Gallbladder Function, Symptoms, Pain, and Owner’s Manual
The gallbladder - you know that unnecessary organ that often gets removed if dysfunctional. Is it really an unnecessary organ? Should we be so quick to throw it out like junk mail?
At Apogee Wellness, we often find dysfunctional gallbladders if we even find one at all. In fact, each year approximately 1.2 million people in the United States undergo a cholecystectomy, aka the surgical eviction of your gallbladder (1).
With so many gallbladders getting kicked out of their plush, 98.6 degree Fahrenheit apartment, we cannot help but ask; why would a gallbladder dysfunction? If we were born with this organ, doesn’t that mean we need said organ?
Here, we explore the gallbladder’s job (yes, it actually contributes to your bodily system), symptoms, pain, and diagnoses. Finally, we explore proactive ways to care for this small but mighty organ to prevent you from becoming a statistic.
Your gallbladder represents your body’s bile bank account. Your liver makes bile and stores the excess bile in the gallbladder.
Bile - sounds yummy, doesn’t it?!? Bile looks about as yummy as it sounds sporting a yellowish-green color combo, but much like the chubby nerds we knew in high school that turned out to be the wealthy playboys of our adulthood, one must not overlook bile.
Bile helps the body process, emulsify, and absorb fat and fat-soluble vitamins ingested. As a natural binder, bile consists of and helps eliminate metabolic waste, toxins, and excess cholesterol. Alkaline in nature, healthy bile counters the acidity of the stomach to balance the body’s pH levels. Also, this all important substance’s superpower includes the ability to kill bad bacteria contained in your food.
Your gallbladder also signals to your other digestive organs that it’s showtime! When you eat, your gallbladder yells, “Yo! Vagus nerve, tell the sphincter of Oddi to open the curtain and send the bile out for the opening act!” This subtle communication starts a cascade of processes necessary to successfully process, utilize, and eliminate food and fluids.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, the gallbladder is a yang organ with the liver as the yin of this dynamic duo. They’ve got a real “Batman and Robin” thing going for them.
Yin organs, such as the liver, produce, transform, regulate, and store fundamental substances, such as Qi - life force energy. Typically, yang organs’ responsibilities include digestion and transmitting nutrients to the rest of the body. The exceptional gallbladder, unlike all other yang organs, does not directly make contact with food or fluids, nor does it directly connect to the outside body.
The gallbladder also acts as a peacekeeper of emotions. It regulates emotions for the body, but an out of balance gallbladder manifests indecisiveness and wavering.
Robin is only as good as Batman. Your gallbladder relies on the flow of energy from the liver to function properly. Therefore, while addressing gallbladder health, you must also address the liver’s vitality.
The gallbladder and liver duo belong to the wood element. Wood elements correlate to the spring season, so during the spring, a dietary “spring cleaning” is wise. Therefore, in the spring, intentionally cleaning up your diet and eliminating the toxic burden on your liver and gallbladder will reap great rewards.
Gallbladder Symptoms & Pain
The outer lobe of your liver blankets this small, pear-shaped organ. The gallbladder lays low, protected by the mighty liver, but behind the scenes, the gallbladder sends vital signals to release the flow of bile and holds on to this golden reserve fluid produced by the liver.
The gallbladder relies on quality bile and unobstructed bile flow. Think of a fish tank; a fish tank needs the flow of fresh, quality water to function properly and ensure the health of the fish. If bile sits for too long in the gallbladder, stagnate bile ensues, which gives way to dis-ease.
Also, one must not forget that bile, itself, plays a vital role in eliminating toxins, balancing pH, and processing fat, so when bile ceases to flow, one experiences more pain, symptoms, and dysfunction.
The liver consists of over 50,000, incredibly small, bile ducts, which easily experience blockages. Considering the Batman and Robin relationship between the gallbladder and liver, that only means bad news for the gallbladder.
The following pain and symptoms represent your gallbladder’s sounding alarms:
Digestion problems such as diarrhea, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, regurgitation, belching, and hiccups
Swelling, bloating of the abdomen
Low back pain, sciatica
Headaches and migraines
Decline of eye health, eye pain and inflammation
Sore, inflamed, and/or tight muscles
Joint pain and inflammation
Neck and jaw pain
Anger, frustration, indecision, and uncertainty
Advanced aging, discoloration/dryness on the outside of the eyes (crows feet)
Kidney, lung, and skin issues
Disorders pertaining to the breasts
Food sensitivities and nutrient deficiencies
Traditional Chinese Medicine links the gallbladder to the eye sense organ as well as tissues such as muscles and tendons. In addition, the gallbladder is energetically the most active between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m. Therefore, if your eyesight declines, you experience poor muscle recovery and joint pain, and wake up at midnight every night, you may want to examine your gallbladder’s condition.
Gallbladder-Related Diagnoses and Disorders
Gallstones represent the most common diagnosis pertaining to a dysfunctional gallbladder, Females reportedly experience more gallstones than men due to their hormone fluctuations. An imbalance in estrogen and progesterone levels creates a scenario where the gallbladder does not empty, leading to stagnation and gallstones.
Gallstones occur when bile consistency thickens and contains an abundance of cholesterol and insufficient bile salts. Gallstones and other dysfunctional gallbladders often lead to the surgical removal of the gallbladder known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy.
More rarely, Gallbladder cancer occurs, and unfortunately, gallbladder cancer often reaches advanced stages prior to detection.
Owner’s Manual and Troubleshooting
Eating a diet rich in green, nourishing foods will greatly benefit your gallbladder. Remembering the codependent relationship between the liver and the gallbladder, a focus on one’s liver health indirectly supports the gallbladder. Consuming leafy greens, cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, asparagus, avocados, parsley, and celery while eliminating processed foods and hydrogenated oils gives your dynamic duo what it needs most.
In addition, a diet low in added sugar will help keep your bile consistency healthy considering the fact that gallstones largely consist of excess cholesterol.
Herbs such as cilantro, parsley, peppermint, fennel, rosemary, sage and turmeric also ensure a healthy gallbladder. Ah, the power of herbs stands the test of time!
For all you essential oil lovers out there, you may consider using rosemary oil mixed with a carrier oil over your liver and gallbladder region. This will stimulate the secretion of bile by your liver, which means less stagnation for your gallbladder, aka fresh water in your tank!
When trouble ensues, we recommend that you check for hidden infections, i.e. viruses, bacteria, yeast, mold, and parasites. These hidden infections lead to bile stagnation and gallstones.
Clinically, we find a lot of parasites, yeast, and mold affecting the gallbladder. Imbalances in the COMT gene, which breaks down adrenaline, commonly affects the gallbladder. Excess adrenaline coupled with the inability to process it leads to blood sugar dysregulation, deficiency in methyl groups, and high estrogen.
Similarly, imbalances of the SULT gene that breaks down sulfates, estrogen, DHEA, cholesterol, catecholamines, and acetaminophen often leads to gallbladder issues. We find that selenium, molybdenum, and synthetic bile (Advanced TUDCA) all help upregulate the SULT gene.
Considering the impact of hormone fluctuations on one’s liver and gallbladder health, we suggest regulating blood sugar, reducing caffeine consumption, and supporting the adrenal glands. Developing habits aimed at lowering stress such as time in nature, meditating, keeping a gratitude journal, support the modern-day adrenals. Athletes should avoid overtraining as the systemic effect may lead to gallbladder dysfunction from hormone imbalances and adrenal fatigue.
We also find imbalances in SAMe, methylated B-vitamins, and the microbiome to contribute to one’s gallbladder’s impairment. Once again, herbs, dietary changes, and supplement support often save the day.
Much like herbs and bile, never underestimate the power of emotions. We often find hidden emotions obstructing the gallbladder’s healthy functions. Excessive energy caused by anger, frustration, and resentment can result in chronic migraines, and hyperactivity (ADHD), and other gallbladder-related symptoms.
As we’ve stressed in previous posts, your bodily system is as unique as your fingerprint. Working with skilled CPK/BSI practitioners such as Dr. Emilea and Dr. Chris at Apogee Wellness helps you skip the guesswork and go straight to the source - your body! Your body knows what it needs, and Dr. Chris and Dr. Emilea speaks your body’s language to efficiently and effectively get you to your Apogee of Wellness!