The more I learn about digestion, the more I'm coming to understand the incredible importance of proper gallbladder health. This seemingly innocent little organ helps with so many aspects of our digestive health. But, if you've had your gallbladder removed, you may be setting yourself up for nutrient deficiencies and poor digestion unless you take the proper steps to correct for the imbalance. Honestly, even if you still have your gallbladder, making sure it gets the TLC it needs is critical for proper health and digestive function as we age.
The gallbladder is where bile is stored after it is produced in the liver. Bile is critical for fat digestion and emulsification. Even if you don't have a gallbladder, you'll still produce bile. However, it won't be released in the right timing as it would with a properly functioning gallbladder. We need healthy fats to be properly broken down for fat soluble vitamin absorption (vitamins A, D, E, and K), as well as for the production of hormones, so have the proper function of the gallbladder and bile is key.
You'll know you have issues with your gallbladder if you struggle with digestion, have undigested food in your stool, have gray or light colored stools, or are deficient in any of the fat soluble nutrients (vitamins A, D, E, and K).
We start to see issues with gallbladder health when we eat a low-fat diet, choose low-quality fats, and/or have too little stomach acid. It's hard to find one person that doesn't have at least one of those risk factors!
When we eat a low fat diet, we stop the need for bile usage, clogging up the release of bile from the gallbladder. Eating this way simply doesn't stimulate the need for bile to be released, leading the bile to become viscous (thick). Low quality fats also cause issues for the gallbladder, as they impact our liver health and overall levels of inflammation in the body. Low quality fats include vegetable oils, trans fats, shortening, margarine, and fake buttery spreads. Finally, most people do not have enough stomach acid due to age, stress, or a nutrient poor diet. You can read more about stomach acid here.
All three of these issues cause undigested fats to pass into the large intestine where they rancidify in the colon, stressing out your liver and leaving your fatty acid deficient (low in vitamin D anybody?).
If you still have your gallbladder, simply increasing the amount of healthy fat you eat from real, whole foods slowly and increasing stomach acid will help with fat digestion and emulsification.
However, if you don't have a gallbladder, I recommend doing a couple of different protocols.
First up, if you don't have a gallbladder, avoid eating too much fat early in the morning unless you add in the ox bile or digestive enzyme support mentioned below. Since your digestive system has been sleeping for a while, it won't quite be ready to digest a huge amount of fat. Keep the amount moderate alongside of plenty of protein and a bit of carbohydrates.
Second, consider ox bile or digestive enzyme support. Ox bile is literally bile that will provide your body with bile to help break down fats. Digestive enzymes are well-rounded enzyme support that will help break down proteins, fats, and carbs. Both are great options to take with meals. I recommend starting with 1 capsule with each meal, maybe 2 for a larger meal or one that contains more fat. These supplements can also be used for those without a gallbladder who are looking to kickstart their liver, gallbladder, and digestive health.
Lastly, and this goes for those with and without a gallbladder, cut out those toxic fats! Vegetable oils (canola, corn, soy, cottonseed, etc), margarine, shortening, fake butters, partially hydrogenated fats, and trans fats. Run away at the sight of any of these fats on an ingredient list!
I hope that helps give some clarity on the importance of gallbladder health. If you have anyone you know who doesn't have a gallbladder, make sure to send this their way!