Could It Be Your Gallbladder?

Joan Haynes, ND

Do you suffer from bloating, gas, belching, or abdominal pain with meals? If so, maybe your gallbladder is causing the symptoms.

The gallbladder is a digestive organ located in the upper right portion of the abdomen directly underneath the liver. The liver makes bile which is stored and concentrated in the gallbladder. As food leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine (duodenum), bile is secreted. The main function of bile is the digestion and absorption of fats. Bile also helps us absorb fat soluble nutrients and eliminate drugs and other compounds such as hormones.

Gallbladder

Symptoms of Gallbladder Dysfunction

Symptoms of Chronic Gallstones

  • Can have no symptoms
  • Abdominal pain following meals high in fat
  • Right sided abdominal pain but can be anywhere in abdomen
  • Radiating pain to the right shoulder
  • Bloating, gas, belching

Symptoms of Acute Cholecystitis (gallbladder attack that may require immediate surgery)

  • Abdominal pain with fever, nausea, vomiting

Tests Used to Diagnose Gallbladder Problems

Adapted from www.webmd.com

There are many choices of tests your doctor may order for you depending on your symptoms. Some are more commonly used than others.

  • Liver function tests (LFTs), which are blood tests that can show evidence of gallbladder disease.
  • A check of the blood’s amylase or lipase levels to look for inflammation of the pancreas. Amylase and lipase are enzymes produced in the pancreas.
  • A complete blood count (CBC), which looks at levels of different types of blood cells such as white blood cells. A high white blood cell count may indicate infection.
  • The use of ultrasound testing which uses sound waves to image the intra-abdominal organs including the gallbladder.
  • An abdominal X-ray, which may show evidence of gallbladder disease, such as gallstones. (not commonly used, may be an incidental finding)
  • A computed tomography (CT) scan that constructs X-ray images of the abdominal organs. This test may follow ultrasound if there are more questions.
  • A HIDA scan. In this test, a radioactive material called hydroxy iminodiacetic acid (HIDA) is injected into the patient. The radioactive material is taken up by the gallbladder to measure gallbladder function. This test also is referred to as
    cholescintigraphy.

Food Allergies and Sensitivities can be a root cause of gallbladder attacks

Since the 1940’s, James Breneman, MD reported that food allergies can initiate gallbladder  attacks and gallbladder disease. One study found that 100 percent of a group of patients were symptom free after following an elimination diet. Dr. Breneman believes that food allergies cause inflammation and swelling of the bile duct, which restricts bile flow from the gallbladder.

At Boise Natural Health, we offer three ways to help identify food allergies: a food allergy panel blood test, a formal elimination/challenge diet, and NAET allergy testing and desensitization.

Treatment for Acute Attacks

  1. Fever, nausea and vomiting may require immediate medical attention and surgery.
  2. If immediate medical attention is not needed, your Boise Natural Health physician can make other recommendations such as the herb wild yam room (among others) that is antispasmodic, to provide relief of gallbladder spasms and pain.
  3. Specific homeopathic remedies may also be recommended chosen based on your specific symptoms may also provide symptom relief.

Treatment for Chronic Symptoms

Many times a gallbladder ends up being surgically removed. However, it may be possible to preserve your gallbladder and improve long term digestive health with proper care. You may want to consider:

  1. Correct dehydration to increase water content in bile
  2. Identify and remove or desensitize food allergies
  3. Decrease fat in diet and increase dietary fiber
  4. Repair nutritional deficiencies found in gallstone patients – vitamins E and C and omega 3 fish oils for example
  5. Increase solubility of the bile by using nutritional lipotropic (liver supporting) compounds and herbal cholagogues (stimulates bile flow). Your Boise Natural Health physician can customize a formula for you.
  6. Chemical dissolution of gallstones using plant terpenes, bile acids and lecithin

If you’ve had your gallbladder removed, consider the following:

  1. Replace the function of the gallbladder with bile salts. 1 to 2 tablets of professional quality bovine bile salts with each meal improves digestion and the absorption of fats.
  2. Evaluate what dietary and lifestyle factors contributed to the dysfunction of your gallbladder.

Oliver Oil Gall Bladder Flush

At Boise Natural Health, we do not recommend olive oil flushes to treat gallbladder problems. We have been taught that this procedure is dangerous because the large amounts of oil causes contraction of the gallbladder which in turn can cause existing stones in the gallbladder to become lodged in the bile duct causing an emergency situation. Some people see “stones” in the
toilet after doing an olive oil flush. A 2005 study in the Lancet (a much respected medical journal) analyzed the chemical makeup of the “stones”. These are not gallstones, but are soap solids created in the emulsification process of the olive oil.

In Summary

Gallbladder symptoms diagnosed early and will lead to earlier treatment and may function may be restored. If the gallbladder cannot be saved, there is still work to do by identifying the cause of the malady in the first place and supporting digestion for optimal absorption.