gallbladder function should be tested, and if function is below normal, patients should be put on a trial of cholestyramine. "The drug is inexpensive and "safe -- it's been around a long time," one of the researchers observed.

American Journal of Gastroenterology August, 2000;95:2140.

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

For those who have chronic diarrhea my first step is usually improving the diet and adding large amounts of beneficial bacteria. It certainly makes sense to see if the gallbladder is involved as this is a simple and safe technique. All that is required is to place firm pressure just below the center of the last rib on the right side. This is where the gallbladder is located. If there is sensitivity to the touch present, this is a strong indication that there is inflammation present in the wall of the gallbladder.

I usually advise people to start a supplement which has taurine and whole beet concentrate as it's main ingredient. If the above strategies fail to work I next perform a series of four stool cultures for parasites.

The use of conventional hormone replacement therapy for postmenopausal women (horse-derived estrogen plus a synthetic progestin) has been shown to increase the risk of gallbladder disease by nearly 40% (JAMA 1998 Aug 19;280:605-13).

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