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How Galling The Gall Bladder Can Be

by Dr. Karen Clickner, ND

More and more I'm seeing people walk into my office and sit down to tell me about the bloating, gas, constipation, fatigue, headaches and stomachaches they're experiencing. My first question is always the same ... "Do you experience any pain on the right side under your ribs?", to which so many people have the same response ... "Why yes, how did you know?" I know because what they're describing are symptoms of gallbladder distress. I want to remind you that you really do need to become friends with your gallbladder. We take our gallbladder for granted and it works just as hard as any other organ in our body, which is why it's important to realize that your gallbladder wants to be as important to you as the liver it helps.

So how galling can gallbladder problems be? Enough to make someone not feel well most of the time, particularly after eating. So how appropriate that we think of anything that's galling as irritating, frustrating or annoying... three words that perfectly describe living with gallbladder distress.
First, let's get rid of an assumption. You certainly can live without your gallbladder, but like your cell phone, your computer or your favorite pet, you don't want to have to. Let's talk about how to keep this from happening.

We will start with what the gallbladder does. It sits under the liver and the liquid that the liver makes is stored and concentrated in the gallbladder until it's needed. When is it needed? Whenever you eat anything with fat. Without it, the liquid (actually called bile) is watery and isn't as effective. It's like drinking lemonade that's been sitting in the sun for an hour and all the ice cubes have melted. Not as lemony, right? Bile not only breaks down fats into tiny droplets that are easier for cells to use, it also allows you to absorb vitamins D, E, A and K. Bile cleanses the liver by removing heavy metals, excess chohlesterol, dead cells and toxins that the liver has removed from the blood. Bile is essential for you to absorb calcium and iron. Bile neutralizes the acid that is used in stomach digestion when the food enters the intestinal tract. Bile acts as nutrient signaling hormones which help with hormone balance including insulin. But what most of you are clearly in need of is the wonderful salts in bile which stimulate bowel movements and lubricate the intestinal tract.

Whew! That is a LOT of function for a small organ that is generally viewed as disposable. In fact, conventional medicine has not invested much time or attention in gallbladder issues. There is no therapy for gallstones such as laser and medication is very ineffective. There is not course of therapy that is designed to improve gallbladder function. Since gallbladder cancer is rare, there is very little known about it and its prognosis is quite fatal, probably because clinical research is funded by pharmaceutical companies who are not making any money off the lowly little gallbladder.

So how do you know how your gallbladder is doing? Generally by your symptoms. There are three things that can go pear-shaped with the gallbladder. The first and the most common are gallstones. Stones are formed mainly from cholesterol and the main reason they form is that the liver isn't making bile with enough bile salts and cholesterol is not breaking down completely, so fragments become crystalized. Stones can get stuck in the ducts and pathways that carry bile to the intestinal tract causing excruciating pain and nausea. They can also affect the pancreas because the pancreas uses the same ducts and pathway for its digestive enzymes to reach the digestive tract. Just about every patient that I've had with an insulin problem like Metabolic Syndrome X, insulin resistance or even diabetes has a hidden gallbladder problem that was flying under the radar. Sometimes they've already had their gallbladder removed because of all the gallbladder problems.

The second problem that can occur is inflammation, which over a long period of time can become a poorly understood condition known as adenomyomatosis. Inflammation is a part of normal healing but it begins as a response to irritation (like gallstones will cause) or as a protective mechanism against infection. Which brings us to the third problem that can emerge in the gallbladder, infection. One of the most common causes of infection is food poisoning which can happen due to any bacteria in food or water. Infection can also occur from something that the liver has cleared from the bloodstream but was unable to neutralize.

The longer an infection goes untreated and the longer inflammation is present, the more compromised the lining and the walls of the gallbladder become. It can become distended or enlarged. It can become an angry, unhappy gallbladder!

Gallbladder symptoms tend to happen 30 minutes to a couple of hours after eating. They tend to be worse with high fat consumption, especially fried food, butter, full fat dairy, luncheon meats, high-fat meats, tropical oils, refined sugars or added sugar and fast food. The longer the gallbladder is in distress, the more acute the symptoms will be. Symptoms that tell you your gallbladder is unhappy are bloating, burping or gas, nausea, high cholesterol, constipation and dry stool, low levels of Vitamin D, dry skin, headaches, pain or spasm on the right side up to the shoulder.

The gallbladder is worth some attention, especially if you are dealing with any of the above symptoms chronically. Remedies such as purified bile salts, choline, collinsonia root and peppermint are essential. Peppermint tea is a great way to soothe the gallbladder and if you have discomfort try massaging under the left side of your ribs. This is a reflex area for the gallbladder on the right. Above all consider your diet and don't be afraid to get an ultrasound to see how the gallbladder looks. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Dr. Karen Clickner is a Nationally Registered Naturopathic Physician. She provides natural evaluations and treatment at Conscious Body Natural Medicine clinics in central Massachusetts. She has been specializing in autoimmune disorders for more than 35 years. You can get more information at www.consciousbodynatmed.com

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