Does the thought of gallbladder ever cross your mind? Not really, right? You might have given some thought to your heart, liver and even your muscles, but not the gallbladder. However, the truth is, it can cause you some serious problems. If that happens, that’s all you’ll be thinking about, trust me. This is why it’s of vital importance to know how to maintain a healthy gallbladder diet. If you learn how to do this, you will not only be doing your gallbladder a favor but your overall health as well.
What’s the gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small organ that’s located under your liver and shouldn’t be confused with your actual bladder. The tiny pear-shaped gallbladder stores bile which is a kind of yellow-brown fluid produced by the liver. The process goes on like this. After you eat, the gallbladder stores bile from the meal you’ve just had and starts to fill up until it’s full. Then the gallbladder releases the stored bile into the small intestine where it goes into ducts. So, the bile actually helps break up and digest high-fat foods in the small intestine. According to the National Health Service, the gallbladder is not absolutely essential for human survival, because there are other ways the bile can reach your small intestine.
Symptoms of bad gallbladder conditions
If your gallbladder isn’t functioning normally, it’s probably due to digesting large amounts of fat, inflammation in the gallbladder, or obstruction of a duct in the small intestine. The obstruction of ducts causes a back-up of bile, which leads to a condition called gallstones. Common symptoms of gallstones are nausea, vomiting, severe pain after eating, pain under your ribs for days and poor meal digestion. Apart from gallstones, other common gallbladder problems are gallbladder disease and gallbladder attack. Gallbladder pain is usually accompanied with biliary colic, cholecystitis, gallstones and pancreatitis and cholangitis.
Around 10 to 20 percent of all adults have gallstones, whether they’re aware of it or not. According to a study, one in every five adults above the age of 65 has at least one stone. Gallstones are solidified pieces of matter composed of a combination of cholesterol, bile salts, and bilirubin. The gallbladder contains liquid and it isn’t supposed to store solid matter, which is why even the tiniest stones inside are causes for pain and inflammation. Factors which contribute to the risk of developing gallstones can be obesity, high-fat and high-cholesterol diets, diabetes, pregnancy and hormonal changes etc.
Often mistaken for a heart attack, the gallbladder attack is a result of the gallstone obstructing the bile ducts, which increases pressure in the gallbladder. A gallbladder attack can occur suddenly and last between a few minutes to a few hours. Therefore, it’s very important to stay calm and recognize the symptoms which include: upper right abdomen pain, vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite.
Gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis)
One of the most common types of gallbladder disease is cholecystitis. It’s usually caused by gallstones which block the ducts to the small intestine, causing bile accumulation duct problems as well as tumors. Some symptoms you might be developing cholecystitis include upper right abdominal pain, pain radiating to the right shoulder, fever, vomiting, and nausea. Treatment of this disease may vary depending on the severity of the symptoms. If the gallbladder becomes so inflamed that it ruptures, surgery is the best treatment. For not so severe cases, antibiotics and painkillers can be used.
Cholangitis is an infection of the bile ducts. The condition can be caused by gallstones becoming lodged in the bile ducts, and bacterial infections or other blockages by medical procedures and tumors.
This disease is an inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis can occur as either acute or chronic pancreatitis. Acute pancreatitis occurs suddenly and lasts for days. Some of the symptoms include upper abdominal pain, abdominal pain radiating to your back, fever, vomiting, nausea etc. And the other type occurs over many years with symptoms such as upper abdominal pain, smelly stools or unexplained weight loss.
Gallbladder removal and surgery
The most common treatment when dealing with gallstones is surgery. If gallstones aren’t the problem, antibiotics are the first treatment. However, if the problem persists, the gallbladder should be surgically removed. The most common minimally invasive procedure is laparoscopic surgery. The surgeon usually makes 3 or 4 small holes in the stomach, then inserts an instrument with a camera ─ called a laparoscope after which he removes the gallbladder with his surgical tools. About 750.000 surgeries are performed each year in the USA in order to remove painful gallstones.
Healthy gallbladder diet
A gallbladder diet is not one kind of diet particularly. In short, it’s a set of dietary guidelines used to keep the gallbladder healthy and highly functional. In addition, people who had their gallbladder removed as a result of gallstones or other complications often follow these guidelines. This diet can have a direct effect on the health of the gallbladder because the gallbladder has a key role in digesting foods, as mentioned earlier. Doctors recommend a balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and fiber. The foods listed bellow can reduce gallbladder distress because they contain natural fats and important nutrients such as antioxidants and fiber. They are easily digested as well.
Fresh and fiber-rich foods
About 30-40 grams of fiber per day can reduce the risk of gallstones. Good sources of fiber include avocados, berries, cranberries, grapes, cucumbers. In addition, broccoli, oranges and bell peppers have high levels of fiber and vitamin C which may also protect against gallbladder symptoms. Citrus fruits, apples, and strawberries which belong to the pectin-rich fruits are also helpful.
These include brown rice, oats and bran cereal. Look for bread and cereals which contain whole, grains and high levels of fiber.
Lean protein foods
Consider any type of turkey, chicken, fish, pork, lamb.
You can eat low-fat dairy food, but you have to be careful of the fat content in any type of dairy products.
According to some studies, peanuts or almonds and walnuts prevent gallstones but don’t eat too many since they’re a high-fat food.
Alcohol and caffeinated coffee
Moderate consumption of alcohol (about two drinks a day) or caffeine from coffee is actually recommended because it may reduce the risk of gallstones. On the other hand, caffeine from other sources like tea and soda hasn’t shown a beneficial effect.
Hydration is a part of every diet and as such it’s essential for maintaining the proper amount of water in the bile.
On the other hand, some of the foods you should steer clear of on a gallbladder diet are:
Fried, fatty foods, and hydrogenated oils
Your body goes through a lot of trouble to properly digest the fast foods, processed oils, and high-fat meats or cheese. So if you want to cut the amount of unhealthy fats, reduce the intake of convenience foods such as chips, cookies, pork products, processed dairy etc.
Sugar, sweeteners and simple carbohydrates
Among these are the high-fructose corn syrup and refined sugars which are found in cookies and soda. High intake of sugar has been associated with an increased risk of gallstones.
Conventional dairy products
Food products such as cheese, ice cream pizza, etc are proinflammatory and in some cases even lead to the body producing more gallstones.
Foods which cause an allergic reaction
More often than not, gallbladder problems are associated with food allergies. Some of the food allergens include dairy foods, shellfish, gluten, peanuts etc.
Research has found that gallbladder attacks often occur after heavy meals in the evening or during the night. In fact, any high-fat food can lead to gallbladder problems. This applies to refined vegetable oils such as sunflower, canola, corn, as well as some healthy vegetables like olive oils or even almond butter. Even though consuming healthy fats is important, moderation is the key. If you notice that eating even healthy fats can worsen the gallbladder issues, further reduce the amount or try a different kind of fat instead.
If you want to keep your gallbladder healthy, you should also have these things in mind:
Since tobacco smoke contributes to gallbladder dysfunction, including gallbladder cancers, it’s preferable not to smoke cigarettes.
Exercise is always good
Exercising throughout adulthood and even into older age is an excellent protection against gallstones. This is useful for reducing inflammation, hormonal balance, general digestive health and maintaining a healthy weight without the need to cut down calories dramatically. It’s recommended that you do 30-60 minutes of moderately intense workout every day.
Ask about your medications
If you’re taking medications, including birth pills, cholesterol medications or hormone replacement drugs, it would be best to consult with your doctor whether these can contribute to your gallbladder problems. Hormonal medications might increase your body’s estrogen stores which affect the cholesterol production.
Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight or obese may increase the risk of gallbladder problems such as gallstones. This applies especially to overweight, middle-aged women due to the hormonal changes and their effect on the liver. Research also indicates that people who don’t maintain healthy weight often experience inflammation and swelling within the gallbladder. Here’s some advice you could use if you want to achieve and maintain a healthy weight in a safe way:
Stop yo-yo dieting (cyclical loss and gain of weight). Research has found that people who continually lose and then regain 20 or more pounds by dieting have a greater chance to develop gallstones than those who lose weight more slowly.
Avoid rapid weight loss. Rapid weight loss caused by under-eating, recovering from weight loss surgery is also responsible for nutrient deficiencies or electrolyte imbalances that put stress on the liver.
Consume healthy food and water. You can achieve a healthy weight in a safe way by consuming more fiber-rich foods as part of a gallbladder diet, drinking water instead of sweetened drinks, eating in moderation, and controlling stress, which can lead to hormonal imbalances and emotional eating.
Dietary adjustments after surgery
It’s not unusual for people to experience some difficulties in digesting certain foods after undergoing gallbladder surgery. Therefore, it’s very important to follow your doctor’s instructions about your diet after gallbladder surgery. If you’re still recovering from the surgery in the hospital, the medical staff will help you ease the transition from a liquid to a solid diet. If you’ve been sent home, you’ll need to consume foods gradually and mainly liquids such as broth and gelatin. Furthermore, if you don’t feel any signs of nausea, you can gradually start to introduce a solid diet as you begin to feel better.
However, be prepared to avoid some types of food for a certain period. Most of the people who’ve had gallbladder surgery claim they had had trouble digesting fats after the surgery. This is due to the fact that the gallbladder isn’t there anymore to manage the release of bile into the intestines after a meal. Instead, a small amount of bile now flows slowly from the liver through the common bile duct and into the small intestine. Since your body is going to need a few weeks or so to get used to this, you may experience, diarrhea, bloating and gas if you eat fatty foods during this period. There’s no need to worry though because most people return to their normal diet within a month after undergoing gallbladder surgery.
Foods you should avoid
While your body is adjusting to the change, it might be a good idea to avoid fatty foods for a few weeks after the gallbladder surgery.
Some of these fatty foods include:
Fried foods such as French fries and potato chips
High-fat dairy products like ice cream, cheese, cream, sour cream etc.
High-fat meats like sausage, ground beef, bacon, ribs
Creamy soups and sauces
Chicken or turkey skin
Foods made with butter or lard
Palm or coconut oil
Foods which have high levels of fiber and cause gas can also be discomforting after having gallbladder surgery. Thus, it’s advisable to introduce them slowly back into your diet.
Sample meal plan
The patient is advised to eat several small meals instead of 3 large meals. The aim of this meal plan is to reduce the overall fat by decreasing the total calorie intake and including lots of vegetables and fruit in order to cleanse the body. This following menu is suggested for people who have gallbladder issues:
A glass of tepid water mixed with lemon.
Steel-cut oats with two egg whites and fresh fruit and vegetables, followed by a big glass of water.
Fat-free yogurt and fresh vegetable juice
Vegetable soup, large vegetable salad with lemon or canola oil dressing, followed by fresh fruit for dessert.
Fresh wild Pacific salmon, 1-2 lightly cooked vegetables, brown long grain rice or whole-wheat tortilla with a glass of red wine.
Gallbladder cleanse. Yes or no?
Recently, news of an alternative remedy called the gallbladder cleanse or flush has spread like wildfire on the internet. This alternative gallbladder treatment is created to reset the gallbladder, get rid of the gallstones and improve the overall digestive health and function of the gallbladder. There are many different recipes for this cleanse but most involve drinking Epsom salts, citrus juices, and olive oil. For example, one recipe suggests going on a strict diet while drinking apple juice for two weeks. Afterward, the person is supposed to drink a combination of Epsom salts, olive oil, and citrus juice. There are many claims about this cleanse, but no there’s no evidence to support it. It may actually be misleading and the stones that people see in their stools might just be the mixture of the olive oil and citrus juice. Flushing the gallbladder may not be as simple as drinking a magic juice, but there are other steps you can take in order to keep the gallbladder healthy.
When to call the doctor
It’s normal to feel some discomfort in the form of abdominal pain after gallbladder surgery. But if you start to experience any abnormal or food-related symptoms, it may be a sign of something more serious. Thus, you should definitely call your doctor if you feel any of the following symptoms:
Severe vomiting or nausea
Jaundice or yellowing of your skin
Persistent, worsening or severe abdominal pain
No bowel movement for several days after surgery
Inability to pass gas for several days after surgery
Frequent or severe diarrhea that lasts for several days after surgery
Pain behind the breastbone
All things considered, gallbladder problems can be painful and dangerous sometimes. But, eating the right food combinations and avoiding the wrong ones, namely high-fat foods can improve and protect the health of the gallbladder. In the end, a healthy gallbladder diet will be beneficial for your overall health and keep your body healthier over the long haul.