The gallbladder may be small in size, but when something isn't right, it can cause major discomfort. You may have heard of the gallbladder, but how much do you know about what it does?
The Role of the Gallbladder
The gallbladder works with the liver and the entire digestive system to keep the body on track. It's a small sac shaped like a pear that can be found beneath the liver. The bile the liver produces to help the body digest fats is stored within the gallbladder until it's needed in the small intestine. The bile travels through the cystic and common bile ducts to reach the small intestine and assist in the breaking down of foods.
Gallbladder Disease and Gallstones
One form of gallbladder disease is cholecystitis, which is inflammation of the gallbladder. This is caused by a blocking of the bile ducts by gallstones. Gallstones (cholelithiasis) are the most common reason for gallbladder issues. Gallstones are made of substances like cholesterol that collect within the bile produced by the liver. These substances combine to form stones that can very in size. If the gallbladder doesn't empty completely, gallstones can also form.
The stone itself isn't harmful to the rest of the body and many people who have them don't have any symptoms to indicate a stone is present. However, when the gallstones block one of the ducts for transferring bile, it can cause problems. The most common symptom of a gallstone blocking a duct is pain, which can occur in the pit of the stomach, upper right belly or upper right shoulder blade or back. Chest pain may also occur as well as a fever, chills and jaundice of the skin and eyes and swelling of the pancreas.
If gallbladder stones become a consistent problem, the gallbladder may be removed, which isn't harmful to the health and function of the digestive system or the entire body.
Acalculous gallbladder disease is either inflammation of the gallbladder or muscle defects not caused by gallstones. These conditions can come on suddenly or become chronic problems and prevent the gallbladder from properly contracting to release bile, causing similar symptoms.
While there isn't a way to 100 percent prevent gallstones or gallbladder disease, there are ways to support the health of the gallbladder.
Individuals who are overweight or who lose a great amount of weight in a short period of time are at a greater risk of developing gallstones. Reaching a healthy weight gradually and maintaining it through proper diet and exercise is the best way to go. The proper diet for a healthy gallbladder is one that is low in fat and contains plenty of fiber. Make sure to include plenty of fruits and vegetables and avoid white flour or rice in favor of whole grains like quinoa or amaranth.
Lastly, there are herbal supplements that support the health of the gallbladder as well as the liver. Some to consider include milk thistle, artichoke leaf and dandelion. These herbal extracts help cleanse and purify the blood and help the body remove waste by acting as natural diuretics. If you suffer from gallbladder, liver or other digestive issues or are pregnant, breastfeeding or taking medication, be sure to check with your doctor before adding these or any supplements to your routine.
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