Over 700,000 Americans have their gallbladders removed each year. If you haven’t had your gallbladder removed, chances are you know someone who has. But what is a gallbladder? Do you really need it? Are there non-surgical ways to address problems with the gallbladder?

What does the gallbladder do?

Our liver produces bile. Our bodies use bile to break down and digest fats. Extra bile is stored in the gallbladder in case we have a lot of fat that needs digesting. The bile stored in the gallbladder is actually more concentrated than the bile in the liver, so if you have your gallbladder removed it can impact your ability to digest fats. Why is that a problem? Well, if you actually eat healthy then you are eating a decent amount of healthy fats.  Fats from fish, nuts, seeds and fruit (like avocados) are all really good for us. So if you remove the gallbladder you may be missing out on some of those healthy fats. There are also fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A, D and E which you may become deficient in if you can’t digest fats properly.

If you’ve already lost your gallbladder, you still will be able to digest fats because bile is created in the liver and your surgeon probably did a good job at rerouting some tubes so you’ll survive. If you still have your gallbladder, bear in mind that we were not designed with any removable parts.  It’s best to keep all of them because they all have a purpose.

What causes gallstones or gallbladder issues?

As mentioned above, the gallbladder stores bile made in the liver.  This stored bile will keep concentrating and will eventually form bile “sludge” or gallbladder sludge that can eventually turn into stones. To prevent gallstones, we need to keep bile flowing from the gallbladder on a regular basis.  If bile stays in the gallbladder for too long it will get backed up and form stones. Reasons for this include:

  • Genetically small tubes and ducts that don’t allow bile to escape easily
  • The liver produces too much bile and the gallbladder can’t keep up
  • Not eating enough fat in your diet, so bile is never drained from the gallbladder
  • Insufficient HCL or stomach acid (the most common reason I see in my practice)

How does a lack of stomach acid contribute to gallstones or fat digestion issues? In order for the gallbladder to sense that it needs to release bile in the first place a reaction has to happen in the top-most part of the small intestine, your duodenum. Picture this: your stomach is filled with this acid (HCL) that bathes the food you eat. After a while this acidic, partially-digested food travels to the beginning of the small intestine (duodenum). That mixture of acid and food stimulates another chemical (cholecystokinin) to be released, and that triggers bile from the gallbladder to be released.

In short, if you don’t have enough acid being released from your stomach, your bile won’t be released and will eventually become stagnant and forms stones.  

Even if you don’t have gallstones, a sluggish gallbladder can cause problems. Sluggish gallbladder function can still cause trouble breaking down fats and result in nutritional deficiencies. I see many people with “sluggish” gallbladders who tend to feel really bad after eating fatty foods (but curiously crave them). Sometimes these people also have loose stool or have various food sensitivities that they cannot figure out.

Symptoms of gallbladder problems include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Loose stool
  • IBS
  • Bloating
  • Foul-smelling gas
  • Light colored stool
  • Pain/discomfort in your right upper abdomen
  • Right shoulder pain

How to solve gallstones and gallbladder problems naturally

While there are situations where surgery is unavoidable, my favorite way to solve gallbladder problems is to change your lifestyle and use some natural remedies. Some of the tools I use include:

  • An elimination/reintroduction diet like my leaky gut diet protocol. You can download it for free here.
  • Supplements including digestive enzymes, betaine hydrochloride (HCL) and lipase
  • Liver support with herbs and whole foods like milk thistle (silymarin) and artichoke
  • Introducing apple cider vinegar with meals
  • Upping intake of apples, beets and beet greens

Before you start to self-medicate, remember that it’s important to have a complete evaluation by someone who understands the body holistically. If you have gallbladder problems or are dealing with gallbladder removal side effects, book your appointment here so I can come up with a customized plan to get you better.


Dr. Jason Piken is a Chiropractor, Certified Nutrition Specialist and Health Coach in NYC offering a unique holistic and whole body approach to nutrition and wellness. Since starting his practice in 1996, Dr. Piken has taught people how to heal from various problems ranging from chronic pain to digestive disorders. When you walk into his office, you know you are in an environment where you are going to be personally cared for. His midtown Manhattan office, Innate Wellness Group, functions as a primary source for healthcare without the use of drugs or surgery.


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