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Why Do They Remove Gallbladders?

The New York Times regional newspaper interviewed me last week about gallbladders and I thought it would be useful to review this common problem. I have seen many hundreds of patients who have had their gallbladders removed and I don't recall anyone ever telling me that their surgeon advised them to do something to compensate for removing this important organ. Just about every one of them was told that they didn't need their gallbladder and that it was perfectly fine. This is reprehensible ignorance as it condemns the patient to a lifelong deficiency of essential fatty acids.

The gallbladder serves as a reservoir for bile, which serves to emulsify fats for improved fat digestion. If you believe that fats are evil then this would be good, but high-quality fats (especially omega-3 fats) are essential for good health and if you don't have a gallbladder you will have an impaired ability to absorb them. If your gallbladder is removed then you need to compensate by providing an increased level of fat digestive enzymes (lipase) to compensate for this. Unless one receives a gallbladder transplant (unlikely), then one needs to continue that the rest of their life.

As I said in my interview, regular exercise is one of the best things one can do to address gallbladder dysfunction. This is a great proactive prevention step but most people don't worry about their gallbladder until they have a problem, by that time exercise alone is not going to cut it. At that time a gallbladder flush may provide some relief and once the symptoms abate an aggressive cardiovascular exercise program can serve to permanently improve the gallbladder.

Times Daily March 23, 2004

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