MAKE FRIENDS WITH YOUR GALLBLADDER
You may wonder why I, a chiropractor, would even be interested in gallbladders. It turns out that I see a fair number of people with structural problems that relate to the gallbladder. You may know that gallbladder problems can refer pain to the mid back and right shoulder areas. You probably did not realize that knee instability and pain could also be related to an unhappy gallbladder. And then there are those mysterious neck “cricks” that show up for no apparent reason. They too may be due to a gallbladder problem. You may have already known that your gallbladder plays an important role in digestion and detoxification. Obviously if those functions are impaired it can affect many other aspects of your health.
Not only does gallbladder distress cause structural problems, certain structural problems could take a toll on your gallbladder. This whole area of viscero-somatic (organ affecting structure) and somato-visceral (structure affecting organ) relationships is one of the cornerstones of Applied Kinesiology.
You may be thinking that your gallbladder is just another one of those excess or rudimentary body parts that you would be better off without. Well, think again. After gallbladder surgery (cholecystectomy) fat digestion and absorption are impaired. Even taking supplemental bile salts with each meal will not fully make up for not having a gallbladder. In addition, it is now being discovered that those who have had a cholecystectomy are also a greater risk for certain kinds of cancer.
NOW is the best time to think about taking care of your gallbladder. In populations that do not consume the standard American diet gallbladder problems are rare. On the other hand, it is estimated that at least 20% of the people in our country have some kind of gallbladder dysfunction. You are better off not joining those ranks. Making a few changes in your diet and other health habits can go a long way toward removing stress on your gallbladder. Keep reading to find out more.
TAKING CARE OF YOUR GALLBLADDER
What is My Gallbladder? Your gallbladder is an organ of digestion located in the upper right of your abdomen, just under your ribs. It is actually an extension of your liver designed to store bile, a substance made in the liver. Following meals your gallbladder releases some bile into the small intestine to aid in the digestion and absorption of fats and other nutrients. One of bile’s main functions is the “emulsification of fats”. This is similar to what dish soap does when cleaning greasy dishes. Once fats have been emulsified, they can then be absorbed into your bloodstream. Another function of bile is to remove liver toxins and cholesterol.
What Goes Wrong With the Gallbladder? About 20% of people living in Western cultures develop thickened bile that can result in the formation of gallstones. These stones are primarily made of cholesterol and calcium. When the gallbladder becomes sluggish it is also more prone to inflammation (cholecystitis) and infection.
What Are the Symptoms of Gallbladder Malfunction? Some people with gallstones have no symptoms. When gallbladder symptoms are present, the most common include right upper abdominal pain and tenderness and referred pain to the mid back or right shoulder blade areas. Often there is increased pain after eating, as well as bloating, gas and sometimes constipation. Gallbladder pain tends to be worse at night or in the early morning.
Besides back pain, a gallbladder symptom that brings many people to my office is an acute or recurrent neck pain or “crick”. A seemingly unrelated gallbladder symptom is knee pain. Applied Kinesiology has found a relationship between the gallbladder and the popliteus, an important knee stabilization muscle. Another sign of improper gallbladder function is increased undigested fats in the stool. This can result in light colored stools or stools that float and are loosely formed. Because the symptoms are so varied, the gallbladder has been called the “Great Mimic”. A gallbladder attack can also mimic an ulcer, a heart attack or a wide variety of other gastrointestinal conditions.
What Could Cause My Gallbladder to Malfunction? Several dietary and lifestyle factors have been related to gallbladder problems:
Food Allergies: James Breneman, M.D., former chairman of the Food Allergy Committee of the American College of Allergists studied the relationship between food allergy and gallbladder disease in 69 patients gallstones or with “residual gallbladder pain” after removal of the gallbladder. All of these patients experienced relief within one week after removing allergic foods from their diets. The symptoms returned when the offending foods were eaten again. This study found the most common foods causing gallbladder symptoms were egg, pork and onions. Another study found that patients suffering from gallbladder disease and bronchial asthma are frequently allergic to wheat. Other foods that have been implicated are cow’s milk, chocolate, and coffee. It is believed that food allergy causes a swelling of the bile duct and thus restricts bile flow. A poorly draining gallbladder then becomes prone to infection and stone formation.
Nerve Interference: Medical research has linked spinal nerve health to the function and health of the liver and gallbladder. Henry Windsor, M.D. did a cadaver study that demonstrated related spinal abnormalities in every person who had died of liver disease. Other researchers have found a high correlation of gallbladder disease with spinal dysfunction in the midthoracic spine.
Refined Foods: Studies have revealed that diets high in refined carbohydrates (sugar and white flour) and low in fiber and unrefined carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables) help promote gallstone formation. High fiber diets are recommended as a gallstone preventative, since they can help increase the flow of bile.
Poor Quality Dietary Fats: Fried foods, chips and baked goods are loaded with poor quality fats that stress the digestive system and can result in a thickening of the bile. Trans-fats are particularly bad. These are oils like margarine and Crisco that have been hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated to harden them and increase their shelf life. This processing also makes these unnatural substances very difficult for your body to metabolize.
Inadequate Stomach Acid: When the stomach does not produce adequate hydrochloric acid, digestive complaints such as heartburn, belching, bloating and gas can occur. This aggravates and may be a partial cause of gallbladder problems since the acid levels of partially digested food leaving the stomach help to trigger bile release.
Insufficient Exercise: A study of over 60,000 women revealed that 2-3 hours of recreational exercise a week reduced the risk of gallbladder disease by 20%.
Obesity: A study published in 1992 by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that obese women are seven times more likely to develop gallstones than those who are not obese.
Hormones: Women on hormone replacement therapy are 25% more likely to have gallstones than their counterparts who are not on HRT. Women on birth control pills increase their risk by 20%.
Other Risk Factors: Stress, constipation, spicy foods, iced drinks and cold foods like ice cream have all been related to an increased incidence of gallbladder distress. Women are more prone to gallbladder problems than men. And, women over 40 are more likely to have gallbladder symptoms than younger women.
How Are Gallbladder Problems Treated Medically? The standard medical treatment for symptomatic gallbladders is to first reduce dietary fat. If that does not resolve the problem, which it often does not, it is quite common to recommend surgical removal of the gallbladder. Holistic physician, Dr. Joseph Mercola, says,
“I believe it is nearly criminal what traditional medicine is doing to our public when it comes to managing this problem. It is RARELY ever indicated to remove someone’s gallbladder. If one ignores warning symptoms and does not address the reasons why their gallbladder is not functioning properly, than the disease can progress to the point where the pancreas is inflamed or the gallbladder is seriously infected and may have to be removed to save a person’s life. However, it is important to have a proper perspective here. Nearly ONE MILLION gallbladders are removed every year in this country and it is my estimate that only several thousand need to come out.”
Dr. Mercola goes on to add,
“Not only are surgeons removing these organs unnecessarily, but in their nutritional ignorance they are telling patients that their gallbladders do not serve any purpose and they can live perfectly well without them. This is a lie. The gallbladder serves an important digestive function… Anyone who has had their gallbladder removed will need to take some form of bile salts with every meal for the rest of their life, if they wish to prevent a good percentage of the good fats they eat from being flushed down the toilet. If one does not have enough fats in the diet, their entire physiology will be disrupted, especially the ability to make hormones and prostaglandins.”
What Can Chiropractic Do For My Gallbladder Health? Chiropractic adjustments work to clear nerve system stress that can cause abnormal organ function. Since nerves control every cell and tissue in the body it is important that this system is functioning optimally. Spinal areas that have shown correlation with gallbladder function are the mid back and upper neck. Applied Kinesiology has also found a relationship with the gallbladder and the popliteus, a muscle in the back of the knee. It appears that the popliteus muscles have to be functioning properly to provide proper energy to the gallbladder. There are a variety of Applied Kinesiology techniques that can be employed to re-establish proper muscle function.
Can I Do To Improve The Health of My Gallbladder?
Improve Quality Of Dietary Fats: Cut out trans-fats (margarine, Crisco, fried foods, chips, and cookies or baked goods containing hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats and oils). Make sure you have good quality oils in your diet. These include extra virgin olive oil and such products as fish oil and flax seed oil that are high in Omega 3 essential fatty acids.
Reduce or Eliminate Refined Carbohydrates: This includes sugar, candy, white flour and products containing these ingredients.
Increase Dietary Fiber: Eat raw fruits and vegetables every day and possibly supplement with 2T of oat bran. This is especially important if you suffer from constipation.
Discover Food Allergies and Avoid These Substances: Food sensitivities can be determined by a variety of means including elimination diets and muscle testing. Ask me if you want to know more about this.
Other Things to Avoid if You Are Having Gallbladder Symptoms: Spicy foods, very cold drinks and cold foods like ice cream can aggravate gallbladder problems and should therefore be avoided.
Eat Breakfast: People who skip breakfast or just drink coffee in the morning are more prone to gallbladder distress.
Gradually Reduce Your Weight if You Are Overweight: This will be much easier to accomplish if you are following the previous dietary recommendations. In addition we may need to discuss the proper eating plan for your body type. It is important to make changes in your eating patterns that will allow you to attain and maintain your ideal weight rather than undergoing some crash weight–loss diet.
Reduce Stress: Excess stress or poor handling of stress have a variety of negative health effects. Strategies like meditation, aerobic exercise and time management can be helpful in taming negative stress.
Aerobic Exercise: Regular aerobic exercise has multiple effects. It will not only improve your gallbladder health. As previously mentioned it reduces stress. Other benefits include weight loss, less depression, and improved cardiovascular health. At least 30-45 minutes of aerobic exercise four times a week is essential to good health.
Nutritional Supplements: A variety of supplements and food concentrates have been found helpful in promoting gallbladder health. It depends on your individual needs and whether you are working to heal an unhappy gallbladder or want to prevent gallbladder problems from occurring in the first place. Some of the more common nutrients to be considered are:
AF Betafood: This is a source of betaine from beets. It also contains other liver and gallbladder support. It helps thin bile and improve its flow. It also aids in the conversion of blood fats to blood sugar and thus helps to balance blood sugar. This is a great supplement for those with sluggish gallbladders or difficulty maintaining blood sugar levels.
Digestive Support (Zypan): This supplement is a source of digestive enzymes, hydrochloric acid and pepsin. This can be indicated if you are suffering from poor digestion, gas, bloating, etc. Resolving or reducing these problems takes stress off of the gallbladder.
Lecithin: This is naturally found in bile where it helps keep cholesterol dissolved rather than crystallizing to form stones. Some studies have shown it to be helpful in dissolving cholesterol stones.
Essential Fatty Acids (Flax Oil or Cod Liver Oil): These oils are the kinds the body needs to create hormones, prostaglandins and for many other functions. Diets deficient in EFAs have been shown to be gallstone producing. Vitamin E should also be used when supplementing with lecithin or EFAs as it is an antioxidant and helps to prevent the formation of free radicals.
Vitamin C has also been found to reduce gallstone formation.
Lemon Juice & Water: This is good for relieving mild digestive upset and promoting better digestion.
Juice of 1/2 lemon added to 2 oz. of water
Drink just prior to each meal to stimulate digestive juices.
You can also drink this if you are having digestive distress.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: This is good for stimulating a sluggish gallbladder. It is important to use very good quality oil as this can otherwise just contribute to gallbladder problems.
1 T of oil
Take just before bedtime for 3 days in a row.
Beet Recipe: This is good for thinning and moving the bile. It can help relieve discomfort due to gallbladder problems. Beets in any form are an excellent food for both the liver and the gallbladder.
1 large organic beet washed and finely grated
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 T flax oil
Take one teaspoon of mixture every hour throughout the day.
On day two and three make a fresh batch using ¼ of a beet.
Take one teaspoon of mixture 3 to 4 times a day or more.
Make this mixture to add to your salads frequently or eat alone as above 2 or 3 times a week. This will keep the bile thin and moving. Note: If you cannot get organic beets, be sure to peel them. Otherwise, use the peel as well.
Eat your regular meals throughout this period, striving to eat lots of fresh vegetables and good fats. Avoid refined sugars and processed foods.
A Gallbladder Flush: If your gallbladder is sluggish and the bile is thick, a gallbladder flush may be recommended. I need to warn you however that there are possible complications from this procedure. It is a good idea to have an ultrasound of the gallbladder done prior to doing a flush. That can determine if stones are present and whether there is any risk of getting a stone stuck in the bile duct. If the stones are too large and unable to pass through the bile ducts, not only could that cause excruciating pain, you could end up having your gallbladder removed in the emergency room. If the stones are larger and calcified, there is more chance for complications. If you want more information on gallbladder flushes, let me know.