The last few months of 2011 were indeed the season to be jolly! We were jolly all right. For Americans, It started with Thanksgiving and all the trimmings that go with it, then we had the leftovers. We just barely recovered from Thanksgiving when the rest of the holiday celebrations got under way. It seems like all these meals just never seemed to digest and then the next feast is laid in front of us and that feeling of being uncomfortably full seemed to last forever. Throw in traveling during the holidays, which upsets our internal clocks and then the stress of it all adds to the digestion anxiety. Exposure to a different holiday diet, perhaps in a different locale or country, usually leads to eating something we shouldn’t and this stress is compounded by knowing that while we feast there are all too many people the world over who have no food at all and so we eat what is put in front of us without being entirely conscious of its consequences in our bodies.
Every year most of us make New Years resolutions to never do this type of eating again but temptations are always all around us and for some of us our willpower just goes out the window when the stress in our lives mounts up again and comfort foods beckon!
In order to have some real questions to ask ourselves after we have indulged, it is important to review some symptoms. And because I have so much to share with you all on this subject matter, for everyone’s convenience, I am going to break this Celestial Musing blog up into two parts. (Stay tuned for Part Two: Best & Worst Foods for Gallbladder Disease)
In Part One, I am going to ask you some serious questions to help you determine if that case of acute indigestion was indeed a dreaded gallbladder attack and also review what the gallbladder actually is.
What is the gallbladder?
The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped muscular sack that acts as a storage tank for bile. The bile is made in the liver by liver cells and is sent through tiny ducts or canals to the duodenum (small intestine) and to the gallbladder. The gallbladder stores the bile to have it available in larger quantities for secretion when a meal is eaten. The ingestion of food and especially fats cause the release of a hormone, cholecystokinin, (CCK) which in turn signals the relaxation of the valve at the end of the common bile duct (the sphincter of oddi) which lets the bile enter the small intestine. It also signals the contraction of the gallbladder which squirts the concentrated liquid bile into the small intestine where it helps with the emulsification or breakdown of fats in the meal.
What causes gallbladder attacks?
The pain can come from a stone making its way down the biliary duct or bile tube toward the duodenum of the small intestine. It can also be caused by a backup of bile in the gallbladder (with or without stones) that causes it to swell from fullness, causing discomfort. Or it can come from an infected gallbladder itself that becomes inflamed, known as cholecystitis.
That’s what’s happening when you are having a gallbladder attack, but the underlying causes of a stone forming or bile thickening or low-functioning gallbladder are important to understand in order to heal the root of the problem. Hypothyroidism is a major contributing cause to gallbladder disease of all kinds. The thyroid is responsible for metabolism and when it is not working optimally, metabolism in general slows down. Your digestion may be slower, the bowels may be slower, gallbladder emptying may be slower, even thinking may be slower. Food allergies are also major contributors to gallbladder disease. They cause a histamine release that can cause excessive fluid in the bile ducts, causing them to back up. It is important to isolate those specific foods by eliminating them and introducing them back in one at a time and watch for reactions, so that you know just what is causing the problem.
Am I having a gallbladder attack?
If you lie down after a large meal where you have over indulged in the wrong foods and food combinations, such as greasy fried foods, and try to sleep you may have a series of symptoms which will cause you to know you have really pushed your limits. After this type of meal you might feel like an elephant has sat on your chest and/or your rib cage. You might feel back pain right between your shoulder blades along with that feeling of pressure right around the center or towards the right of your rib cage. It is possible that these symptoms become so severe you might even think you are having a heart attack and some people will end up, and rightly so, in the emergency room. More often than not, the diagnosis will be a gallbladder attack! I know this firsthand as I was with my very best friend when this happened to her. We got her into the emergency room where it was determined that her blood pressure was soaring out of control and after an ultrasound scan revealed gallstones in the bile duct, she was scheduled for emergency gallbladder removal surgery the very next day. This was not something I would wish on my worst enemy, ever!
What causes a gallbladder attack?
Many people think that it is only a diet that is too high in fat that causes gallbladder disease but, did you know, that lack of fat in your diet can also bring on a gallbladder attack? You may think you are following a healthy diet by trying to totally eliminate fat, such diets that severely restrict foods or such as when following an HCG diet protocol (I will do a piece on this topic in the future) or other regime low in calories and fat. But it is important to know that fats are critically important in our diet, but it’s the right fats that count. So too much or too little are triggers as is over eating and indulging. Moderation is such a beautiful word when comes to eating because research shows that a balanced diet high in unsaturated fats (essential fatty acids) may reduce risk of gallstones, especially in men.
A good rule of thumb to keep in mind is that a diet which is too low in the right fats can be a strong reason to suspect that you are having a gallbladder attack just as much as if you went to bed with a quart of Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Vanilla.
Remember to seek medical help right away in order to get a proper diagnosis.
How does one know if they are having a gallbladder attack?
If you have experienced some or all of the following symptoms it’s time to consider that you may have had a gallbladder attack. Gallbladder attacks can certainly be both very painful and frightening. It is easy to understand why so many people opt for gallbladder surgery after experiencing even one gallbladder attack. However there are natural alternatives such as natural supplements and specific organic foods that can manage gallbladder disease to help prevent both surgery and the discomfort of gallbladder colic if you catch it in time.
NOTE: A gallbladder attack is a serious and often life-threatening condition so you must have a medical evaluation and make an informed decision on what treatment options are available. The diagnostic tool your doctor will schedule will include a gallbladder and abdominal ultrasound scan.
The following list of symptoms are to be used as guidelines to help you share with your doctor what has been going on in your particular case.
What are the symptoms of gallbladder disease?
Chest pain in the right side under your ribs can be caused by stones in the bile duct or what is referred to as “sludge” in the gallbladder, and/or inflammation or swelling of the gallbladder itself. Nausea or queasiness, vomiting and gas are frequent symptoms. There may or may not be belching or burping. The gallbladder, which sits just below the rib cage to the right of the stomach, may be very tender to the touch. It can be so painful when palpated that it takes your breath away.
You may not be able to walk during a gallbladder attack without bending over. Sometimes the pain radiates through to the back shoulder blade on the right side or in the middle between the shoulder blades. This is pain from the gallbladder referring to the back of the shoulder. This back shoulder blade chest pain is one of the most common yet unknown symptoms of a gallbladder disorder. This can come and go or be constant. It may be sharp, excruciating or dull. It may also occur more often at night, especially when your dinner has not digested when you lie down. A gallbladder attack will typically last for one to four hours and be very frightening if you don’t know what is happening and even if you do know what is happening it is very difficult to know how to respond and what to do.
Checklist of some symptoms of a gallbladder attack:
1. Do you have pain between shoulder blades or beneath the right shoulder blade?
2. Are you having bouts of nausea or vomiting?
3. Do fatty or fried greasy foods upset your digestion?
4. Have you been experiencing gas and or bloating frequently?
5. Do you experience chronic constipation?
6. Do you burp or belch frequently?
7. Do you have a family history of gallstones or gallbladder removal?
8. Have you had your gallbladder removed and still experience these symptoms? If so, have you gained weight since your gallbladder was removed or since the onset of your symptoms?
9. Do you have chronic indigestion and use antacids frequently?
10. Do you have pain mid center above the stomach?
11. Do you have low thyroid and or a feeling that might be described as ‘foggy brain?’
If you have ridden out a gallbladder attack and not gone into emergency in the middle of the night, (and I am in no way suggesting that you do so) the first order of business is to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms, but it is not often that we can get right in for an appointment and get that scan scheduled. If you can, that would be great, but if not you may wonder what you can eat to avoid having another attack while you wait for your appointment and diagnosis.
Most people after an attack feel like they never want to eat again and many people do stop eating until they are super hungry and then will eat whatever is fast or easy or is put in front of them. This is not the way to go since you actually need to eat something that will be helpful to your body and help it to heal. There are two very important foods that you may be able eat right away and they are beets and what I call “Bieler” broth, as this recipe is named after Henry G. Bieler, MD and his version is found in the landmark book from the 70’s entitled Food is Your Best Medicine but here we shall just call it, “green soup.”
There is a wonderful resource online called Gallbladder Attack. At the Gallbladder Attack website you will find these three wonderful recipes that I have personally made and find them to be not only be delicious but very healing to the gut for all sorts of gut related disorders or conditions. Please check with your doctor about them before proceeding as we are all different and despite evidenced based medicine attempt to put us all in the same bag we are each uniquely magnificent beings which need to be honored as such, but having said that I find that, thus far, my clients have had great results with these recipes and the other suggestions on this website. The website offers a 30 day meal plan which is very beneficial as well as a starter kit of supplements from various sources which have been carefully selected because they have performed well. As a holistic practitioner I too offer specific products rather than generic one because I like to share what I have personally taken and see to be working as we all hope they will. There is a fee to download their 30 day meal plan which comes with specific recipes. But, here are the three emergency recipes from their site that you can make yourself quite simply. And most people find that drinking this version of Flax Tea, my self included, is very soothing for myriad of digestive conditions and upsets, as are the green soup and beet recipe offered below:
Flax Tea Recipe
Boil 1 TBSP of organic whole flax seeds in 2 1/2 cups water for 5 minutes then steep for 10 minutes, strain and sip slowly. The Gallbladder Attack website suggests that this tea can be sipped even during a gallbladder attack.
Green Soup Recipe (use organic ingredients if possible)
1 small bunch parsley
3 medium zucchini
1/2 pound green beans
5 stalks of celery
- steam or simmer, then puree in the blender
(I first learned about this soup when I consulted with Dr. Bieler in person back in the 70’s, I learned from him that this soup was extremely important to keep on hand for helping the body to heal itself that I have always made large batches of it in order to have extra to freeze. It is great for a short term cleanse. too)
Coarsely grate 1 large organic beet or beetroot (raw) not peeled if organic.
Add juice of lemon to taste or apple cider vinegar and 1 to 2 TBSP flax oil (be sure to get flax oil from the refrigerator at your local health store as flax oil goes rancid quickly. If you can’t get flax oil or are insulin resistant use cold pressed, organic extra virgin, olive oil. It is always best to buy oils in small containers and have a back bottle of fresh to open. Oils go rancid very easily and I recommend keeping them in the fridge after they are opened. If your oil congeals just set the bottle in a bowl of hot water and then let it soften back to its liquid state.)
You can take one teaspoon of the beet mixture every hour if need be and it will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days, then make a fresh batch.
This mixture is great for everyone to add to salads as beets in any form are great for the gallbladder because they keep the bile thin and moving.
More to come in Part Two!