One of the most common surgical procedures performed today, known as cholecystectomy, involves the removal of a “sick” (or potentially “sick”) gallbladder from the body.  A “sick” gallbladder is one that has become infected, inflamed, and/or congested with sludge and gallstones, and is frequently associated with abdominal pain, nausea, bloating, and other unpleasant effects.  And while most people are aware of this widespread surgical procedure, few are familiar with the significant benefits associated with having a well-functioning gallbladder.

Tucked away in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen lies this small pear-shaped hollow organ.  The main function of the gallbladder is to concentrate and store bile produced by the liver.  Bile is a substance composed of a few main ingredients – cholesterol, various phospholipids, and bile salts.  When the body is running correctly, digestive signals stimulate the gallbladder to squeeze bile through the bile duct into the small intestine.  The proper production and movement of bile through the digestive tract serves a number of important functions, including the following:

  • Emulsification of fats, allowing for proper absorption of fats and fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.
  • Neutralization of stomach acid as it enters the small intestine.
  • Sterilization of bacteria via detergent/soap-like effects.  This helps prevent microbial growth in undesirable locations of the digestive tract.
  • Elimination of cholesterol from the body, via the stool.
  • Elimination of toxic wastes and compounds (including xenoestrogens, heavy metals, and other chemicals processed by the liver), via the stool.

In the absence of a properly functioning gallbladder (and thus properly moving bile), you can see how many problems develop – malabsorption of fats and fat-soluble vitamins, bacterial overgrowth, poor detoxification of toxic wastes, and increased levels of cholesterol in the body.  On the other hand, when the gallbladder is healthy and happy, it provides us with a myriad of health benefits, hence my opinion that this wondrous little organ deserves some gratitude!

It’s true the gallbladder is non-essential for survival, and many people exist just fine without one.  But it’s also true that many people suffer through life – usually needlessly – with a very sick gallbladder.  And many of these people may continue suffering with symptoms even after undergoing cholecystectomy.  Surgical removal of a sick gallbladder does not automatically equal better health.  In fact, according to one research paper, 50% of all patients complain of some form of digestive symptoms one year after cholecystectomy (1).

If you are looking to maximize your health, it’s essential to create the conditions in your body that support a happy and healthy functioning gallbladder.  In cases where the gallbladder has already been removed, you obviously can’t get your gallbladder back.  But what you can do is take actions to fix the conditions that led to your gallbladder getting sick in the first place!

Here’s a useful analogy I once heard.  If you were asleep in your house and your smoke alarm started going off, would you get up, turn it off, and go back to sleep?  I hope not!  But unfortunately this is what many people end up doing in situations regarding their health.  A gallbladder that gets sick or is headed in that direction will typically just get scheduled for surgical removal, and no one will ever consider the reasons it became sick in the first place!  But a sick gallbladder is an indication that something’s not right.  It’s like the smoke alarm in your house – instead of just routinely turning it off, you’d first look for signs of smoke.  You would then make sure to immediately put the fire out, either on your own or with the help of the fire department.   A sick gallbladder doesn’t happen for no reason – it means you should investigate what’s not working right in your body and then give your body what is needed to fix it.

Here are some of the most common reasons why people end up developing very unhealthy, poorly functioning gallbladders:

  • Diets high in sugar and processed foods, low in fiber
  • Low stomach acid production (hypochlorhydria)
  • Malabsorption, and resultant poor nutritional status
  • Low consumption of methyl donor-rich foods (folate, B12, choline)
  • Poor methylation status (dependent on genetics and how the genetics are being influenced environmentally)
  • Estrogen dominance (both women and men with excessive levels of estrogen relative to other hormones)
  • Use of hormone-based contraception or HRT (hormone replacement therapy)
  • Obesity

Cholecystectomy is one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be that way!  With the right approach to diet, nutrition, and lifestyle, gallbladder health can be dramatically improved and optimized.  Remember to think of your gallbladder like a smoke detector…If the alarm signal is sounding, make sure to investigate for underlying problems.

Finding and fixing the underlying causes for a sick gallbladder is not always a simple task, so for best results work with an experienced practitioner.  If you would like guidance in healing your gallbladder and overall health, please contact me today!


  1. Bateson MC. Gallbladder disease. BMJ: British Medical Journal. 1999;318(7200):1745-1748.

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