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June 20, 2018  |  Login
Gallbladder Problems
by James F. Balch, M.D. and Mark Stengler, N.D.

The gallbladder is a digestive organ located in the upper right portion of the abdomen, directly underneath the liver. It is responsible for storing and concentrating bile that is produced by the liver.

Bile is a greenish-yellow color and is composed of bile acids, water, electrolytes, bilirubin, cholesterol, and phospholipids. As food enters the small intestine, hormonal and nervous system activity causes the gallbladder to contract and sends bile through the common bile duct into the beginning portion of the small intestine, known as the duodenum. Bile has several different functions, which include the digestion and the absorption of fats, and the absorption of fat-soluble nutrients, the retention of water in the colon to promote bowel movements, the excretion of bilirubin (degraded red blood cells), the elimination of drugs and other compounds in the body, and the secretion of various proteins involved in gastrointestinal function. As you can see, dysfunction in bile production and secretion can result in many different health problems.

The most common problem associated with the gallbladder is gallstones. It is estimated that 20 percent of people over the age of sixty-five have gallstones. Every year, more than 500,000 people have surgery to remove their gallbladders.

The symptoms of gallstones can greatly vary, from person to person. Most people with gallstones often have no symptoms throughout their lives, as the stones pass without problems. Symptoms may include right-sided abdominal pain (or pain anywhere in the abdomen) and radiating pain that goes to the right shoulder blade. Abdominal bloating, gas, belching, and recurrent pain are common, too. Most often, gallstones have been found with a routine exam, and if they are causing no symptoms, they are left alone. Gallstones that cause pain and other symptoms are treated conventionally, with surgery (often using laparoscopy), bile acids taken orally (for stones that are noncalcified), or, more commonly, lithotripsy, the use of shock waves to fragment the stones so that they will pass.

Gallstones are formed as a result of the bile becoming saturated with cholesterol. This can be due to an increase in cholesterol secretion or decreased bile and lecithin secretion. This then causes other particulate matter to attract cholesterol and sets the stage for stone formation. As you will read in the treatment section, there are natural ways to decrease the saturation of cholesterol in the bile via diet and nutritional supplementation.

Risk factors for gallstones include

  • Sex: Women are two to four times more likely than men to have gallstones. This, in part, may be due to the use of oral contraceptives and synthetic hormone replacement.
  • Race: Gallstones are more common in women of North American Indian ­ ethnicity.
  • Obesity causes an increased secretion of cholesterol into bile. Also, it should be noted that rapid weight loss (during the initial phases) can contribute to gallstone formation.
  • Age: The frequency increases with age.
  • A Western diet is a contributing factor.
  • A positive family history predisposes one to this problem.

A persistent obstruction of the bile duct can also result in fever, nausea, and vomiting. At this point, the condition is termed acute cholecystitis. more

Next: What are the Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems

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