It's so interesting to me that I see trends in health concerns. For example, in the spring and summer of 2020, urinary tract infections were very common in females of all ages. At the time, I related this in part to people holding their urine for incredibly long periods when the bathrooms were inaccessible. Lately, I'm seeing an increased number of people with gall bladder symptoms, and heartburn. I'm curious if this relates to a change in eating patterns and reduced activity levels? Perhaps. Fortunately, I know what to do about that ;)
Signs of Gall Bladder Dysfunction
The gall bladder is a small, pear-shaped organ tucked under the liver. The liver makes bile, which is stored in the gall bladder to be released when you eat to break down fats. Bile is a yellow-green fluid that consists of cholesterol, bile acids, and waste products from the liver. Symptoms occur when there is inflammation, infection, growths, or blockages that impair the function of the gall bladder and the flow of bile.
- pain and tenderness - upper right or centre of the abdomen, it can be dull or sharp and be triggered by a fatty meal
- indigestion, bloating
- nausea or vomiting
- fever or chills
- jaundice (yellowing of the eyes, skin)
- stools that are light or grey coloured
- chronic diarrhea
- pain in the right shoulder
- dark coloured urine
=> Gall bladder obstructions are a medical emergency and require urgent treatment
Gall Bladder Diseases
I'm going to keep the conversation towards gall bladder health in order to prevent the progression to disease, but be aware that there are a number of different gall bladder pathologies from sludge, to gall stones (cholelithiasis), to inflammation (cholecystitis), bile duct obstruction, abscess, perforation, cancer, porcelain gall bladder (calcium deposits) and polyps. These conditions are found through ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and liver function test bloodwork.
Also keep in mind, that as obesity rates increase in our youth and children, so do the rates of gall bladder dysfunction in this population (1). So don't just think of this as an older person's concern.
Fortunately, many of the risk factors are modifiable, so let's dive into the things we can change. To do this, we need to ensure that there is enough bile for the amount of cholesterol in our body, that there is no inflammation (or parasites or growths) preventing the flow of bile out of the gall bladder, and that the liver is able to function optimally.
How to Support Your Gall Bladder
- Fibre - Vegetables and fruits, of course. Also oatmeal, flax seeds, and psyllium to help bind cholesterol. I also recommend lecithin granules (made from soy or sunflower) for this purpose.
- Dandelion or other leafy greens
- Fats like olive & coconut oils, nuts & seeds, avocados - consumed 1-2 tbsp at a time to avoid too much at once
- Drink lemon water once per day
- Limit: food sensitivities (often dairy is a big trigger, or wheat), fried food, sugar, simple carbohydrates, refined oils (safflower, vegetable, canola, sunflower, corn)
- Milk thistle - helps to protect the liver and gall bladder
- Artichoke - improves bile production & flow, reduces nausea & vomiting & spasms (2)
- Turmeric - anti-inflammatory (reduces swelling), improve bile flow
- Dandelion root - liver support and bile flow
- Ox bile and lipases help digest fats
- especially important if you've had your gall bladder removed
- Maintain a healthy weight
- If you decide to lose weight, keep a slow and steady pace of 1-2 lbs per week (avoid crash or yo-yo dieting)
- Keep active - to reduce inflammation & stress, balance hormones, benefit digestion and maintain a healthy weight
- Investigate your relationship with food - cravings, emotional eating, etc.
- Actively engage in stress management to ensure digestion works optimally
- Medications like the oral contraceptive pills, hormone replacement, and cholesterol drugs increase gall bladder disease risk
- Pregnancy (because of the hormone changes)
- 10-20% of the general population has gall stones (some may not even know it), but up to 80% of First Nations peoples experience gall bladder symptoms
- Being sedentary, having diabetes, or being overweight also increases risk
- applied over the liver and gall bladder area
BONUS: Here's a recipe for Lemon Turmeric Rice and another for Apple, Beet & Carrot Slaw
Now, even more than ever, it's important to be strong, nourished, rested, less inflamed, supported and fearless. I know that it can feel daunting with the long list of responsibilities right now, which is why I say to just do the best that you can. Choose one goal for the week (e.g. be in bed by 10pm), and then add another the next week.
You've got this.
Yours in health,
P.S. Yes, I'm seeing patients both virtually and in-person. Click here to Book Appointment.
Remember, this information is for education purposes does not replace the advice of your health practitioner. As always, a personalized plan should be developed after a thorough investigation into your health.