Your gallbladder, the pear-shaped organ on the right side of your abdomen, is often referred to as an “unnecessary” organ. Gallbladder removal, called a cholecystectomy, is usually performed to alleviate pain from gallstones, which can become more common as we age. While we can function normally without a gallbladder, it does have a purpose. The gallbladder aids in digestion of fatty foods, supporting the liver by storing and excreting bile, which helps to digest fat. The liver is still able to produce enough bile to digest fatty foods without the gallbladder, although some individuals may experience some digestive distress when consuming certain foods after surgery. Let’s explore some common questions surrounding cholecystectomy surgery and what that means for digestive health.
Is there a specific diet to follow?
Immediately following surgery, most surgeons will recommend following a low-fat diet while your body adapts to these physiological changes. After that, many people can go back to how they ate previously without any complications. There is no specific diet to follow if you’re missing your gallbladder. However, there are some individuals that will experience GI distress or more frequent bowel movements which can often be associated with certain foods such as a higher fat or greasy meal. If this occurs, there are some modifications that can be helpful to control symptoms.
If I have symptoms, how can they be managed?
Without the gallbladder serving as a reservoir for bile, it will be released directly into the intestines and is less concentrated. In some cases, this can have a laxative effect causing more frequent bowel movements. Symptoms can be managed with lifestyle and diet modifications and, if necessary, certain medications. The following are guidelines that can be helpful.
- Avoid high-fat, greasy foods such as fried foods. Consume small amounts of fat at a time versus a large volume, such as a big meal with fried foods. When a large volume of fatty foods is consumed, it can sit undigested and cause pain, bloating, gas, and diarrhea.
- Balance meals evenly throughout the day. Avoid having a very large dinner after consuming a minimal amount throughout the day. Some find that following a meal pattern with small, frequent meals helps to alleviate discomfort.
- Follow a general low-fat diet with adequate fiber. Read food labels carefully. A product is generally considered low-fat if it has 3 grams of fat or less per serving and is generally considered high in fiber if it has more than 3 grams of fiber per serving.
- Keep a food journal. Take note of the foods you’re eating and how you feel following consumption. This can be helpful in pinpointing certain foods or patterns that can be causing discomfort.
What medications are commonly recommended?
If symptoms do not improve with diet alterations or become severe, there are medications that can be helpful with controlling symptoms. These medications can include loperamide (Imodium) which slows digestion and is commonly used to treat diarrhea, or cholestyramine (Prevalite) that can decrease the laxative effect of bile. If there are gastroesophageal reflux symptoms occurring, antacids (like Tums or Mylanta) or proton-pump inhibitors (such as Prilosec or Prevacid) can be helpful. Some care providers will also suggest taking a multivitamin due to malabsorption of fat-soluble vitamins.
If you are having symptoms, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. A registered dietitian can help to develop an individualized plan for alleviating symptoms and supporting a healthy digestive system, gallbladder or not!
Kim Meeuwsen, RDN, CSOWM is a registered dietitian and Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management from West Michigan. Kim has over 10 years of experience providing nutrition care to both inpatients and outpatients in acute care and rehabilitation settings. Her experience is diverse, counseling families and patients with various disease states across the lifespan. Kim’s passion is promoting and teaching health optimization with food first.
If you have more questions about your diet, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions. Click here to request a direct consultation with a dietitian today!