Editor’s Note: This guide is meant to provide general information as it relates to the gallbladder, its function, what happens when it goes into dysfunction and how-to address GB issues via flushing, diet & bile/enzyme restoration or supplementation (if the GB has been removed).
The gallbladder is a small pouch that sits just under the liver. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver. After meals, the gallbladder is empty and flat, like a deflated balloon. Before a meal, the gallbladder may be full of bile and about the size of a small pear.
Bile is a strong enzyme that assists in breaking fats down. When the food you eat contains fat, the stomach and duodenum secrete a substance that stimulates the gallbladder to contract, thereby forcing bile into the digestive tract. Bile emulsifies the fat, making it available for energy production.
Gallstones may cause no signs or symptoms. If a gallstone lodges in a duct and causes a blockage, the resulting signs and symptoms may include: Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the upper right portion of your abdomen. Sudden and rapidly intensifying pain in the center of your abdomen, just below your breastbone.
Other symptoms of a gallbladder issues include:
- The most common symptom of a gallbladder problem is pain.
- Nausea or vomiting. Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of all types of gallbladder problems.
- Fever or chills.
- Frequent diarrhea.
- Unusual stools or urine.
If symptoms go unaddressed
A gallbladder rupture is a medical condition where the gallbladder wall leaks or bursts. Ruptures are commonly caused by inflammation of the gallbladder. This inflammation can be caused by gallstones, which can get stuck inside the gallbladder. Infection can also cause inflammation that could lead to rupture.
Untreated gallstones may cause complications such as:
- Jaundice, a yellowish tint to your skin or eyes.
- Cholecystitis, a gallbladder infection.
- Cholangitis, a bile duct infection.
- Sepsis, a blood infection.
- Pancreas inflammation.
- Gallbladder cancer.
How do you flush your gallbladder?
In most cases, a gallbladder cleanse involves eating or drinking a combination of olive oil, herbs and some type of fruit juice over several hours. Proponents claim that gallbladder cleansing helps break up gallstones and stimulates the gallbladder to release them in stool.
What are the best digestive enzymes to take after gallbladder removal?
Bile acid- helps to break down fats so that fat digesting enzymes (lipases) can further break down foods. Betaine HCL- helps support the digestive process in the break-down of protein and fats, helps relieve digestive discomfort. Bromelain- derived from pineapple, can aid in the break- down of protein.
Foods that assist with gallbladder support
A diet good for your heart is good for your gallbladder, too. Any diet that would qualify as “heart-healthy” is “gallbladder-healthy,” too. That means a diet with some healthy monounsaturated fats, such as those in nuts, avocados, seeds, olives, peanut butter, and the oils from these products.
Keeping the gut balanced will reduce the need for bile and take pressure off the gallbladder. Probiotic-filled foods including fermented foods such as miso, sauerkraut, kombucha and tepache can help restore this balance and have a role in a healthy gallbladder diet.
For gallbladder health, turmeric can stimulate bile formation to ease gallbladder emptying. Incorporating turmeric into your diet can also reduce inflammation and gallbladder pain. Turmeric can be made into a tea to drink daily for pain relief. Curcumin is also available as an oral supplement.
Boost your intake of good sources of vitamin A, called beta-carotene, which is found in dark yellow, orange and dark green vegetables, such as pumpkin, carrots, sweet potato, spinach and broccoli.
Other gallbladder-friendly foods include:
- Bell peppers.
- Citrus fruits.
- Dark, leafy greens.
- Plant-based or lactose-free milk.
- High-quality fish, like salmon, cod or halibut.
- Shellfish, including shrimp, crab, lobster, or mollusks, such as clams, mussels, oysters, scallops.
- Plant-based or lactose-free dairy products.
Foods to avoid
The gallbladder produces bile that helps the body digest fats. A high intake of fats, and especially saturated and trans fats, may put extra strain on this process. Researchers have found that people who consume red, processed meats, and egg as part of an overall unhealthful diet have a higher risk of gallstones.
In addition, refined (bad) carbohydrates may increase the risk of gallbladder disorders. In one study, researchers found that eating 40 grams (g) or more of sugar a day doubled the risk of gallstones with symptoms. Remember, there’s sugar in everything, so look at the ingredient list on the nutritional labels of food products.
As a rule of thumb, also try to stay away other bad food choices, such as fried foods, highly processed foods (i.e. doughnuts, pie, cookies), whole-milk dairy products (i.e. cheese, ice cream, butter) and fatty meats (i.e. red meat, pork).