Without your gall-bladder, absorption of vitamins A, D, E, K, and essential fatty acids is significantly compromised, causing all types of physical problems and ailments.
By Jonathan V. Wright, M.D.
If you still have your gallbladder, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about it, even if you’re very health conscious. If you don’t have your gallbladder anymore, you probably think about it even less. The only time you might consider your gall-bladder is when it’s hurting bad -a situation usually called a “gallbladder attack.”
And why should you? After all, nearly a million people every year have their gallbladders removed, and they all appear to go on about their lives just as healthy as anyone else. Doctors don’t seem to care about gallbladders much; if yours is subject to “attacks” of pain, they don’t try to help you keep it. If it hurts too much or too often, the nearly universal prescription is “just get it out.” Even though it requires surgery and a hospital stay-not to mention thousands of dollars-just go ahead and do it. Besides, it’s “covered” by your insurance.
After the surgery, you’re not advised to do anything in particular to make up for the loss of your gallbladder. So it’s no wonder most people are under the impression that it’s just not that important.
But if you’ve read this far, I’m sure you’ve guessed that I’m about to tell you that there’s much more to the gallbladder story than that. Your gallbladder performs some important functions in your body that make it well worth keeping. Possibly the most important is to regulate bile flow to optimize fat, oil, and fat-soluble nutrient absorption. Without your gallbladder, mechanically, this just can’t happen properly.
If you’ve already had your gallbladder removed, there are some simple steps you can take to keep nutrient deficiencies from happening. But before I tell you what to do if your gallbladder’s already gone, let’s cover a more urgent question: How can you keep your gallbladder in the first place, and get those “attacks” to disappear for good? If it was used as a first line of defense, this technique would make 99.9 percent of all gallbladder surgeries-including yours in particular-totally unnecessary. That’s right, 999 of 1,000 gallbladder surgeries are entirely preventable, and without patent medications, vitamins, minerals, or herbs. This procedure works so well that I haven’t needed to refer anyone for gallbladder surgery for over 30 years.
Hospitals already use this technique-without even realizing it
It may sound like I’m making a totally unsupportable claim, but research about “how to prevent gallbladder attacks” was actually published back in the 1960s and ’70s by Dr. James C. Breneman, who, at the time, was chairman of the Food Allergy Committee of the American College of Allergists, or ACA (now called the American College of Allergy and Immunology, or ACAI). Ironically, if you’ve ever been hospitalized with a severe attack of gallbladder pain, but your gallbladder wasn’t removed, and the pain subsided, you’ve very likely had “Dr. Breneman treatment.”
So what is Dr. Breneman’s secret for preventing attacks of gallbladder pain? It’s simple: Don’t eat or consume anything you’re allergic to.1 And that’s exactly what the doctors do when you’re hospitalized with a severe gallbladder attack-they take away all your food, you’re given IV fluids, and you’re not allowed to eat anything until the pain subsides. It’s a “perfect” food allergy avoidance strategy, and works nearly every time. Unfortunately, the doctors who order this procedure every day still don’t realize why the strategy works. But back to Dr. Breneman…
Back in 1968, he asked 69 individuals suffering from recurrent attacks of gallbladder pain to go onto an elimination diet to determine their food allergies.2 Six of these individuals had already had their gallbladders out, but were still having attacks of gallbladder pain, a situation termed “post-cholecystectomy syndrome,” or, as I like to call it, “my gallbladder’s gone, but I’m still hurting anyway.” Dr. Breneman reported that all 69 people (100 percent!) were completely free of gallbladder attacks when they avoided their individual food (and other) allergies. And all 69 had their symptoms return when they ate the foods they were allergic to once more.
The primary offending foods were eggs (92.8 percent), pork (63.8 percent), onions (52.2 percent), chicken and turkey (34.8 percent), milk (24.6 percent), coffee (21.7 percent), and oranges (18.8 percent). Corn, beans, nuts, apples, tomatoes, peas, cabbage, spices, peanuts, fish, and rye accounted for between 14.5 percent and 1 percent of gallbladder attacks. In addition to foods, 14 of the 69 study participants-just over 20 percent-had gallbladder attacks caused by medications.
Food, medication, and other allergies vary from person to person, and the same allergen can cause different symptoms in different people, so it’s best to work with a physician skilled and knowled-geable in nutritional and natural medicine to determine what your allergies might be. In addition to the American College for Advancement in Medicine noted on page 8, you might want to contact the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (316-684-5500, www.aaem.com), for help in determining which foods or medications may be triggering your gallbladder attacks.
Gallbladder removal could send your health on a downward spiral
This approach is so simple, and yet no medical school to this day teaches how to prevent gallbladder attacks by avoiding your food allergies and (in some cases) other allergies. Instead, they continue to recommend unnecessary gallstone removal surgery. But the truth is, gallstones don’t even cause 99.9 percent of gallbladder “attacks”: allergies do. Avoid allergies, stop “attacks” of pain, and keep your gallbladder! That’s it-that’s all there is to it. And believe me, it’s worth it. Because without your gall-bladder, your absorption of vitamins A, D, E, K, and essential fatty acids is very likely to be impaired.
Let me give you a specific example of what can happen if your body isn’t absorbing enough of these essential nutrients. Several years ago, one Nutrition & Healing reader contacted me with a question about a very specific problem she was having. Every time she drove the Los Angeles freeway system, she experienced recurrent breakdown of the tissues covering the cornea of her eyes. Her ophthalmologist attributed the “spontaneous corneal breakdown” to air pollution and told her not to drive when pollution levels rose. She didn’t argue with the diagnosis but wondered why everyone else she knew could drive those same freeways with intact corneas.
When she asked me that question, I admitted I didn’t know either but suggested that she try extra vitamin A (not beta-carotene) to try to stop the problem. She pointed out that she was eating carrots and “yellow vegetables” and taking a multiple vitamin containing vitamin A. But since insufficient levels are one definite cause of corneal damage, I told her it was still worth trying, especially since it’s relatively difficult for an adult to overdose on vitamin A, and since any possible overdose is easily reversible if the vitamin A is promptly stopped. (This does not include women who are pregnant or might become pregnant: Even small excesses of vitamin A can raise the risk of birth defects.)
So we went over vitamin A overdose symptoms that she should look out for, just in case. They include headache, progressively drier skin, loss of hair (especially eyebrows), cracked lips, and pain in “long bones” (upper arms, upper legs). I recommended she start with 25,000 IU of vitamin A daily and gradually increase the amount toward a maximum of 100,000 IU daily, keeping a close watch for both favorable results and any possible symptoms of excess.
When we next talked, she had very good news: When she’d gotten to 80,000 IU of vitamin A daily, her corneas stopped giving her so much trouble. They were healthy once again, with no further break-down, and she could drive the freeways as much as she wanted.
She’d also had no signs at all of vitamin A excess. However, when she told her ophthalmologist the good news, he panicked and sent her immediately to have a vitamin A blood test, telling her to stop taking vitamin A right away as she might be “poisoned.”
However, she knew that she wasn’t having overdose symptoms, and that her eyes were staying intact for the first time in several years, so she decided to wait a few days for the results of the test before stopping. The test report showed her vitamin A level to be well within normal limits, but, to her surprise, she was told she should stop the extra vitamin A anyway, since it was “just too much.” Sensibly, she declined to stop, pointing to her now-normal eyes, and instead decided to investigate why she might need so much vitamin A to produce normal blood levels and maintain eye health.
She remembered she’d had her gallbladder removed a few years before her eye problems started. Researching that, she discovered that normal absorption of fats and oils is very dependent on bile-which is made by our livers, but “stored for use” in a normal gallbladder. She knew that vitamin A is a “fat-soluble” vitamin (as are vitamins D, E, K, and the essential fatty acids) and wondered if perhaps her missing gallbladder might account for her high vitamin A requirement.
I told her she was probably right and asked her a question that I ask all my patients who’ve already had gallbladder surgery. The question was (and is): “After your gallbladder was removed, did your surgeon or any other doctor explain what you should do to insure normal absorption of fats, oils, and especially fat-soluble vitamins?” Of course, her answer, like that of every other patient I’ve asked over the last 30 years, was “no.”
But despite most doctors’ sins of omission on this topic, it’s important for you to understand that without your gallbladder, your body just doesn’t generate enough bile to break down and absorb many essential nutrients.
Protecting your body’s nutrient-absorption team
You might ask why this is, since bile is made in your liver and the liver is still completely intact after gallbladder removal. To understand the relationship between the two, you need to know a bit about how your gallbladder works.
When your liver secretes bile, a relatively large quantity is “captured” by your gallbladder and stored there for use. When you eat certain fatty or oily meals-a fish dinner, perhaps, with lots of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids-and all the incompletely digested oils and fats are passed from your stomach into your duodenum (the uppermost portion of your small intestine), the fats and oils trigger the release of the hormone “cholecystokinin” (CCK). CCK travels to your gallbladder, telling it “oil’s coming, fat’s coming!” In response to CCK, your gallbladder contracts, pushing out just the right quantity of stored bile. The bile arrives in your intestines at the exact time it’s needed, in the exact quantity needed. Working with your pancreatic fat- and oil-digesting enzymes, the bile digests and emulsifies those oils, making them “just right” to be absorbed.
Marvelous how it all works together, isn’t it?
But without your gallbladder, most of that marvelous coordination is lost. The small, steady trickle of bile from the liver is still there, but it’s no longer “matched” to the amount of fat or oil you’ve eaten in either quantity or timing. The resulting “mismatch” inevit-ably affects your digestion and absorption and puts your fat-soluble nutrient status at risk. Fortunately (or unfortunately), the symptoms of inadequate vitamins A, E, D, K, and essential fatty acids are rarely as dramatic as the case mentioned above; instead they often take years to develop. When they do, they’re usually not identified (except by nutritionally aware physicians) and hardly ever traced back to gallbladder removal.
The missing ingredient for missing gallbladders
And that brings us back to the question: “What should I do if my gallbladder’s already gone?”
First, you’ll need a bottle of “bile salts” (basically, bile in tablet or capsule form). After any meal containing more than a tiny bit of fat or oil, take one to three tablets or capsules.
Some physicians think that trying to reproduce a more normal bile flow with bile salts is too much trouble and advise taking large extra quantities of all the fat-soluble nutrients daily instead. But even those who choose this option need some bile to achieve optimal fat-soluble nutrient assimilation, so I continue to recommend copying nature by taking bile salts if your own gallbladder is gone. You’ll never be able to exactly match the amount of bile you take to the oil or fat you eat the way your gallbladder did automatically, but taking bile salts will go a long way in helping the process along, and it’s much better for your health than not taking them at all.
Fortunately, there are very few potential adverse effects of taking replacement bile salts. Too much, and bowel movements become abnormally dark and sometimes loose. Conversely, too little, and bowel movements are very light in color-nowhere close to a “normal” medium to dark brown.
Bile salt replacements are available in natural food stores, compounding pharmacies, and at the Tahoma Clinic Dispensary (see “Resources,” page 8). I recommend the formulas Cholacol, manufactured by Standard Process Laboratories, and Bile Salt Factors, by Jarrow Laboratories. (I’m not associated with either of these companies.)
For further guidance about bile salt replacement, check with a physician skilled and knowledgeable in nutritional and natural medicine.
The bottom line is, you should do everything you can to keep your gallbladder. If you’re having gallbladder attacks, find out what you’re allergic to, and deal with it. And if your gallbladder is already gone, follow nature’s lead and replace the bile and nutrients your body needs. JVW
Citations available upon request and on the Nutrition & Healing website: www.wrightnewsletter.com
Keep your gallbladder and save yourself $29,000
Every year in the U.S.A., approximately 430,000 gallbladders are removed.3 Total costs per surgery vary, but earlier this year, one investigative news team in Illinois reported that the cost for gallbladder removal in several area hospitals averaged about $30,000.4 So if each surgery costs roughly that much, it adds up to an annual grand total of $12.9 billion. All that money spent because mainstream medicine continues to ignore the real cause of most gallbladder attacks: food allergies.
But compare those figures to the costs associated with the testing and doctors’ visits necessary for keeping your gallbladder. Estimating allergy testing at $500 (a bit high for calculation purposes) and three visits to the doctor at another $500 (likely more than actual, but again for calculation purposes), that’s a cost of just $1,000 to save one gallbladder. If those 430,000 gallbladders are all saved, the “bill” will be $430 million.
Bottom line: If we all follow Dr. Breneman’s advice and keep our gallbladders, our “national health bill” will decline by at least $12 billion per year. And you’ll feel better in the process. Sounds like a “win-win” situation to me.