Removal of the gallbladder, usually because of gallstones, is one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States – leaving approximately 750,000 more Americans without this organ each year. A significant percentage of those who have had their gallbladder removed are surprised to learn that their digestive symptoms persist. Although some traditional medical doctors suggest medications to cope with the discomfort, there are a handful of natural ways to feel good again after your gallbladder is removed.
Gallbladder Removal Surgery
Technically called a cholecystectomy, gallbladder removal surgery is the medical profession’s solution for repeated, painful, gallstone attacks. While this surgery may be a blessing for many who receive it, an estimated 5 to 40 percent of those who have had their gallbladder removed still experience discomfort. Referred to as post-cholecystectomy syndrome, the uncomfortable digestive symptoms typically include:
- Abdominal pain – especially in the upper right quadrant
- Upset stomach
The gallbladder is the organ that stores, concentrates and releases bile to help digest fat. Thus, after a fatty meal, the gallbladder secretes bile into the intestines. A well functioning gallbladder helps the body excrete cholesterol, other fats and fat-soluble toxins.
The liver manufactures bile, but after a cholecystectomy, there is no longer a place to store or concentrate it. Instead, bile slowly leaks into the intestines. The main problem after gallbladder removal surgery is insufficient bile to digest fat after consumption of a fatty meal. Most surgeons will advise their patients to avoid fatty foods after a cholecystectomy, but this is both unrealistic and controversial. While a big plate of greasy, barbecue ribs is not the best type of fat to consume, good fats (such as in cold-water fish, coconut oil and avocados) are necessary to maintain optimal health.
Despite the frequency of cholecystectomies and insistence by the medical community that we don’t ‘need’ a gallbladder, people without a gallbladder are especially prone to digestive problems and liver problems. Without a reliable way to process fat, there is a great risk of developing a fatty liver and living with chronic digestive discomfort.
Relieving Uncomfortable Digestive Symptoms
Physicians may prescribe different types of medications to mask uncomfortable digestive symptoms, but advocates of natural health care remind us that such medications have two caveats:
- They cover up the discomfort without addressing the underlying problem
- All drugs have the potential for side effects
By helping to improve digestion and increasing bile production, four natural solutions for post-cholecystectomy syndrome include:
- Probiotics – The friendly bacteria contained in a probiotic supplement, like Super Probiotics, helps break down food – including fat. Probiotics’ action will increase digestive efficiency. In addition, the diarrhea that occurs following a fatty meal warrants replenishment of good bacteria in the intestines.
- Digestive Enzymes – To help compensate for insufficient bile, digestive enzymes (especially lipase for breaking down fat) improves your ability to digest food, thus reducing the discomfort associated with inefficient digestion.
- Milk Thistle – To help support and protect liver cells from harm, milk thistle, like Maximum Milk Thistle, helps the liver perform optimally. For someone without a gallbladder, optimal liver function prevents fat accumulation and improves its bile production.
- Artichoke – A relative of milk thistle, artichokes have been revered medicinally as early as 400 BC. Artichokes contain cynarin, a phenolic acid compound that is responsible for its cholagogue (promotes the discharge of bile) and choleretic (stimulates the production of bile) properties. Natural Wellness’s Milk Thistle with Artichoke & Turmeric contains milk thistle and artichoke.
Many people with post-cholecystectomy syndrome find that some combination of probiotics, digestive enzymes, milk thistle and artichoke extract helps eliminate their digestive complaints. Because these natural remedies support the biliary and digestive systems without side effects, they constitute an ideal approach to feel good again after having gallbladder removal surgery.
Editor’s Note: Because each individual is unique and may have specific health issues to address, a physician should always be consulted prior to beginning a new dietary or supplement regimen. This is especially true after gallbladder removal surgery.