Gallbladder disease is one of the leading causes of problems with digestion that result in hospital admissions. Did you know that around 10% of the population (on average) in most Western countries has gallstones? Most of these are “silent” but about 4% of patients with stones develop symptoms each year. For about half of them, the symptoms reoccur within 12 months. More men than women suffer from acute gallbladder inflammation (cholecystitis), whereas more women than men experience gallstones (men have more kidney stones), and married women with children have more gallstones than unmarried women. The term “gallbladder disease” is in one sense a misnomer, for it is the liver, bile ducts and gallbladder that form the system that enables your body to digest fats and all are likely to participate in gallbladder problems.

I have always said that doctors generally see health problems as conditions with symptoms requiring drugs, whereas surgeons see health problems as conditions requiring the knife, and when a patient is admitted with abdominal discomfort surgeons are often keen to remove the gall bladder as it is believed that it ‘serves very little purpose’ and that the patient can “live comfortably without it”. This is a ridiculous and very untrue notion however, and I want you to think twice about having your gallbladder removed, because over half of people I have seen who had their gallbladder removed still had the same digestive problem they started with in the first place unresolved, yet now without their gallbladder. Once it is out that is it, it does serve a purpose The Lost Book of Herbal like every organ you were born with and having your gallbladder removed will affect your health to some degree. For some patients, the removal of their gallbladder had a major consequence on their health down the track. For others, it was a minor consequence.

A surgeon I once spoke to many years ago mentioned that the gallbladder operation was one frequently performed in larger hospitals by the younger surgeon to “bring them up to speed” in the operating room. He said that it was a relatively easy operation lasting from thirty to forty minutes enabling them to gain surgical experience before they move onto “bigger and better things” as far as abdominal surgery is concerned. I can’t help wondering if all the gallbladder operations performed are really that necessary, because they are so quick to take it out these days. The apprentice mechanic will first be introduced to the engine by learning to replace the spark plugs before he is allowed to work deeper into the engine. If the plugs were removed, carefully cleaned and then replaced they generally last a long time. But then again, today more than half the stuff we buy is made in China and it is “chucked” as soon as it is even slightly defective!

What is the gallbladder’s function?

Your gall bladder’s main function is to collect and concentrate bile produced by the liver that the body uses to digest fats. Think of bile a bit like you would dishwashing liquid. Have you ever tried to wash dishes with fat or grease on them in water without dishwashing liquid? Not really effective is it? Not at least until you squirt a little dishwashing liquid into the warm water then they are clean in no time. Your gallbladder makes plenty of its own type of “degreasing liquid” called bile. Bile becomes up to twelve times more concentrated in the gallbladder (and hence much more effective) than it was in your liver. Think about this, with your gallbladder gone, your liver now has to produce, store and secrete bile. It can do this but not as effectively as it can without that little purse called the gallbladder hanging by its side.

The liver makes between 600 – 900 mls of bile each day, and what is not sent during meals to the duodenum (beginning of your small bowel) directly via the liver’s main duct to emulsify fat, it is diverted through a smaller duct (branching off the main liver duct) to the gallbladder for storage until required. When fat in a meal reaches the duodenum (where most of the food you eat is digested and absorbed), hormones enter the circulation and along with nerve signals, stimulate the gallbladder to contract. This contraction, assisted by the small intestine’s contractions, induces the gallbladder’s small round muscle and the stored bile is propelled into the duodenum where it mixes with food from your stomach and pancreatic juices from the pancreas by way of the pancreatic duct. If you eat a fairly fatty meal (fish and chips for example) your gallbladder can empty completely within one hour. It is this combination of bile and fats that can make one feel “queasy” at times after a fatty meal.

Bile itself is made up of water, salts, fatty acids, lecithin, cholesterol, bilirubin, and mucus and has two main functions. The first function is to help in the absorption and digestion of fats, and the second to eliminate certain waste products from the body, especially excess cholesterol and the haemoglobin from worn out red blood cells, which have an average lifespan of 3 months.

In particular, the bile

(1) increases the solubility of fat-soluble vitamins, fats and cholesterol to assist in their absorption,
(2) stimulates secretion of water by the colon to help move its contents along,
(3) is a medium for excretion of bilirubin (the chief bile pigment) as a waste product of destroyed red blood cells, other waste products, medical drugs and their degradation products, and other toxins.

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