Insulin resistance raises the risk of gallbladder problems

By naturopath Margaret Jasinska

Not many people realise there is a link between insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) and gallbladder problems. Gallstones develop for a reason. Many people think family history and bad luck determine who develops a gallbladder problem and who doesn’t. The good news is, there is so much you can do to improve the health of your gallbladder, even if you already have stones.

Women are more likely to develop gallstones than men, mostly because of the effect of the female hormone oestrogen. Gallstones are more likely to occur in Western European, Hispanic and Native American people compared with Eastern European, Japanese and African American people. Being overweight increases the risk of getting gallstones by approximately 80 percent. Fat around the torso is a bigger risk factor than fat on the thighs and buttocks. High doses of synthetic hormones in oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy increase the risk of gallstones because oestrogen increases the amount of cholesterol secreted into bile. This makes the bile thicker and more likely to form stones. For this same reason, gallbladder problems sometimes first manifest during pregnancy.

These factors increase your risk of gallbladder disease

  • Insulin resistance (pre-diabetes or metabolic syndrome). This is because the liver manufactures excess fat in response to carbohydrate consumption. The fat enters the gallbladder, making the bile excessively thick and prone to stone formation. There is an article about reversing insulin resistance here.
  • Type 2 diabetes, or poorly controlled type 1 diabetes.
  • Obesity, especially around the torso.
  • Women who have had several children are at highest risk compared to women who had no children.
  • Underactive thyroid gland. This condition usually causes elevated cholesterol, a reduced metabolic rate and slowed digestion. People with an underactive thyroid are also more likely to suffer with sluggish bile flow and delayed emptying of the gallbladder.
  • Food intolerance. Food sensitivities impair healthy digestion and can reduce the ability of the gallbladder to contract and empty fully. Stasis of bile within the gallbladder promotes the formation of sludge and the eventual formation of gallstones.
  • Insufficient stomach acid (hypochlorhydria). Many people take antacid medication that reduces stomach acid. Common brands include Nexium, Somac and Zantac.
  • Coeliac disease. There is a strong association between this condition and gallbladder disease, especially in younger people who are not overweight. Coeliac disease can impair proper gallbladder contractions.
  • High alcohol intake.
  • Binge eating or eating excessively large meals. Eating more food than your digestive organs can handle is a risk factor for developing gallstones and a major risk factor for getting a gallbladder attack and emergency trip to the hospital if you already have gallstones.
  • The antibiotic ceftriaxone.
  • Diets high in sugar or other carbohydrate rich foods.
  • Constipation.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis).
  • Infection in the stomach with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori raises the risk of cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder). The presence of this bacteria also seems to be associated with cancer of the gallbladder or biliary tract. Helicobacter pylori is a very common bacterial infection that raises the risk of stomach ulcers and stomach cancer. It is important not to have an overgrowth of this bacteria in your digestive system because it creates chronic inflammation, which can eventually lead to serious disease.
  • Rapid weight loss. If you lose weight extremely quickly, where does the fat go? Your hard working liver will break it down because it is the main fat burning organ in your body. Then the fat will be secreted into your gallbladder as a component of bile. Bile can then become super saturated with fat and raise the risk of stones forming. Alternatively stones that were already in your gallbladder can grow bigger.
  • Very low fat diets. Every time you eat fat, hormonal signals are sent to your gallbladder prompting it to contract and empty its contents into your small intestine. If you don’t eat enough fat, old bile will stay inside your gallbladder too long and that raises the risk of stones. It is important to eat adequate healthy, unprocessed fat in order to keep your bile moving and keep your gallbladder clean.
  • High cholesterol and high triglycerides in the blood. This is because they make the bile thicker.
  • Cholesterol lowering drugs raise the risk of gallstones; particularly statins and clofibrate.
  • Fatty liver, or having a sluggish, overworked liver significantly raises the risk of developing gallstones. In fact they are almost inevitable.
    People with irritable bowel syndrome, indigestion, bloating, heartburn, reflux, flatulence or burping are more prone to developing gallbladder disease.

Bile can be taken in supplement form. This helps to make sludgy bile thinner, and can help to break down gallstones in time. It can also help reduce symptoms of indigestion and enhance absorption of fat soluble nutrients.

For more information, see the book, “Save Your Gallbladder Naturally and what to do it you’ve already lost it”.

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