The gallbladder is the unsung hero of detoxification - it produces bile, which is a detergent-like liquid that helps us detox waste that the liver packaged up for us. The gallbladder stores bile and secretes it when called upon (by you, when you eat anything that contains fat).
And bile is the bees knees because it also allows us to break down and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K).
Good bile function is the 3rd stop (out of 4) -in the progression of the body’s detox (after lymph and liver). I’ve talked before about how the liver packages up waste nicely. Well, from there, the waste is excreted via bile then out the body via stool.
Because bile action is the last stop for waste before it exits the body, it’s the first area we support after exit pathways (remembering that we support detox in the reverse order of how it leaves the body). And you HAVE to be having a daily bowel movement before we'll start on bile health, otherwise those toxins are just getting recirculated in your body instead of leaving it - NOT what we want!
So what exactly does your gallbladder do for you?
Your gallbladder is the storage site for bile, a magical elixir that is critical for proper detoxification and absorption of fats & fat-soluble vitamins (A, E, D, K). Your liver is the organ that actually makes bile, but the gallbladder stores it so it can be released in proper amounts when needed (like when eating food that contains fat).
Trouble digesting fats, or poor levels of fat soluble vitamins often clue me to in to the fact that a client needs better bile support. But those aren't the only symptoms that ring the bile support alarm bell...
Signs/symptoms of bile or gallbladder issues:
High steatocrit on a GIMAP stool test
Stools that float, or are loose or greasy
Low stomach acid
Right shoulder blade pain
High estrogen symptoms (like heavy or painful periods, tender breasts)
High copper levels on blood work
High copper symptoms like anxiety, anger, short fuse, postpartum depression, infertility
Low vitamin D or retinol on blood work
Low thyroid function
High GGT levels
Gallbladder attack, or stomach bug?
While the signs and symptoms listed above are a sign of ongoing gallbladder or bile issues, a gallbladder attack occurs acutely, when a gallstone blocks a bile duct.
This is a good place to note that, often, a gallbladder attack is mistaken for a stomach bug since symptoms are so similar. It's helpful to know the symptoms of a gallbladder attack to ensure proper diagnosis.
Gallbladder attack symptoms:
Nausea & vomiting
Pain in the right shoulder (this is a biggie!)
Fever and/or chills
Abdominal pain (especially if sharp & sudden)
Stools that become lighter in color
Sometimes your skin or whites of your eyes can take on a yellow tinge
You might be more at risk of having bile flow issues if you follow a low-fat diet, take medications like birth control, are highly stressed, don't have a gallbladder, or are pregnant or postpartum.
Pregnancy, postpartum, and your gallbladder
During pregnancy, your body makes more cholesterol, and also bile that is more sludgy. Because of this, pregnancy is a time when you're more likely to form gallstones. You might have heard of someone close to you (or yourself) having gallbladder issues during or immediately after pregnancy (especially if pregnancies were close together). This is why!
You also produce more copper in the body as a natural side effect of pregnancy. As bile is a major exit for copper, if your bile is thick and slow, that copper will build up in the body and can cause major issues (esp. mood issues!) even years after pregnancy (and no, pregnancy isn't the only cause for high copper, but it's one I encounter a lot in my practice). Some symptoms of high copper include fatigue, anxiety, depression, mood swings, OCD, insomnia, infertility, and PMS or PMDD symptoms (such as rage, depression, irritability). We want bile to be slippery and free flowing to reap maximum benefits (read: less gallstone formation, less copper buildup, more detox).
The first step is supporting good bile health with food.
Supporting your gallbladder with food
Mineral support is foundational for good gallbladder and bile health. Start with increasing intake of sodium and potassium, which you can do by using the Adrenal Cocktail Powder from Jigsaw Health or DIY’ing a mineral mocktail or two daily (one of my fave recipes is 8 oz. coconut water, 4 oz. aloe juice, plus a hefty pinch of sea salt).
Good choline intake is essential for good bile flow. Eggs and beef liver are the best dietary sources. If you don't regularly eat those foods, a supplement might be a good idea. Especially if you're pregnant or nursing.
Bitter foods also support bile secretion. These include things like arugula, lemon, kale, artichokes, dandelion, asparagus, collards, fennel, beet greens, nettles, alfalfa, grapefruit, broccoli, cauliflower, cranberries, and dark chocolate.
Consuming healthy fats at meals (like coconut oil, ghee, olive oil, avocado oil) and avoiding processed & seed oils will also benefit bile flow.
If you’re getting in all of the above & managing stress well, but still finding you suffer from some of the sluggish gallbladder symptoms, it might be time to bring in extra support in the form of supplements.
Some of my favorite supplements to support the gallbladder include:
Mineral support (esp. focusing on sodium, potassium, and magnesium)
TUDCA (which stimulates production & flow of bile)
Oxbile (essentially if not digesting fats well) before meals, alone or as part of a digestive enzyme blend
Phosphatidylcholine (helps make bile more slippery)
Digestive bitters before meals
Taurine (helps keep bile salts dissolved and prevent gallstones)
You can find a link to some of my favorite specific gallbladder supportive products here. If you haven't already, create a Fullscript account so you are able to access these supplements for a discount. From there, look for the Gallbladder & Bile Support Protocol.
What if you don't have a gallbladder?
If you don’t have a gallbladder, the liver still makes bile. It just drips out continuously instead of larger amounts being secreted at once in response to ingestion of fat. This can lead to improper absorption of fats and vitamins A, D, E, and K. If you check any of the boxes above for signs/symptoms of gallbladder issues and you don't have a gallbladder, you would likely be a good candidate for some further support.
No-gallbladder Support Toolbox
If you struggle with any of the above, it’s time to bring in some extra support to ensure you’re properly digesting/absorbing fats, and removing toxins efficiently. See the supplement list above, but one of the first places I'd star would be Oxbile with meals.
Bile may not be the start of the hormone popularity show, but we depend on her for good fat absorption and efficient detoxification (both very necessary for proper hormone balance). So let's do all we can to support great bile texture & it's smooth flow!