by Julie O’Connell-Seamer
The gallbladder is a storage organ located near the liver. While small in size, it plays an important role not only the processing of ingested food but is closely impacted by and exerts influence on our autonomic nervous system (the part controlling unconscious bodily functions such as breathing, heartbeat and digestive processes).
The hepatobiliary system refers to the liver, gall bladder and bile ducts, and how they work together to make bile. Bile consists of water, electrolytes, bile acids, cholesterol, phospholipids and conjugated bilirubin. Bile acids are critical for digestion and the absorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins in the small intestine. Many waste products are eliminated from the body by secretion into bile and via faeces.
Certain factors impact our gall bladder – namely lack of digestive acids (hypochlorhydria), low fat diets, stress, low thyroid function, over-eating (ie. less than 2 hours between snacks/meals), protein deficiency (lack of amino acids in vegan and vegetarian diets) and poor methylation.
When we are in a state of sympathetic dominance – where stress, anxiety, poor sleep and a go-go-go attitude predominates our lives, our para-sympathetic nervous system becomes dysregulated. This directly impacts our ability to rest, digest and have healthy bile production. When bile becomes unstable it becomes lipogenic which can cause the onset of gallstones. Conversely when we have fluid bile flow this equates to less likelihood of bile stone formation.
So, we can see here that by being busy, we are burdening our gall-bladders more than they ought to be. In this state, particularly when it is on-going and relentless, bile, digestion and stress gradually become linked into a vicious cycle of chain reactions which subsequently have further non-desirable impacts. What was initially a case of ‘living off our nerves’ can become a state of greatly impaired digestive processes, with hormones like cortisol soaring, and our whole ‘body clock’ going out of kilter. Sadly all these presentations are very common in clinic, because we are far less inclined to slow down nowadays, not realising fully how the flow on effect perpetuates itself into all manner of disruption.
How do we ensure our gall-bladders work optimally then, to support our nervous system, digestion and overall health?
One key necessity is in reducing gastro-intestinal dysbiosis. In other words by ensuring our digestive flora is in balance so both absorption and uptake of nutrients is optimal plus elimination of food wastes is not impaired. Avoiding subsequent inflammation is also vital for happy gall bladders, which will help reduce risk of developing metabolic disorders. Glucose and energy homeostasis is regulated via gall-bladder and bile functions and in a society where obesity and diabetes are becoming rife, this could shine a light on a very useful area of focus, for effective prevention.
Bile acids are also useful in keeping pathogenic microbes under control. When bacteria is picked up from the small intestine with bile acids and are left able to set up shop in our bile ducts, inflammation and obstruction will ensue. This could result in inflammatory bowel disease. Moreover, inflammation and dysbiosis will result in fat malabsorption, causing poor oestrogen clearance, worsening states of depression, increasing weight gain and typically cause insomnia, fatigue, accelerated ageing or other ailments potentially leading to chronic disease.
When the gallbladder is removed, bile is made by the liver and can no longer be stored between meals. Instead, the bile flows directly into the intestine anytime the liver produces it. To side-step this gastrointestinal discomfort it is important for those with no gall-bladder to avoid eating high-fat or spicy foods.
Great supplements for gall bladder support, optimising your autonomic nervous system would include glycine, nervine and adaptogenic herbals, B vitamins for healthy methylation and the minerals zinc and magnesium. It is useful to address gastrointestinal tract health with glutamine, digestive enzymes, antimicrobial and anthelminitic herbs and support good flora with probiotics. Strains that are specific here included L rhamnosis, a mutli-generational probiotic or S boulardii and B longum.
Lifestyle considerations for the gallbladder you could employ to help- avoid and remove toxins from your environment, reduce liver burdening habits such as excessive alcohol intake, and support yourself nutritionally if taking drugs/medications. Be mindful to consume green leafy vegetables and consider oxalate support with minerals like calcium. Fat soluble vitamins make for healthier bile too – these include vitamins A, D, E and K.
Although it is entirely possible to live without a gall bladder, it is a myth that gall bladder removal has no adverse effects on your health. Over the years I have managed clients in this category, and there are some very important factors that must be addressed, on a daily basis.
As noted, bile has broad-ranging duties within our bodies. By keeping our hepatobilliary system in good stead we will go a long way in not only protecting other body systems from unnecessary load, but enjoy better stress resistance and less risk of lifestyle related disease.