If you have ever been unfortunate enough to suffer from a gallbladder (GB) attack, you know how excruciating it is! It has been compared to the pain of childbirth, and leaves you pretty much ineffective and unable to sit or lie still for several hours, due to the extreme discomfort. It is caused by gallstones in the GB and symptoms include terrible radiating back pain, crushing chest pain and pressure, a fever and chills, nausea and vomiting, to name a few. For women, these symptoms are similar to that of a heart attack, so make sure you are examined properly by a medical professional if you have any of these symptoms!
Some people with gallstones have never had an attack, and may never have one. If you have stones though, they usually just increase in size and can eventually block the opening to the gallbladder, causing terrible pain. It was only by accident that I discovered I had stones, while having an ultrasound for another issue.
When I had my first attack back in 2009, I didn’t actually know that it was a GB attack, and I assumed it was food poisoning. I have had digestive problems since childhood, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to get food poisoning or other digestive issues; which I now know was partly due to how Hydrochloric Acid (HCl) levels in my stomach, as a result of too many antibiotics as a child. Looking back though, after having had several other attacks in subsequent years, I now know that it was one.
The causes of gallstones are not completely understood, but are thought to include the GB not emptying properly/completely, or your bile may contain too much cholesterol or bilirubin.1 Too much cholesterol causes one type of stone (the most common type), and too much bilirubin causes another. Risk factors for getting gallstones include several things such as:
- Hereditary factors, like having a family history of gallstones, or ethnicity (certain ethnic groups are supposedly more prevalent)
- Gender factors, like being female (it is more common in women), and during pregnancy is also common
- Functional factors, like the inability of the GB to squeeze/contract properly in order to empty often enough or completely
- Lifestyle factors, like diet, fasting, losing weight very quickly, having diabetes, or being inactive and/or being over-weight. Certain medications and hormone replacement therapies can also be a cause.
Regardless of the cause, managing attacks if you suffer from them, is a pressing issue. Most commonly, it is recommended to have the GB removed to prevent future attacks; however, while that can lead to the elimination of the painful attacks, other problems can arise. You see, bile is made in the liver, but stored in the GB. So when the GB is removed, bile can constantly stream from the liver into the digestive tract. Alternatively, there can be a lack of bile available when needed. These problems often causes a host of digestive issues for people, and can lead to undetermined abdominal pain and sometimes stones can form in the liver as well, perhaps years after the fact.
The biggest problem, and one that seems to be the most problematic, yet seemingly unmentioned to patients before removal, is the simple fact that they can not digest fats properly! If their GB was under-functioning before removal, which is quite likely, this is also the case. This is important, because healthy fats are needed by the body, especially the brain, in order to keep it healthy and happy. If you can’t absorb the fats you are eating, then they are useless and the benefits literally go down the toilet.
Often times, in Canada anyways, it can take some time to get your GB removed by a doctor, unless it is an emergency. This means you need to learn how to manage the problems that arise in the meantime. The most important thing I recommend is to take a digestive enzyme with every meal that contains proteins, starches and/or fats. (If you are just having plain fruit, you can skip the supplement). Why you ask? Well, because dietary management is not the whole solution when it comes to GB issues3.
A good quality enzyme is also essential, and should contain things such basic things as Betaine HCl, (Ox) Bile, Pepsin, Pancreatin, and Glutamic Acid. I also recommend beet crystals (which thins the bile, keeps it moving and from getting “sludgy”) , inositol (helps in preventing the collection of fats in the liver), and choline (helps with the digestion of fats, cholesterol, proteins and carbohydrates)2. If you can’t find these in the digestive enzyme supplement, take them over and above.
Foods which will help the liver and gallbladder include (beets), dandelion and other greens, milk thistle, fresh lemon juice, asparagus, artichokes, and burdock root, to name a few. Make friends with these foods and watch how your GB and liver will thank you. Also be sure not to overeat, which stresses the GB. Cut out all inflammatory bad fats, such as margarines and/or vegetable oils that have been processed and refined/heated, and then added to your foods. Eat healthy fats only, such as flax, olive, avocado and coconut oils. One trick I tried while having an attack, was to take some Magnesium to help the muscles of the GB relax in order to help pass the stone easier. This can be tough though if you are vomiting bile because of your attack, so I made sure I took it liquid form for faster absorption.
As I write this, I am deciding whether or not to have my GB removed, which is a choice I do not take lightly, especially as a Nutritionist. Do your research see what is right for you, and that might mean keeping your GB. Please note, that there can be several serious health consequences associated with stones and attacks, so make sure you see a doctor when your attacks are serious and/or last several (6+) hours (all of which mine have), or new symptoms develop. Remember, You know your body best! Good luck whatever you decide, and I wish you relief.
Tip: I recommend signing up for the newsletter from Gallbladderattack.com, as the author has some great articles and knowledge regarding this issue; however, I do not agree with all of her content. Even if you have had your GB removed already, this site has some valuable resources to help you manage on-going issues (Note: I have no affiliation with this site or the products, nor have I evaluated the supplements on their site).