No Gallbladder? Gallstones? Why You Should Avoid Dairy (but not fat)

Gallbladder removal surgery (or a gallbladder full of gallstones) significantly changes + impairs a person's liver and digestive function, and alters the way he/she will need to eat and supplement to maintain health.

The sad news is that most people who don't have a gallbladder (or who have one full of gallstones) have not been properly educated on the best ways to eat and care for themselves after the loss (or inhibited function) of this major organ.

They are stuck with a long, ugly list of health complications that arise from gallstones + gallbladder removal when combined with a diet that makes everything worse. 

Fortunately, many of these issues can be alleviated with the proper diet + supplementation.

 

What Your Gallbladder USED TO DO For You

The gallbladder's main function is digestive. When present + healthy, it acts as a reservoir for the storage of bile.  

Bile is the liquid required for proper breakdown and assimilation of food + nutrients and is also an important vehicle for removing toxic deposits from the liver and body.  A healthy gallbladder can hold approx a cup of bile and it releases this bile into the small intestine. 

Our gallbladders and bile are of particular importance in the process of properly breaking down + emulsifying fats as part of the digestive process.

 

WHEN YOUR GALLBLADDER'S GONE (OR FULL OF STONES)

If the gallbladder has been removed (or is full of gallstones), a person is likely to experience an increase in liver + digestion-related problems and possible nutrient deficiencies.

When the gallbladder is absent (or full of gallstones), a person can't store the normal amount of bile necessary for digesting and assimilating nutrients from food -- especially fat.

A gallbladder that's gone (or full of gallstones) also forces extra burden on the liver.  First, the liver is forced to take over all biliary responsibility and no longer has the gallbladder's reservoir space + function available to help it out. The liver is forced to reduce the amount of bile produced because without a gallbladder (or with one full of gallstones) there's nowhere to store bile, which means it must instead always dump it into the intestines (often causing diarrhea, indigestion, reflux, poor food/nutrient breakdown + other digestive issues). Plus, the liver must still keep up its main job of filtering and detoxifying waste + chemicals from the blood. Unfortunately, in the absence of the gallbladder (or in the presences of one full of gallstones) the reduced bile availability means that waste and toxins may overload the liver faster, as they require ample bile for efficient removal.

Another problem that results from gallbladder removal (or presence of gallstones) is a high potential for nutrient deficiencies, due to the inability to absorb vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids from food. Without the gallbladder storage reservoir, bile is often inappropriately dumped into the intestinal tract, causing expediated removal of barely digested food (think diarrhea). When food is removed before its vital nutrients can be broken down and reabsorbed by the body, nutrient deficiencies can result.

There's a long, ugly list of health complications that arise from gallbladder removal (and gallstones) -- especially when the proper diet + supplemental support aren't in place. Common side effects of gallbladder removal include things like chronic diarrhea, IBS, ulcerative colitis, gastritis, heartburn, reflux, esophagal deterioration, nausea, gas, bloating, indigestion, severe nutrient deficiency (esp EFAs + vitamins A, D, E + K), high cholesterol, and fatty liver disease.

Not fun.

But here's what we can do...

 

5 THINGS TO DO WHEN yoUR GALLBLADDER'S GONE
(or full of stones)

Life without a gallbladder (or with one full of gallstones) can be challenging.

It isn't the ideal setup, but there are things we can do to be as healthy as possible given this setback.

 

1. CHANGE THE FATS YOU EAT - YOU CAN DIGEST CERTAIN FATS, BUT NOT ALL

STICK TO THESE TYPES OF FATS

Mono- and poly-unsaturated fats and the essential fatty acids, Omega 6 and Omega 3 are great options for those with gallbladder woes. They are somewhat easier to break down.

Some types of fat are problematic for those without a gallbladder (or with one full of gallstones), particularly the saturated fats made of long-chain triglycerides, which require a significant amount of bile for breakdown. However, saturated fats made of short or medium-chain triglycerides do not require bile for digestion, and so, for those lacking a gallbladder, they are a great options as they can be easily broken down + absorbed without bile or digestive backlash. 

These are the best sources of fat for someone without a gallbladder (or with one full of gallstones):

  • Coconut oil
  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Avocados
  • Fish
  • Fish fats
  • Animal meat
  • Animal meat fat
  • Animal organ meats  (liver, heart, kidneys)
  • Flaxseeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chia seeds
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Walnuts
  • Palm oil (non-refined, non-hydrogenated)

 

AVOID DAIRY PRODUCTS 
(I know. this one sucks.) 

Dairy products contain higher levels of the harder-to-digest saturated fats made of long-chain triglycerides which require significant amounts of bile and are therefore more difficult for those without a gallbladder (or with one full of gallstones) to breakdown. 

It's also worth noting that dairy products can be additionally problematic for other reasons: they are know to be a highly inflammatory food, to cause digestive distress, to contain several common allergens, and to be problematic for those with overburdened immune systems and livers (common in those without gallbladders / those with one full of gallstones). 

Anyone without a gallbladder is going to be better off without dairy products. Trust me, I've seen it!

 

AVOID TRANS FATS + PROCESSED FOOD (fast food, junk food, pizza, packaged snacks, baked goods)

Obviously, this a good rule for everyone, but it's especially important for those without a gallbladder.

Processed foods often contain high levels of trans fats and long-chain fats -- the kinds hardest for the body to breakdown with reduced bile capacity. 

These foods are best avoided... unless you want a mess of side effects.

 

2. DON'T ADOPT A LOW (OR HIGH) FAT DIET

Please, please, please know that even after gallbladder surgery your body still absolutely requires ample intake of healthy, whole fats + cholesterol. 

You won't be better off by cutting out fat or eating no-fat, low-fat foods. 

You still need fats + cholesterol. Fats are the "wall" that makes up every cell in our body and brain, and are essential sources of energy, vitamins + nutrients. They are important to satiety, blood sugar regulation, and the ability to achieve + maintain a healthy weight. Cholesterol is required for the creation of bile, which assists in the digestion of regular long chain fats and oils, so going low-fat can actually exacerbate health + digestion issues.

(And just to be clear, you probably won't respond well to a high fat or ketogenic diet, either, because your ability to process large amounts of fat is inhibited without a gallbladder). 

 

3. SUPPLEMENT - UNDER SUPERVISION

There are a number of nutrients + herbal remedies that can help greatly and may be necessary for those without a gallbladder (or with one full of stones), depending on the cause + severity of symptoms.

NOTE: These are each potent substances, and not all of them will be right for each person -- it really depends on the cause, severity + exhibited symptoms of gallbladder issues. If you want safe + effective results, you'll need a nutritional therapist (or similar practitioner) to direct and supervise the appropriate use, dose, timing, frequency + necessary co-factors (or contraindications) of each substance.

  • Bitters - Bitters are herbal extracts high in minerals. They are an ancient remedy for stimulating the liver to produce bile. Just a tsp of bitters in a small amount of water in the AM + PM should be sufficient to stimulate the liver to produce adequate amounts of bile for meal digestion.
  • Digestive Enzymes - For many people with gallbladder issues, the actual issue begins "up the line" of digestion. Many people who have gallbladder problems got them as a result of improper breakdown of food further up in the stomach and/or small intestine, due to an insignificant release of necessary digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes help make sure food is as broken down as it can be for proper digestion and nutrient absorption "down the line."
  • Ox Bile - There is no food, herb or nutrient that can replace bile in emulsifying and breaking down fats, therefore true ox bile is the preferred (and highly successful) supplement necessary. (Don't worry, it's encapsulated.)
  • Betaine HCL with Pepsin - For many people with gallbladder issues, the actual issue begins "up the line" of digestion. Many people who have gallbladder problems got them as a result of improper breakdown of food further up in the stomach and/or small intestine, due to an insignificant release of necessary stomach acid + enzymes. HCL helps make sure food is as broken down as it can be for proper digestion and nutrient absorption "down the line."
  • Evening Primrose oil, Borage oil, Black Current Seed oil - these plant fats are both therapeutic and easy for the body to breakdown in the absence of a gallbladder (or presence of one with stones) and can help ensure that a person is not deprived of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and their related nutrients.

 

4. KEEP YOUR LIVER CLEAN

Because the liver is forced under extra burden when the gallbladder is missing (or full of stones), attention should be given to supporting it's optimal function and decreasing its load of toxins for removal:

Foods to eat that are famous for cleansing + supporting the liver (and may also help break up/flush out gallstones in those who still have a gallbladder):

  • Water
  • Beets
  • Acidic foods  (lemon/lime, tomatoes, mustard, salsa, hot sauce, vinegar, etc) 
  • Fermented veggies (sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, etc)

Things to avoid that tax the liver:

  • Alcohol - ingesting alcohol puts your fat-processing (and fat-burning!) on hold. The liver prioritizes the removal of alcohol as a toxic "poison" and will temporarily redirect its resources away from other functions like processing/burning fat and creating bile.
  • Excess sugar + processed carbs - like alcohol, ingesting excess levels of sugar + processed carbs puts your fat-processing (and fat-burning!) on hold. The liver prioritizes the breakdown + removal of sugar + carbs, and the production of insulin required to maintain blood sugar balance over other functions like processing/burning fat and creating bile.

 

5. EAT SMALLER MEALS, MORE FREQUENTLY

This stimulates frequent bile production in a way that doesn't overwhelm the liver or digestive tract. It also reduces the chance that you'll eat too much fat at once, and overshoot the amount of bile your liver can produce for its emulsification and proper breakdown.