Why Humans Need Their Gallbladders – A Guest Post by Ute Mitchell
Ute Mitchell lives in Portland, Oregon, where she homeschools her children, grows her own veggies, does CrossFit, and is a certified Nutritional Therapist. She co-published the Fast Paleo Top 100 ecookbooks and shares her musings on her Paleo life at GrokettesMusings.com, which is in the processed of being moved to realfood4.me.
Why Humans Need Their Gallbladders
The human being is an amazing animal. When necessary, we manage to live with just one kidney, a fake heart, no stomach, shortened bowels and more. We don’t think twice about appendectomies or the removal of tonsils. These surgeries are done as routinely as root canals, no questions asked by patients, no explanations offered by surgeons. In October of 2013, I went to the hospital for a liver resection. Hemangiomas in my liver made it necessary to remove over 60% of my liver, which translated to my entire right lobe and a small piece of the left lobe. As part of this surgery, my gallbladder, attached to the right lobe of the liver, had to be removed. It was a “package deal”, according to my surgeon, and I had nothing to worry about, because the gallbladder is an “unnecessary organ”. I usually pride myself for possessing great critical thinking skills. A statement like this would have normally alarmed me, and I would have asked questions or done my research about this gallbladder that I knew precious little about. Under the circumstances, however, I was a little preoccupied. It’s not every day that one is told that they will lose half a liver.
I Recovered Quickly
I credit my excellent diet and physical fitness for my quick recovery. Only 7 weeks post surgery I started working out again, and by January I was lifting weights, and doing slightly modified CrossFit WODs. Imagine my surprise, when I suddenly started developing symptoms, such as stomach aches, heartburn, diarrhea usually after meals, and strangely, pain between my shoulderblades (referred pain from liver or gallbladder is quite common). Weeks passed, and I didn’t understand why I had these symptoms or what to do about them, until a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner mentioned to me ever so casually, that of course having lost a gallbladder could mean that I would rely on bile salts to help with the breakdown of fats in my small intestine. Naturally, I knew nothing about this, but I made it my first priority to find out.
The Gallbladder’s Function
First, let me give a quick summary of the gallbladder’s most important function. The liver, our body’s powerhouse, produces bile, which is stored in the gallbladder until food enters the small intestine. The gallbladder receives a signal to release bile, which breaks down fats into fatty acids. Without the gallbladder, the liver continues to produce bile and it trickles into the small intestine at all times. In many humans this means, that there won’t be enough bile to break down fats, and this in turn leads to the excretion of these fats, usually as diarrhea.
Why So Many Cholecystectomies?
In the United States, every year over 600,000 cholecystectomies are performed, about 90% of them laparoscopically. This number is astronomical, and many of these surgeries could be avoided with proper nutrition. This is not to say, that they are all unnecessary. A person with an acute gallbladder attack or gallbladder disease may benefit from having their gallbladder removed, and it might even save their life. However, a healthy person, eating a Paleo or Primal diet will likely be able to avoid this surgery altogether after careful research and ideally with the support of a nutritional professional, or a doctor who is on board with your Paleo lifestyle. To find such a person, check the Paleo Physicians Network online.
As I was doing my research, I used the various social media platforms to reach out to others who have had cholecystectomies. I wanted to know, if I was the only one experiencing these symptoms, and if I wasn’t, what did others do about them? I was astonished at the sheer number of people who came out of the woodworks, sharing their stories of years of health struggles. All of them suffered from the same symptoms as I did, and some of them were told by their surgeons or other medical professionals to go on a low fat diet. A quick Google search confirmed that all the major medical websites encourage a low fat diet to patients.
Only few people reported having no struggles after their surgeries. This could be due to a number of reasons. I believe that a long-term study would be necessary to understand, if these people are not mistaken. The consequences of gallbladder removal with subsequent low fat diets could cause any amount of symptoms that we are simply not aware of. It is doubtful, that a patient, who suffers from symptoms five or ten years down the road, will think back to their gallbladder removal as the cause of these symptoms. There simply are no numbers to support my suspicion.
How To Live Healthily Without A Gallbladder
With all of my newfound information, I scoured the Internet for resources. I found the websites of Dr. Jack Kruse and The Liver Doctor, and even though the truth about the consequences of my gallbladder removal was painful, I was also excited and hopeful that I could live a normal life. Here are a few of things I did after more research.
1) Bile salts: I did NOT go on a low fat diet. This could have caused viscous and sluggish bile, which could lead to cysts in the liver. Instead, I purchased bile salts. They are available at every good health food store or online. Take them a few minutes before each meal.
2) Liver Flush: Please check with your doctor before you do a flush. I found the liver flush by The Liver Doctor to be extremely helpful for my overall well-being, and my liver surgeon did not have any concerns about it.
3) Raw Vegetables: You don’t have to become a vegetarian, but increase your amount of raw veggies. Your gut and liver will thank you.
4) Milk Thistle and Dandelion Tea: These are great for the liver. And a healthy liver produces better bile.
5) Spicy Foods: Mustard, garlic, and horseradish – all of these are great for the liver and bile ducts.
6) Water: Need I say more? Water is the most abundant macronutrient in our bodies. Its many benefits cannot all be listed here.
I started making these changes in February 2014. I started seeing positive results almost instantly. My diarrhea was gone in 24 hours. The stomachache and heartburn disappeared within a few days, and within weeks, I was pain free. I do not have to pass on butter or coconut oil. I simply increase my dose of bile salts before a higher fat meal, and the result is a great digestion without any health problems.
Thanks to modern medicine and a brilliant liver surgeon, I was in and out of the hospital within a week. The 15-inch scar on my belly is a constant reminder of how lucky I am to have received such excellent care during surgery, and in the following days by nurses and doctors. Modern medicine has its time and place in my life. Sadly, the connection between medicine and nutrition is still not made. And so, I would encourage anyone to 1) get a second opinion, and 2) do your own research. The information is out there, freely available to you. As for your gallbladder, try to hold on to it, if you can. It is absolutely not an “unnecessary organ”.