You’ve Got Gall – The 4 F’s of Gallbladder Disease

Hi there, Mamas!  Today we’ll talk about something that can affects millions, and we’re already at higher risk than our Daddy counterparts.  Our gallbladder is a tiny organ that stores and releases bile.  Bile helps our bodies to absorb dietary fat and fat-soluble vitamins.  It also helps us get rid of bilirubin and cholesterol.

If our gallbladder isn’t functioning properly, it can lead to fat malabsorption, which can cause malodorous, greasy stools (and if bilirubin isn’t excreted with them, they may be grayish in color instead of brown) – triple yuck!  Not to mention, it can be really painful.  Some cases may even result in surgery, and who has time for that?

The 4 F’s of Gallbladder Disease

Even though it doesn’t start with and F, {hormones} are the culprit for many of these risk factors.

  1. Female – I’m going to assume that most people reading this are Mommies, not Daddies.  So, in that case, we are all at higher risk.  For better or worse, there’s not much we can do about this one.  Since the fairer sex is “blessed” with ever-fluctuating hormones and higher estrogen levels, it can affect our gallbladder.
  2. Forty – Pre-menopausal, which can once again, cause hormone levels to shift.  Additionally, hormone replacement therapy (also discussed here) after menopause can exacerbate gallbladder problems.
  3. Fertile – This is the case for several reasons.  Firstly, when you’re pregnant and after you have the baby, there are huge swings in hormones (like you didn’t know that already).  Secondly, those cravings for less than healthy foods throw added fat and sugar into our diet.  Thirdly, that baby weight (whether we can’t lose it or we drop it too quickly) will bring me to F number 4…
  4. Fat – So, I don’t usually like to use the “F” word, but in this case I’ll make an exception.  Fat affects the gallbladder in different ways.  Gallbladder issues are more common in people who eat a high-fat diet because bile is released whenever we eat fat.  But don’t go the complete opposite way either – diets extremely low in fat (or fad diets allowing your GI tract to “rest” – really never a good idea) can also cause problems due to “biliary stasis” – basically, things aren’t moving, so stones are more likely to form.  Excess body fat can also play a role.  On the most basic level, overweight individuals eat more calories than their bodies need, which means by default they eat more fat.  Also, overweight people may have more cholesterol in their bile, which can predispose them to gall stones.  On the other hand, people who lose weight quickly, generally eat less fat (because they’re eating less in general) and it can once again result in biliary stasis.

Reduce Your Risk

While we can’t change our gender, there are ways we can change some of the other big Fs to little Fs.

  • Eat a diet moderate in fat.  Like we said, you don’t want to go too high or too low.  For more on dietary fat, check out this RDN Mama article.

    Using the MyPlate method can make it easy to keep an eye on your fat intake.  Watch the extras, like butters and oils!

    Using the MyPlate method can make it easy to keep an eye on your fat intake. Watch the extras, like butters and oils!

  • Achieve a healthy (or healthier) body weight.  Some weight loss can be really beneficial for overall good health, but remember – don’t lose too quickly or you could be back in the same boat.  Check out RDN Mama’s articles on informed food choices, calories, and exercise.
  • Chow down on plant foods.  Fiber – only found in plant foods – can decrease the risk for gallbladder surgery, plus, it has like a zillion other benefits.  (Excuse my gushing – fiber is like my bff of nutrition.)  Plant proteins, like beans, can also lower risk.  Interestingly, whether or not people ate animal protein didn’t affect their risk, but simply adding plant protein to an energy-balanced diet did lower it.  Finally, regular consumption of nuts can help reduce risk for gallbladder surgery.

    So much fiber, so little time.

    So much fiber, so little time.

  • Cut back on added sugar.  While this study was conducted on men, I won’t ever tell you it’s a bad idea to cut back on foods with added sugar.  Aside from possibly reducing the risk of gallstones, you might even get some weight loss out of it, and lower your insulin resistance – which can help prevent diabetes.
  • Choose beverages wisely.  Good news for my tired Mamas!  While water is our body’s ideal beverage, caffeinated coffee may actually reduce your risk of gallstones.  Moderate alcohol may help prevent gallstones, but excessive or binge drinking can lead to liver cirrhosis, a side effect of which is gallstones.
  • Small, frequent meals.  This can help if you’re already having pain from an inflamed gallbladder.  Since you’re eating smaller meals, the amount of fat you’re eating is lower at each time.  Be sure you don’t overdo it on dinner (typically the heaviest meal), or you could have a rough night ahead.

Whether you’re pregnant, trying to conceive, or busy raising a healthy family, be sure to take steps to keep your gallbladder safe.  Hope this helps, Mamas!

Have you had gallbladder issues?  Did your pregnancy make it worse?  Was surgery necessary?  Let me know in the comments!

Photo credit: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  Used with permission.

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