Last week, I told you my story of my gallbladder removal. At the time, I didn’t really question whether removal was the right answer. It seemed pretty clear to me: It was not functioning properly. It was causing me pain. It had made me sick for most of the last year. And gallbladder removal was what all the doctors said was the solution to my problem.
Over time, I started wondering if gallbladder removal was really the only answer. I have learned a lot since then. First it was from my own personal experience and observations. I knew that I definitely experienced some digestive disturbances as a result of losing my gallbladder. At first, I just accepted it because those issues existed before removal – when I had a gallbladder that wasn’t functioning properly.
Doctors don’t tell you that you need to do anything different once you’ve had gallbladder removal surgery. No dietary changes. No supplements to add.
What I’ve learned recently tells a different story. The gallbladder stores the bile that is produced by the liver. This bile is necessary for the proper digestion of fats and fat-soluble vitamins – Vitamins A, D, E, and K – as well as essential fatty acids.
The gallbladder’s role, however, is more than just as a storage vessel for bile. It also has a regulating effect. When you eat a meal containing fats, the gallbladder receives a signal to release bile into the small intestine. Without the gallbladder, bile produced by the liver continually drips into the small intestine. Yet it isn’t delivered in sufficient quantity when it is needed. As a result, after gallbladder removal, a person is likely to experience digestive disturbances and nutritional deficiencies.
There are nearly half a million gallbladder removal surgeries every year in the United States. The primary reason for removal is the pain that is attributed to gallstones. According to a study on gallbladder disease, the gallstones themselves aren’t the source of the problem. It seems that food allergies and even medications can cause the bile duct to swell. Thus preventing the gallbladder from releasing bile and resulting in pain. For many that see a doctor for the pain, gallstones are found during an ultrasound. Hence the recommendation to remove the offending gallbladder. Yet there are people that have gallstones without any of the associated pain.
It’s clearly too late for me to reconsider gallbladder removal. Yet it is still interesting to speculate. Could there have been another answer? Is it possible that I have an undiagnosed food allergy? Or is it possible that a medication was the cause of my problems?
When I look back, I remember that time well because I had a lot of foot problems and pain starting in 1995. I had foot surgery twice and as a result had injuries to my back and knee. I took a lot of NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug) back then. I was given several prescription NSAIDs. Each one caused other side effects that I couldn’t cope with. One of them even woke me up with pain at 3:00 AM. Wait! That’s the same as the gallbladder pain I had.
I’ll never be able to prove it for myself, but today I believe that all of those NSAIDs that I took contributed to my gallbladder problems. And to think that the doctor prescribed them for the pain I experienced from my gallbladder! If I *could* turn back the clock, I would want to explore other options before gallbladder removal. I would start by cutting out medications where possible. I might also keep a food journal to see if I could find any connections.
Is there a need for a supplement for those who have had gallbladder removal? I’m finding that there is. I’m exploring that with myself right now, taking bile salts to see what impact they have on my digestion and health. That could be a future blog post.