Our liver and gallbladder play very important roles in digestion and detoxification. When these organs are backed up, your gall bladder can store or cast gall stones, develop sludge, and be down and right rude to your digestion and result in disease and symptoms. So, it’s important to know why and how to keep your gall bladder and liver supported with clean and mean bile to prevent getting gallstones.
Gall is a bitter substance known as bile, produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder. When used about a person’s behavior, gall means audacity, nerve, or impudence. In the Bible, gall refers to the bitter drink that Jesus was given on the cross. Jesus refused this potion consisting of sour wine that was mixed with bitter herbs or myrrh to dull his sense of pain.
Your gallbladder sits right below your liver and it releases bile into the small intestine to help digest fats. When your gallbladder isn’t able to work correctly, there are a whole host of downstream problems that can happen. One issue with gall bladder and liver function is the development of gallstones.
What is a gallstone? A gallstone results from changes in bile composition. Gallstones form when bile stored in the gallbladder hardens into a stone-like material typically from cholesterol or bile pigments. Gallstones, also called cholelithiasis, can be in the gallbladder or liver. Gallstones interfere with the digestion and absorption of food and the assimilation of nutrients. When they block the pancreatic duct, they can cause pancreatitis.
Common factors responsible for gallstones include:
- Dietary-Overeating, eating too often, eating heavy meals in the evening, excessive intake of protein, use of refined salt, dehydration, rapid weight loss, and low-fat diets.
- Medications-Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy greatly increase the risk in females. Cholesterol-lowering drugs increase cholesterol concentration in the liver, increasing the risk of gallstones. Some antibiotics, and anti-rejection drugs for transplant patients contribute to gallstone formation. As many drugs are processed and detoxified by the liver, many more can likely contribute to gallstones.
- Fluoride poisoning-The liver is unable to break down fluoride. As a common additive to drinking water, chewing gum, toothpaste, vaccines, and other household products, fluoride toxicity can result. Fluoride has been associated with hypothyroidism, arthritis, osteoporosis, infertility, and Alzheimer’s Disease.
- Lifestyle-Lack of sleep, disrupted sleep patterns, natural mealtimes, stress, and too much screen time can all impact hormones, digestion, detoxification, and immune system, and increase the risk of gallstones.
Gallstones harbor microbes. Gallstones in the liver and gallbladder reduce the amount of bile that the liver can produce. Undigested food starts to ferment and putrefy, leaving toxic waste in the circulatory and lymph systems. The liver controls the digestion, absorption, and metabolism of gats through the body. Gallstones interfere with fat metabolism and impact blood cholesterol levels.
Gallstones may or may not cause acute pain. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, indigestion, fever, and chills. Pain often occurs in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen underneath the rib cage or under your breast bone. It may increase or occur right after a meal, particularly a meal higher in fat content. Pain may be dull aching or sharp twinges and may extend up toward the shoulder. You may experience pain between your shoulder blades. When stones block the common bile duct, this could cause a rapid increase in pain and you should contact your provider for intense pain, any yellowing of your skin, or high fever with chills.
Don’t be fooled. Your gall bladder is a very important organ. Without it, or when it is severely compromised, you will experience trouble digesting fats that are critical to your metabolism. While some clinicians make it sound like it’s no big deal to take out your gall bladder, it’s important to understand your options and potential solutions because living with a compromised gall bladder or having surgery to remove it requires lifetime supplements or medications to help fulfill the role of the gallbladder. A better solution is to help your body through an appropriate diet and lifestyle to prevent gallstones or to naturally get rid of gallbladder stones before you need emergency treatment.
Bile is normally yellowish-green to brown and consists of water, mucus, bile pigment (bilirubin), bile salts, and cholesterol. It is very bitter, and you may have experienced tasting it after a severe vomiting episode. When bile can flow freely, it flows into the small intestine and aids in the digestion of fats. Gallstones in the gallbladder can cause problems with the digestion of fats. Gallstones can often be found in the liver and when present, can impair the liver‘s ability to make proteins.
Liver cells secrete bile through tiny canals called canaliculi which eventually drain to the right and left hepatic ducts, then form the common bile ducts, which drain bile from the liver and supply the gallbladder with bile for digestion. When bile flow is obstructed from flowing normally into the liver and gallbladder, food can become putrified, creating toxins that seep into your lymph system, which is akin to the circulatory system for your immune system.
Lymph congestion may result in swelling of your lymph node, lymphedema, or a bloated abdomen. Lymph blockage can result from many different symptoms and diseases such as obesity, joint issues, congestive heart failure, headaches, dizziness, kidney issues, breast cancer, leg swelling, brain disorders, stomach issues, irritable bowel syndrome, hernias, Hodgkin’s Disease, Lymphoma, and more.
Gallstones can lead to a variety of problems including:
- Poor nutritional balance-Decreased fat digestion and decreased protein synthesis impact digestion, absorption, and assimilation of nutrients which can result in nutrient deficiencies.
- Hormonal imbalances-If protein synthesis is compromised, cortisol can increase, depressing the immune system. As the liver also inhibits certain hormones as a normal part of its job, gallstones may prevent this from happening, allowing increased hormone concentrations in the blood. This includes hormones like sex hormones, your stress hormone cortisol, thyroid hormones, glucagon, etc. Imbalances of hormones can lead to obesity or disease.
- An enlarged liver-An enlarged liver can occur with gallstones blocking the liver bile ducts. This can restrict respiratory function and compromise the ability of the lungs to expand.
- Allergies and compromised respiratory function-Waste materials and toxins can accumulate and lead to respiratory disease, allergies, and disorders of the nose/nasal cavities. Gallstones also harbor microbes that could go to the lungs and create pneumonia.
- Kidney problems-Gallstones can lead to excessive proteins which can get stored in the body as collagen fiber in blood vessel capillary walls, thickening the blood, and making it difficult for kidneys to filter. This makes the blood vessels supplying the kidneys more rigid, leading to higher blood pressure.
- Cardiovascular issues-Blood clotting issues can affect the normal production of blood cells as well as blood clotting factors. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin stored n the liver. Bile sales made from bile secretions help to absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins.
- Disorders of the nervous system-Lack of nutrients from poor digestion can lead to problems with brain function and symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, mood swings, aches, pains, or even mental disease. In Multiple Sclerosis (MS), the cells that produce a fatty material, myelin which surrounds nerve cells, are unable to get the fat they need.
- Joint pain and musculoskeletal issues-It may be important to check your liver and gallbladder function when you have joint pain issues. Gallstones in the liver increase blood acidity. To compensate, the body uses its bone’s calcium reserves which can decrease bone density. Just taking hormones or calcium does not address the root cause of this issue. Gallstones also can lead to vitamin D deficiency. Diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA, Gout, and osteoarthritis have also long been linked to gut problems (intestinal), immune system, and metabolic issues.
- Reproductive Disorders-Organs of the reproductive system relies on lymphatic drainage from the thoracic duct to remove waste and toxins. Poor drainage due to gallstones can impact both male and female reproductive organs. Poor lymph drainage is the main cause of reproductive problems. In females, this can lead to uterine disease, menstrual problems, and ovarian cysts/tumors. hormonal imbalances, libido issues, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), menstrual problems, or infertility. In males, blockage of lymph drainage from gallstones may lead to benign or malignant prostate issues.
- Skin Disorders-Skin disorders such as eczema, can, and psoriasis are commonly associated with gallstones in the liver. As the skin is the largest organ of elimination, when toxin backup of the colon, liver, kidneys, lungs, and lymphatic system occurs, spill-over of toxin build-up occurs, causing skin irritation and inflammation. Lack of nutrients to the skin tissue reduces cell turnover.
How does a practitioner help you know whether gallstones are a problem for you? Blood tests or scans can help to identify issues with gallstones or downstream impacts on liver or kidney function. A functional practitioner will look at the individual’s history with diet, digestive issues, and food tolerance, particularly of fats. They will ask about bowel function and the color and consistency of stools, and whether the stool may float in the toilet or the stool appears light-colored or chalky/gray. They also may assess your liver function through blood tests, and your alkaline phosphatase, when high may indicate liver stress, particularly around bile flow. Measuring total bile acids through a colorimetric assay is another tool that helps with both screening and prognosis of cholestasis or liver disease. Other tests that can help with looking into gallstone issues include examing markers for leaky gut, stool testing for pathogens, and urine testing for urinary indican, which when present in urine is an indicator of protein maldigestion, malabsorption, and bile insufficiency.
Conventional treatments for gallstones include dissolving them, shock waves through lithotripsy, or surgery to remove the gallbladder (cholecystectomy). However, none of these methods addresses the root causes of gallstones. A functional practitioner can help you identify individual root causes and help rebalance the body.
How to help your gallbladder function better:
- Diet-Substitute Himalayan sea salt or Celtic salt for refined table salt. Intermittent fasting, eliminating snacking between meals, chewing food, and eating less may help support less gallstone formation. Eating a diet right for your body type is important as well as not exceeding your body’s protein requirements. Leafy greens, limes, lemons, and grapefruits can help to support the elimination of congested bile. Beetroot, artichokes, pickles, and bitter greens can also help to stimulate bile production. Instead of alcohol, try seltzer water with alcohol-free bitters.
- Keep your bowels moving regularly-Regular elimination supports removal of toxins and waste.
- Keep adequately hydrated-This helps to keep the bile a thinner consistency.
- Reduce stress-Using techniques to reduce stress can promote hormonal balance and reduce risk of many metabolic imbalances including liver and gallbladder.
- Promote restful sleep-Good sleep habits to help your gallbladder and liver to detoxify while you sleep.
- Do a liver and gallbladder cleanse-There are different recipes and instructions for this flush procedure, but it can do wonders to flush out gallstones. The recipe may contain olive oil, apple juice (or specific substitutes), grapefruit juice, and Gallstones form when bile stored in the gallbladder hardens into a stone-like material. Too much cholesterol, bile salts, or bilirubin (bile pigment) can cause gallstones. Epsom salts Do not just use any internet recipe and get guidance from your provider. To prevent gallstones, cleansing your liver can be helpful twice per year. Repeat flushes may be necessary. Don’t do a cleanse when you are acutely ill or have a chronic disease such as diabetes or cancer without provider supervision. As gallstones are eliminated through the colon, a colonic flush or coffee enema may help eliminate gallstones that are stuck in the colon.
- Supplement support-Probiotics and digestive enzymes may help support digestion. If a stool test shows dysbiosis or abnormal pathogens, natural supplements may be recommended by your provider to rebalance your gut microbiome. Bitters or Swedish bitters may help support bile production. Your provider may also recommend ox bile to help support bile to relieve symptoms, liver bitters/herbs, and/or a detoxification program to support your liver and gallbladder.
Gallstones can cause significant pain and are a major cause of illness. Paying attention to your diet and lifestyle and eating specific foods can help support your liver and gallbladder. Seeking the right support when your body shows signs of gallbladder dysfunction is important. Help your gallbladder have the gall to keep your bile running clean and mean.
Moritz, A. (2007). The Liver and Gallbladder Miracle Cleanse: An All-Natural, At-Home Flush to
Purify and Rejuvenate Your Body. Ulysses Press.
I am a Master’s prepared RN, National Board-Certified Health & Wellness Coach, Board-Certified Functional Wellness Coach, and Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner. I help people fix their chronic inflammation & pain with in-home lab testing, client assessments, personalized natural healing protocols, and online coaching to help them move from pain to peace so that they feel better, move better, and live better.