The Gallbladder and Hormone Balance Connection. And, What Does It Mean When You Don’t Have a Gallbladder?

gallbladderandhormones

 

This guest article was written by my friend Debbie Graefer, L.Ac. MTOM
Licensed Acupuncturist and Masters in Traditional Oriental Medicine. Debbie is the mastermind behind the great site called GallbladderAttack.com. If you have ever searched online for gallbladder information (like symptoms, attack, foods to avoid, etc), you probably came across her site.

I’ve asked her is she could write and educate us on the very important topic of the connection between the gallbladder and our hormonal balance. You see, I’ve seen many women after having their gallbladder removed develop many hormonal problems. It seems that Western medicine is failing us again – liberally and mindlessly treating the gallbladder like a useless organ that we can easily disposed of to address an immediate pain. At the cost of other issues developing further down the road – only to be treated with more meds.

Here is what Debbie has to say.


What and where is the gallbladder

Although digestive symptoms may be brought on by any number of things, what is often overlooked is the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a small organ that sits under the liver on the right side of the rib cage and stores liquid bile which is used to digest fats. Even without eating a fatty diet, the gallbladder can begin to act up with symptoms ranging from pain or tenderness under the right rib cage, pain between the shoulder blades, indigestion especially after fatty foods, a feeling of fullness, gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, burping and the list goes on. For symptoms of a full-on gallbladder attack, visit GallbladderAttack.com.

When the idea of gallbladder problems is first mentioned, one automatically jumps to the conclusion of gallstones. While gallstones are the most common cause of these digestive symptoms, they are not the only one. Symptoms occur even without the presence of stones, usually brought on by a sluggish or low-functioning gallbladder. In fact, this low-functioning probably allows the gallstones to form in the first place.

The gallbladder and hormone connection

Hormones are always involved in one way or another. A hormone is simply a protein that is used to deliver a message or a command from one part of the body to another, usually initiating or terminating a function. Considering how many functions are going on in the body at all times, it will not be so surprising to learn that there are more than 50 different hormones and several that are involved in the proper functioning of the gallbladder. And there are others yet that affect it less directly. This article will discuss only a few of them.

Motilin is a hormone found in the cells of the intestines. It is released in response to fat intake or acidity in the small intestine. Motilin initiates the contraction of the gallbladder to induce its emptying of bile. In pregnancy, motilin is found to be profoundly reduced, especially in the 2nd and 3rd trimester. It is postulated that this may contribute to gastrointestinal hypo-motility (or a slow-moving GI tract) which symptoms include constipation, indigestion and gallbladder disease, all of which are quite prevalent during pregnancy.

Melatonin is a hormone that is secreted in the dark and stops secreting in response to light. It regulates not only sleep, but your whole biological clock. Traveling through several time zones can really throw melatonin production out of balance. But did you know that melatonin may also inhibit gallstone formation, reduce the cholesterol in the bile by inhibiting its absorption as well as increasing the conversion of cholesterol into bile salts? Studies show that melatonin therapy could possibly assist in the recovery of the neuromuscular function of the gallbladder wall during or following acute gallbladder inflammation, allowing it to contract more fully.

Cholecystokinin or CCK is a hormone that initiates gallbladder contraction and pancreatic enzyme secretion. If you have had a HIDA scan to test for a low-functioning gallbladder, they will have injected CCK to initiate gallbladder contraction and measure the amount of bile that is secreted. Normal is from 32-44%.

Thyroxin (also spelled thyroxine) is a thyroid hormone which helps to regulate metabolism. Low thyroxin levels or low thyroid function is connected with low gallbladder functioning as well as low bile flow, both which contribute to the formation of gallstones.

The sphincter of Oddi, which controls the release of bile into the small intestine, has receptor sites for thyroid hormones, and the sphincter relaxes in response to the thyroxin. A relaxed sphincter of Oddi allows for free flow of bile which is less conducive to the formation of gallstones. Lack of thyroxin such as found in hypothyroidism could result in a contracted sphincter. This phenomenon is thought to contribute to the formation of CBD or common bile duct stones that form from the bile left sitting in the duct.

RELATED LINK: How to Use Food to Rebalance Your Hormones – FREE Online WorkshopClick Here To Join My FREE Online Workshop - Cooking For Balance

Gallbladder Surgery and Its Aftermath

There are several common side-effects following gallbladder surgery which can be read about here. It is the hormone related side-effects that I’d like to touch on as they are not generally acknowledged.

It was complaints from women, mostly, following gallbladder surgery that prompted my research into the why. Comments that their body was thrown out of balance or that “things have just not been the same since” as well as “weight gain that I’ve never had an issue with before.”

Some of the reasons could be coincidental, or hitting at the same time as surgery such as age-related peri-menopausal symptoms, insulin resistance or poor eating habits catching up with you. But what is more likely is that the stress from both the gallbladder disease and the surgery are triggering hormonal imbalances all over the place.

Everyone will react to an affront like surgery differently, but in everyone, surgery will stimulate a major stress response that is accompanied by both hormonal and metabolic changes. It activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), the hypothalamic-pituitary axis ( HPA), and the adrenal cortex. The hormones ACTH, catecholamine, cortisol and glucagon all play major roles in regulating the stress response.

Specific markers increased in gallbladder surgery are somatropin (growth hormone), CRP (acute inflammatory markers) and cortisol (the adrenal hormone involved both in stress and in reducing inflammation).

Somatropin is a protein anabolic hormone which basically means when protein cells are destroyed due to surgery, growth hormone is released in an attempt to rebuild or create new protein cells. There have been studies done showing that people given somatropin intravenously following gallbladder surgery recuperate from the surgery faster. To date this is not a practice that is used but it would be nice!

Inflammation can cause a cascade of hormonal havoc which people will react to and recover from differently. It can knock some people out for weeks to months, depending on their underlying health. Others are not affected. Also know that something as stressful as a surgery can bring on a latent condition such as Hashimoto’s and make it express.

For those of you who lost your gallbladder to surgery, this article discussed several things you can do to steer your health back on track; improving your digestion and hormonal balance.

Gallbladder and Sex Hormones (like estrogen, progesterone) 

It has long been known that both pregnancy, long-term oral contraceptive use and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) contribute to the formation of gallstones and the accompanying symptoms of pain, indigestion, burping, gas and bloating, and possibly nausea. But what are the underlying mechanisms involved?

Estrogen and progesterone (known as the female hormones) when present in excess cause three separate alterations in the biliary (bile) system:

  • a higher ratio of cholesterol to bile salts – also called super saturation of bile
  • a higher propensity of the bile to aggregate or clump together – or stickiness of bile
  • a lower than normal functioning of gallbladder emptying – leaving bile sitting stagnant in the gallbladder sac

Note from Magdalena: On the other hand, the bile helps the liver to excrete hormones like excess estrogen and its harmful metabolites. That explains why women who have their gallbladders removed often suffer from symptoms of estrogen dominance a few months after the surgery.

Counteracting the effects of the female hormones on the biliary tree

There are always choices that can help – pregnancy excluded.

  • Choosing contraceptive measures other than hormones.
  • Chinese and western herbs including adaptogens, nutrients and adrenal support to manage the symptoms of both menopause and peri-menopause.
  • Support bile thinning, bile flow and liver detoxification.

These can make a huge difference when taken in tandem with any increased presence of hormones. All of these methods, excluding the liver detox can be used during pregnancy and nursing.

 

What kind of diet helps the gallbladder and bile as well as hormonal balance?

This is a two part process – what to avoid and what to include. General principles are listed here but
for a list of specific gallbladder-friendly foods, foods that trigger gallbladder symptoms, or to download our 30 day menu plans, check out the gallbladder diet page.

Avoid:

  • all common allergens such as gluten, dairy, eggs and soy
  • all refined foods – sugar, flour
  • trans fats such as fried foods, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils
  • red meats which are inflammatory

Include:

  • organic foods with a focus on fresh vegetables and fruits
  • small amounts of complex carbohydrates such as rice
  • moderate amounts of wild-caught (not farmed) fish
  • good oils such as olive oil, fish oils, coconut oil – all in small amounts

DO NOT OVEREAT – EVER!

It’s the worst thing for your digestion and for your health overall. And it can trigger gallbladder attacks if you have a gallbladder problem.

Regardless of which hormones are off balance within you, as you work to harmonize those, begin now to address your specific gallbladder condition as well. First of all, take into consideration what may be the cause of your gallbladder symptoms. Address the ones that you are able to. And simultaneously, eat foods and take products that help to thin and gently move the bile. And apply castor oil packs over the abdomen which research shows have the ability to reduce inflammation in the area and which may also help you with much-needed relaxation and stress reduction.

 

Deborah Graefer is a Licensed Acupuncturist with a Masters in Traditional Oriental Medicine. She has been specializing in gallbladder and other digestive issues since 2001 with the launching of her website GallbladderAttack.com. She consults with people who are looking for answers or for alternatives for their symptoms. You can read more about her story here.

 

 

 

Join the discussion 25 Comments

  • Denise says:

    I had my gallbladder removed when I was 20 years old. I am now 53 with insulin resistance, 30 pounds overweight, through menopause and have always had a hard time controlling my weight since I was about 30 yrs old. At 40 I also had part of my colon removed. I eat fairly well but do consume to much sugar at times. I am looking for any suggestions you may have on essential oils that may help. I feel that some of these issues may stem from loosing my gallbladder at such a young age. I would be grateful for any suggestions or help you can offer. Thank you

    • Magdalena Wszelaki says:

      Hi Denise,
      Thank you for sharing your story.
      I don’t find that EOs alone can help solve issues if the biggest thing you are putting into your body – food, is not well taken care of. I explain at length the difference between “eating well and eating right for YOU” in this free workshop: http://www.cookingforbalance.com. I hope you get a chance to listen in and decide what else to do to improve your health. 🙂

    • Penelope says:

      Wow Denise, your story is pretty much my story. Gallbladder removed at 21, now 54 and through menopause. I have managed to put on an extra 100+ pounds, extremely discouraging….I watched the Hormone Balancing webinar and am going to check the Thyroid webinar, it’s obviously time to stop eating dessert every day and get moving!!

  • […] Low bile acids. Bile deficiency can contribute to chronic diarrhea, constipation, yellow stools and hormonal imbalances in women. Foods like daikon radish, lemon, lime watercress and artichokes can stimulate better bile flow. For tips on also improving your gall bladder health, take a look at this post. […]

  • Doris says:

    I as well had my gall bladder removed, probably 20 years ago, thank goodness, that was so painful to go thru the many “attacks” I had for a few years before I found out the cause, I did have some weight gain, I am now 64, and the best thing I did for myself was the “whole 30”, it made me more in tune with my body, was able to lose that last 10 lbs, that was hanging in there, now I still continue with a paleo diet, but am always open to learning MORE! I think the key is to eat clean and stay active!

  • Tierri says:

    Hi Denise
    After doing some research I think having my gall bladder removed has contributed to my hormone positive breast cancer which spread to six lymph nodes. After chemo and radiation I am taking tamoxifen and about to start aromatose inhibitors. What can be done now to help eliminate excess oestrogen from my body without the help of a gall bladder?
    Thankyou

    • deanna says:

      HI Tierri, lots can be still done without the gallbladder! You will want to check out http://www.cookingforbalance.com to learn more about the body’s ecosystem.

    • Angela says:

      Tierri,
      Thank you for your question. There are alot of things that can still be done with the gallbladder. It is important to keep the liver working in tip top shape. The Cooking for Balance free workshop will teach you about the Hormone Balance ecosystem. You can register here at https://www.hormonesbalance.com I hope you will join us.

    • Angela says:

      Thank you for your question. There are alot of things that can still be done with the gallbladder. It is important to keep the liver working in tip top shape. The Cooking for Balance free workshop will teach you about the Hormone Balance ecosystem. You can register here at http://www.cookingforbalance.com I hope you will join us.

  • Angela Watkins says:

    I am 53 and in perimenopause. My gall bladder was removed when I was in my 20s. I have been experiencing flatulence and general indigestion pain and ‘pop’ movements in my chest area in recent weeks. Do you please have any advice for me. The only medication I am on is Ramipril 5mg. Thanks so much.

    • Julie McGinnis says:

      Hi Angela, thank you for your question. Check out the last part of the article about what kind of foods to eat. That is a good place to start. Additionally, you may want to try digestive enzymes with each meal and consider a probiotic. Hope that helps!

  • Tiffany T says:

    I had my gallbladder removed 4 weeks postpartum. It’s been 4 years now and I have been battling anxiety and some panic attacks since the surgery. I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and went on 50mg setraline for a year after my baby was born. I went off the setraline for 3 years but have struggled badly and needed to go back on setraline for anxiety recently. I felt like I was swimming while walking, so dizzy I was afraid of falling down while walking. The anxiety heightens during week 3 of my menstral cycle. I constantly worry about everything and it’s worse in the mornings. I really think I have a hormonal imbalance. What blood tests should I start with? I don’t want to be on anxiety meds if something else is wrong?

    • Julie McGinnis says:

      Hi Tiffany, I had a similar situation post partum (minus the gall bladder removal) and have been on oral progesterone bio identical for the last 10 years. You have your progesterone tested 3 days post ovulation and see what the number is. Low progesterone will cause anxiety and it is very challenging to feel anxious all the time. Once I got on progesterone my anxiety went away ;). Let me know if I can help you further.

      • Tiffany T. says:

        Hi Julie! Thank you for the advice!!! I keep saying that once my body knows it’s mot pregnant right after ovulation, I feel the anxiety kick in like clockwork. I just thought I was being silly! This really could be a problem?! I will talk to my doctor. Did your GP doc help you or your gynecologist?

        • Julie McGinnis says:

          Tiffany, I go to a functional medicine place with a nurse practitioner that is dialed in on hormones. Unfortunately, most Gyns are not great with hormones. Try to find a functional medicine doc that is good with hormones where you live.

  • Tiffany T says:

    Thank you Julie!

  • Sandy says:

    I have searched high and low for this answer and hope that you can help…I had my gallbladder removed some 30+ years ago and not had many problems. While doing research for an unrelated issue, someone made the comment that you should not take multi-vitamins if you did not have a gall bladder because there was no way for the body to break down most of the vitamins. Do you know if this is true? I am unable to locate any other literature pertaining to multi-vitamins/supplements minus a gallbladder except for immediately following removal. Thank you in advance for your response.

  • Simba says:

    Your liver does that hun. So long as your not drinking alcohol, not eating inflammatory food like A1 milk, you can take Vitamins. Try and get them from food and the sun where you can

    • Angela Sidlo says:

      Hi Simba,
      The liver and gall bladder work closely together. These detoxification pathways can become clogged by many factors including environmental toxins and body care products. It goes deeper than food and vitamins can cover. Thank you for being here and learning.
      Kindly, Angela HB Team

  • Allyson says:

    hi, I live in the U.K., 57 or thereabouts and some years ago now, I was having chest pains. Took a little while, but the Doctors decided I had a diseased gall bladder that needed removal. It was only after they opened me to remove, that there was no evidence that I had ever been born with one. Had various tests, the general consensus was I was born without one, and left to go on my way. Wasn’t given any dietary advice, but I feel like I have an expanding area of hard something growing across my abdomen. Not hernia, but it can sometimes really catch me, and pull me up short.

    Hair is dry and brittle having skin issues currently like permanent paper cuts. Any help or advice welcomed

  • John Baker says:

    Hi Magdalena. I found this article very enlightening advise. From reading hundreds of evidence based medical studies and thousands of (victim) patient testimonies suffering post gallbladder removal and their needless suffering (looking for answers ), I can confirm Mainstream medicines, diagnosis and treatment for gallbladder problems and post removal care advise is 100% fraudulent. Even breaches human rights at multiples levels. Informed Consent is basically obtained by deception , In the US gallbladder surgery is a 30+ Billion dollar annual industry (750K surgeries @ average cost 40K). 2.5x more likely to under go surgery in the US compared to the UK!. Internet support groups for post gallbladder removal problems such as (Reflux, Bile Reflux, SoD, bile acid malabsorption diarrhea, IBS, and generic Post-cholecystectomy syndrome, Diet, vitamin deficiencies…etc are full of patients disillusioned, suffering from health problems, discarded by Doctors (after a lot of tests and fees) who by default maintain the fraud … Most were never told about the likely risks to ongoing health once the GB function is removed and simply left to develop problems ie As confirmed by patient hand out Information informed consent forms stated as fact : –

    -You don’t need a gallbladder’. ‘So surgery to take it out is often recommended’
    -You can lead a perfectly normal life without a gallbladder’.
    -Your liver will still make enough bile to digest your food but, instead of being stored in the gallbladder, it drips continuously into your digestive system’
    -Surgery side effects are temporary. (bloating, flatulence and diarrhea – this can last a few weeks)’
    -Eat a normal diet straight away – you can return to a normal diet
    -Some people experience symptoms similar to those caused by gallstones after surgery (tummy pain, indigestion, diarrhoea).
    this is known as post-cholecystectomy syndrome (PCS) and it’s thought to be caused by bile leaking into areas such as the stomach or by gallstones being left in the bile ducts.
    -In most cases symptoms are mild and short-lived
    -Very rarely, patients notice that their bowels are a little looser (diarrhea) than before the operation.
    -You will be able to eat a normal diet after your operation
    -Unfortunately there is no non-surgical alternative; the only successful treatment is to remove (the gall bladder and) gallstones completely.

    Magdalena, the suffering is needless and can be just horrific for some- as you know. THANK YOU so much for speaking out and taking the time to do something about the miss information problem. I plan to forward your site information to as many people as I can. Maybe if I had found sooner, may be I would not have lost a friend who took her life to end suffering with NO support from doctors, just pain killers and told post removal problems are in her head – A beautiful young mother leaving being 3 children and a husband.

    • Missy says:

      I agree with you totally, I too feel like I was deceived. I wish I wouldn’t have had the surgery. It just causes more problems. I wish there was something I could do to stop it. Sorry about your friend.

  • Hi I recently had my appendix move along with one ovary during an emergency appendectomy. The surgeon was concerned that my ovary was the cause of my pain. It looked inflamed like a cyst had ruptured. I was glad he removed it because I think I was having issues with cysts for years. Now I am having gallbladder issues ironically after my ovary has been removed which I never had before. I don’t got the profile for someone with gallbladder disease. Doctors keep telling me stay away from fatty foods when I’ve been eating clean and organic for the past 5 years. I looked further that other foods cause gallbladder attacks which I’m avoiding now such as gluten, dairy, eggs and red meat. I’m going to do the gallbladder diet. Is there anything else I should do like get my hormones checked to see if that helps alleviate my gallbladder symptoms? I’ve already been to the ER once for severe symptoms.

  • Joan says:

    I am going through perimenooause right now.. went 11 months no period and today looks like I am going to have one! Well for a year now been having gallbladder issues.. low functioning 27 percent.. do you think hormonal imbalances can cause the gallbladder to not function right? Should I get tested for it? Some doctors thinks it will help to removed the gallbladder .. but I haven’t cause I don’t know what cause it.. where can I get tested at? My Obgyn she doesn’t think there is connection and wants to put me on hormones with out testing .. I don’t feel that is safe .. I want to keep my gallbladder if I can.. and hoping that getting my hormones level.. will help any advice .. thank you 😊 and I have a second opinion with another GI doctor on March 20

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