Gallbladder and MenopauseDec 30, 2021
Gallbladder surgery is one of the most common surgeries performed, and it is considered to be a safe procedure with few complications.
Yet do doctors talk about the impact of the gallbladder on a women’s health, specifically in menopause?
Isn’t it about time someone did?
Did you know there’s a connection between the gallbladder and menopause?
It’s a relationship few women are ever told about by their doctors.
That’s unfortunate, because if more women understood this association, many of them would be able to reduce or eliminate the discomfort and pain that can go along with it.
First, let’s take a quick look at the gallbladder, a small organ that stores a yellow-green liquid substance called bile that is produced by the liver.
Bile contains bile salts, which have several important functions involving digestion, such as assisting with the breakdown of fats and helping us absorb fat-soluble vitamins such as A, D, E, and K.
Bile salts also help remove toxins from the body. If your supply of bile salts is low, then toxins can accumulate.
If you eat a fatty diet, there’s a good chance you will experience symptoms such as indigestion after eating fatty foods, gas, bloating, nausea, vomiting, pain between the shoulder blades, and tenderness or pain under the right rib cage.
For some women, these symptoms occur even if their diet is not high in fat.
These symptoms can occur if the gallbladder is sluggish or not functioning well. This can lead to the formation of gallstones, although that is not always the case.
How is menopause involved?
It all has to do with hormones, specifically estrogen and progesterone. Women have more of these hormones than do men, which is a big reason why gallbladder disease is more common in women than men.
When estrogen and progesterone levels decline in the menopausal years, women can expect to see a rise in cholesterol.
This happens because bile accumulates more cholesterol and the gallbladder isn’t able to empty as rapidly as it used to.
That means the bile stays in the gallbladder too long, which in turn increases the risk of gallstone and bile duct stone development.
Another factor is that hypothyroidism, which is more common in women as they age, especially in the postmenopause years, can contribute to gallbladder disease.
But what happens if you have had your gallbladder removed?
Gallbladder removal leaves your body in stress, and stress can contribute to unbalanced hormones.
Once the gallbladder is gone, so is the bile, whose job is to help remove estrogen as well as digest fats.
The result can be estrogen dominance—more estrogen than progesterone and thus an imbalance--and the symptoms that go along with it (e.g., weight gain, mood swings, irritability, bloating, hair loss, low sex drive, fatigue).
Diarrhea also is a factor since fats are not digested properly.
Dietary changes are critical for living your best life in menopause without a gallbladder. You need to focus on:
- A low-fat diet. Because the gallbladder is gone, bile is released directly into the intestines, where it can act like a laxative. Therefore small amounts of low-fat food are easier for your body to handle and helps avoid bloating, gas, and diarrhea
- Lots of fruits and vegetables. These foods not only provide essential nutrients but are a great source of fiber, which is necessary for normal bowel movements. Choose organic produce whenever possible to avoid pesticides that can further promote estrogen dominance
- Plant-based beverages. Dairy products high in fat are too difficult to digest, while low-fat milk foods can act like insulin, a hormone that can cause the ovaries to make testosterone, which is converted into estrogen in fat cells. The more fat cells you have, the more testosterone is changes into estrogen.
- No processed foods. They typically contain fats, refined flours, and sugars that are more difficult to digest.
- Smaller, more frequent meals. You may find that four to five small meals that contain lean protein, vegetables, and fruits work best for digestion. A meal could consist of 2 to 3 ounces of chicken with green beans or a leafy green salad with sunflower seeds, cucumbers, and shredded carrots.
- Healthy oils. Coconut, avocado, olive, and flaxseed oils are healthy additions to the diet, but in very small amounts.
- Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and very sweet foods. These tend to make diarrhea worse.
- Eating in moderation. Never overeat, as it places a lot of stress on your digestive system and can worsen any digestion problems you may be experiencing.
- Taking enzymes. Three enzymes available in supplement form can help with fat digestion and absorption: ox bile, amylase, and lipase. Any one of these can be beneficial, but it’s even better if you find two or three together in one supplement.
- Adding bitters to your diet. Bitters are foods or supplements that stimulate the flow of digestive juices and can help ease gas. Kale, arugula, dandelion greens, watercress, endive, broccoli rabe, spinach, and radicchio are great when added to salads, stir fried, or sautéed with herbs. A supplement called Swedish bitters, available through various producers, typically contains black cohosh, Chinese rhubarb, cinnamon, and valerian root.
As you live through your menopausal years, it’s important to consider your gallbladder and the impact of hormonal changes on this organ and digestion.
Dietary changes can be critical during these times, especially if you have had your gallbladder removed.
See Divine Renewal for more health tips regarding hormone changes and menopause and healthy eating.