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Gallbladder "Attacks" and Gallstones

How to End the Pain and Save Your Gallbladder

Nearly half a million gallbladder surgeries --- removal, or cholecystectomy to be precise --- are performed each year in the US. Many of the people who give up their gallbladders to such surgery appear to be fine, and the pain of their gallbladder attacks are over. Oddly enough, for many others, gallbladder "attacks" continue even in the absence of a gallbladder - in fact, one authoritative source indicates that Post Cholecystectomy Syndrome (PCS) affects at least 10 to 15% of people who have had their gallbladders removed!

Are the people who have given up their gallbladders really "fine"? And why do others continue to have pain in spite of removal of their gallbladder?

Conventional medical doctors make no attempt to help people "save" their gallbladders when stomach or other symptoms is believed due to gallbladder attacks. In fact, many gallbladders are removed even when scans do not show anything wrong with the gallbladder. Because there is no attempt to preserve this organ in conventional medicine, and because many people feel better after surgical removal of their GB, people mistakenly believe that the gallbladder isn't important and that living without it makes no difference. Unfortunately, this viewpoint is incorrect and can be downright unhealthy.

Contrary to common belief, the gallbladder isn't just a "vestigial organ" with little or no importance. One of the primary jobs of the gallbladder is to control the flow of bile which in turn is needed to absorb fats, oils and fat-soluble nutrients. Once the gallbladder is removed, these functions cannot happen normally, at least not without additional "outside help" from supplementation.

Although steps can be taken to prevent nutrient deficiencies if you have already had your gallbladder removed, let's talk about another important question. How can you get rid of gallbladder "attacks" and keep your gallbladder in the first place? After all, "prevention" is always easier than cure.

The Real Cause of Gallbladder Pain

Gallbladder pain is usually blamed on gallstones, although stones are rarely the cause of intermittent GB discomfort.

Stones of a particular size that get stuck in the bile duct are indeed incredibly painful. If they are not passed quickly, gangrene of the duct and gallbladder can set in with life-threatening complications. This is the only true "surgical emergency" of gallbladder stones.

However, most stones are too large to obstruct the gall duct. Other people have "sand," which is fine particulate that is too small to obstruct the gall duct. So where does the pain come from?

The real cause --- and cure --- of gallbladder pain was discovered back in 1968 by a physician named James C. Breneman. Dr. Breneman was chairman of the Food Allergy Committee of the American College of Allergists, or ACA (now called the American College of Allergy and Immunology, or ACAI). Dr. Breneman discovered that attacks of gallbladder pain are caused by food allergies.

In 1968, he put 69 people who suffered from recurrent gallbladder attacks on an elimination diet to determine their food allergies. Six of the subjects already had their gallbladders removed but were still having gallbladder "attacks," a phenomenon known as "post-cholecystectomy syndrome." Dr. Breneman found that all 69 people --- 100 percent! --- were totally symptom-free of gallbladder pain when they avoided their individual food sensitivities, and all 69 had a recurrence of their symptoms when they ate the foods they reintroduced the foods they were allergic to back into their diets.

The most common allergenic foods were found to be eggs (92.8%), pork (63.8%), onions (52.2%), chicken and turkey (34.8%), milk (24.6%), coffee (21.7% ), and oranges (18.8%). Corn, beans, nuts, apples, tomatoes, peas, cabbage, spices, peanuts, fish, and rye accounted for between 1 to 14.5% of gallbladder attacks. 14 of the 69 study participants (over 20 percent) also had gallbladder attacks caused by medications.

How Allergies Cause Gallbladder Attacks Illustration of the biliary system, showing the liver, gallbladder, pancreas, and the duodenum with the appendant ducts.

The body's reaction to allergic substances is to cause swelling (remember how your nose swells if you have seasonal allergies?). When food and medication allergies cause swelling of the gallbladder ducts, bile flow is obstructed. The symptoms of allergy-caused obstruction are the same as a stone being stuck in the duct. (Hence the blame being laid on a "stone" when in fact, swelling of the tissue caused by a food or medicine reaction is the real culprit).

The Cure for Gallbladder Pain

The real treatment for most GB pain isn't to remove this important organ, but to perform an elimination / challenge diet or food allergy testing and find the offending foods and medications.

The Dangers of Gallbladder Removal

What Can Happen Without a Gallbladder?

Vitamin A Deficiency symptoms include changes in vision (night blindness, dry eyes, macular degeneration), decreased immunity and skin diseases.

Vitamin D Deficiency symptoms include cancer, osteoporosis, dental disease and decreased immune function.

Vitamin K Deficiencies are associated with osteoporosis and atherosclerosis

Vitamin E Deficiency is associated with cancer, heart disease, neurological diseases and a long list of other health problems.

Essential Fatty Acids regulate everything from cardiac function to immunity and inflammation.

The gallbladder stores and then releases bile
in response to fats contained in a meal. Bile is necessary to assist the digestion of fats and fat-soluble vitamins.

When the gallbladder is removed, vitamins A, E, D, K, and essential fatty acids are not absorbed properly. Unfortunately, the symptoms of declining fat-soluble vitamins and essential fats come on slowly and most often, unnoticeably. Health problems can be many and varied, associated with a deficiency of any or all of these fat-soluble vitamins.

Who would guess that removal of the gallbladder, especially without replacement of bile salts (which is NEVER suggested in conventional medicine), could contribute to the premature development of so many and varied health problems, all related to fat soluble nutrient assimilation?

Other Nutrients for Gallbladder Health

Low stomach acid can cause or contribute to the development of gallstones. Correcting a stomach acid deficiency is of primary importance when addressing gallbladder health.

Here is more information about the many symptoms and diseases associated with low stomach acid.

And here is a simple self-test kit to help you determine if you need supplemental betaine hydrochloride:

Magnesium deficiency is extremely common among people who suffer from gallbladder pain and stones (even when the stones are not the actual cause of the pain). And if magnesium deficiency relates to the development of stones, the news gets even worse for those who don't supplement: 60% of post-GB removal patients suffer from magnesium deficiency and 40% from calcium/magnesium deficiency.

A high-quality daily multiple vitamin/mineral supplement such as Maxi Multi contains a full daily recommended dose of magnesium and calcium. For those taking "one-per day" multiples or no extra supplementation at all, additional magnesium supplementation is highly recommended.

References

  1. Jensen, Steen W.  "Postcholecystectomy Syndrome" Jan 16, 2008 http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/192761-overview
  2. “Fast Stats: Inpatient Surgery, 2002,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control (www.cdc.gov), accessed 8/25/04
  3. Breneman JC “Allergy Elimination as the Most Effective Gallbladder Diet.” Annals of Allergy 1968; 26; 83-89
  4. Breneman, James C. Basics of Food Allergy. Springfield (IL): CC Thomas (pub), 1978.
  5. Tsai CJ, Leitzmann MF, Willett WC, Giovannucci EL. Long-term effect of magnesium consumption on the risk of symptomatic gallstone disease among men. Am J Gastroenterol. 2008 Feb;103(2):375-82. Epub 2007 Dec 12.
  6. Szántay J, Varga D, Porr PJ. Post-cholecystectomy syndrome and magnesium deficit.Acta Physiol Hung. 1992;80(1-4):391-8.
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