Your gallbladder is a little sac located just under your liver. When your liver produces bile, it is stored in the gallbladder. This bile helps your body to digest fats.
Normally, your gallbladder releases bile into the upper portion of the small intestine (called your duodenum) after you’ve eaten some food and the digestive process has started. If your gallbladder senses there are fats to break down, it releases even more bile.
Most foods will not trigger gallbladder flare-ups, but occasionally the organ becomes inflamed. When it does, it’s most likely due to gallstones blocking the pathway (or duct) to the liver, which leads to difficulty with fat digestion. Pain can develop when eating fatty foods because they are not exposed to adequate amounts of bile required for digestion.
If you feel pain in the right side of your abdomen, just below your liver, it’s likely your gallbladder.
Gallstones are little hardened deposits of digestive fluid. They range in size from about a grain of sand to a golf ball, and pain levels are usually influenced by the size and amount that form. For example, you could have one big one that causes pain, or a number of small ones.
However, if the stones get large enough, they may lodge themselves into the duct that leads away from the gallbladder. Gallstones can get stuck and then unstuck, causing reoccurring pain. If your gallbladder duct ever gets continuously blocked, the situation becomes very serious and you will need surgery.
Signs and Symptoms of Gallbladder Problems
- Pain on the upper right side of the abdomen
- Pain following meals
- An intolerance for fatty foods
- Chronic diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Back pain between the shoulder blades
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Fever or chills
- Unusual stools
If you have gallbladder pain, get a check-up with your doctor, first and foremost.
Foods That Aggravate Gallbladder
1. Meats High in Fat
Fatty meats are one of the foods that irritate the gallbladder. Fatty meats are probably the single, most likely culprit when it comes to foods that irritate the gallbladder. Because meats such as salami, ground beef, bacon, and sausages often contain high amounts of saturated fat, your gallbladder may be working overtime. As bile production increases, your gallbladder struggles to keep up with the processing of fats and inflammation is the result.
Add fatty meats to your list of foods that irritate the gallbladder and eat more vegetable protein instead. Choose tofu, beans, and fish.
If you have gallbladder pain, it’s important to note that meat, fish, and nuts can lead to pain because they can be high in fat. The type of fat doesn’t really matter, and even “healthy fats” can cause pain.
Try to limit your daily meat and fish intake to six ounces.
2. Fried Foods
We all love fried foods, but fried foods are foods that irritate the gallbladder.
Fried foods can wreak havoc for your gallbladder because in order to get that crispy fried layer there needs to be a healthy amount of fat. Any food that’s pan-fried or deep-fried in oil can lead to problems, so avoiding restaurant foods is a must.
Thankfully, you can take advantage of baked alternatives and control fat servings at home. Foods that should be avoided include:
- Potato chips
- French fries
- Full-fat burgers
- Chicken strips
- Anything with golden-brown crispy coating
3. Highly Acidic Foods
Foods that are acidic, such as citrus fruits, coffee and tomato sauces could cause irritation not only to your stomach, but your gallbladder too. You want to avoid these foods that irritate the gallbladder.
4. Dairy Products
Milk and everything made from milk, like cheese and ice cream, contain at least a moderate amount of fat. Some dairy products contain whole milk or cream which can up the fat content to dangerous levels if your gallbladder is already having trouble. Go easy on anything made with milk, cream or butter, since these foods irritate the gallbladder.
Many people are also lactose intolerant without even knowing it, compounding their discomfort.
5. Refined Sugars/Carbs
Refined sugars can contribute to gallbladder irritation indirectly by boosting the risk for gallstones. In addition to fatty foods, refined sugars and carbs can raise the risk of gallstones by increasing dense forms of LDL cholesterol, contributing to belly fat, and reducing overall fiber intake.
Fiber is required to remove deposits of cholesterol along the arteries, and getting enough each day—28 to 38 grams—can help reduce the likelihood of gallstones. Refined carbohydrates do not contain fiber, so a diet high in processed food is not conducive to a healthy gallbladder.
Another area in which refined sugars influence gallstones is though insulin secretion. Elevated insulin levels, which are caused by refined carbohydrates, can increase the concentration of cholesterol in the bile and lead to gallstones.
To limit this risk factor, avoid processed foods that irritate the gallbladder and focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and making a concerted effort to hit daily fiber targets.
Foods to avoid include:
- Sweets (chocolates, cakes, donuts, brownies, and candies)
- White bread
- White pasta
- Fruit juice
Eggs can lead to irritation in the gallbladder because of their cholesterol and fat content. However, this is only true when the whole egg is consumed. The fat and cholesterol are all found in the yolk, so sticking to egg whites when experiencing pain in the gallbladder is an easy fix.
There is not an abundance of fat in egg yolks, so if they don’t cause irritation, you should be okay. Experiment and see how it feels because there are a lot of valuable nutrients in egg yolks, too!
There is some controversy surrounding the effect of peppers on your gallbladder. In my opinion, if you’re not experiencing gallbladder issues, don’t worry about them—and if you are, they still might be okay.
Bell peppers, for example, are a great source of vitamin C. There is a close association between vitamin C and gallstones because the nutrient is required to synthesize bile. Without adequate vitamin C, bile is far richer in cholesterol.
That said, if spicy foods and spicy peppers typically give you heartburn, try and avoid them. Although they may not directly influence your gallbladder, the added pain is simply not worth it!
Common condiments are usually high in one of two ingredients: fat or sugar. Mayonnaise, for example, is loaded with fat. Light mayonnaise, ketchup, barbeque sauces, salad dressings, and more are loaded with sugar. All these foods can case irritation in the gallbladder and should be avoided or used in limited amounts.
Instead, try mustard or rubs and other seasonings to enhance flavor. If you can find pure sauces that don’t feature added sugars, that may work, too.
9. Hydrogenated Oils
If you’re already avoiding the above items, pay attention to the cooking methods you use. Butter, creams, and vegetable oils may also lead to problems. The key is really to moderate intake. Stick to 40 to 50 grams of fat per day, spread out over your meals, to limit flare-ups.
Avoiding foods that are high in saturated fat, and especially those with hydrogenated oil (trans-fats), is recommended.
10. Foods That Cause Allergic Reactions
You may have heard of a link between food allergens and gallbladder inflammation or disease. Some doctors have noted that certain foods appear to trigger gallbladder flare-ups in patients with gallstones. Therefore, your physician may recommend an elimination diet to identify a suspected allergen, such as gluten (wheat), lactose, or eggs.
If your gallbladder symptoms subside only to return after reintroducing the suspicious food, then it may be a good idea to avoid the irritating product over the long term.
Potential Gallbladder Issues
Several conditions can affect the gallbladder and lead to pain, discomfort, and a potential emergency. Here are some of the potential problems you may experience that would fall under the classification of “gallbladder disease”:
The gallbladder can become inflamed, which is medically known as cholecystitis. Gallstones blocking bile flow out of the gallbladder leads to a bile backlog that typically causes inflammation. The inflammation and pain can be either acute or chronic, and if it’s left too long without attention, it could lead to permanent damage.
Unfortunately, gallstones can go unnoticed for years before making an unannounced and unsuspected appearance. They can lead to some pain and inflammation.
Most gallstones are formed by cholesterol deposits found in the bile, while others are created by calcium bilirubinate. Calcium bilirubinate is a chemical produced by your body when it breaks down red blood cells and is a very rare cause of gallstones.
The common bile duct is the channel that carries bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine. Choledocholithiasis is the presence of gallstones in this passageway, but more commonly, they are developed in the gallbladder and ejected into the bile duct.
When the stone has been transferred to the bile duct from the gallbladder, it’s called a secondary stone; when it forms in the duct itself, it’s called a primary stone. Primary stones are quite rare and more likely to lead to an infection.
Acalculous Gallbladder Disease
Gallstones don’t have to be present for gallbladder diseases to arise. In these cases, pain and symptoms consistent with gallstones may appear in the absence of gallstones. Such conditions are referred to as acalculous gallbladder disease.
Common Bile Duct Infection
The common bile duct can become infected if it has been obstructed. If identified early, it can be easily treated. However, if the infection is not assessed in a timely fashion, it can spread, potentially being fatal.
Gallbladder Empyema (Abscess)
Sometimes gallstones can lead to pus developing in the gallbladder. This condition is known as abscess of the gallbladder, or empyema. The pus can lead to severe abdominal pain and can be life-threatening if not identified and treated.
In rare cases, a gallstone can travel into the intestine and block it.
If treatment is not sought for gallstones, they may cut holes in the gallbladder walls. If the tear is not identified or treated, it can lead to a massive risk for infection and potentially fatal conditions.
Polyps on the Gallbladder
Polyps are little non-cancerous growths that occur on tissue. In many cases, they will not lead to pain or require removal. Larger ones, however, may create difficulty and should be cut off.
Calcium deposits can present on the gallbladder walls and make them rigid. The condition can lead to pain and is often a precursor to gallbladder cancer.
This is a very rare condition that must be identified early. If not, it can spread throughout the body very quickly.
What Is Recommended to Avoid Pain?
If you are experiencing gallbladder pain, it’s advised to get in for a doctor’s examination. If it’s a condition you’re managing, here are some recommendations that may help:
- Foods with less than three grams of fat are considered “low fat.”
- Limit fats and oils while cooking or seasoning to maximum of three teaspoons per day.
- Use lean meats like loin cuts, eye of round, or lean game meats like bison and wild boar. Cook by broiling, boiling, or baking and avoid frying. Also, do your best to trim visible layers of fat along the edges.
- Avoid fried food and refined foods. Basically, avoid processed foods.
- Include one or two servings of food each day that are high in vitamin C. Examples include bell peppers, kiwi, oranges, broccoli, grapefruit and tomatoes.
- Eat more vegetables and fruit
Pain in the gallbladder can indicate a major problem, and sometimes it won’t be recognized until it’s too late. Make sure to visit your doctor and stay up to date with your exams to catch any problems early.
If you do have pain, you can take steps to limit flare-ups by avoiding foods that irritate the gallbladder. It should be noted, however, that these recommendations are made to aid in pain management and not cures for gallstones or gallbladder pain.
Work with your doctor to manage the condition while making smart choices to prevent painful symptoms. And if you want to reduce the risk of having gallstones, try changing your diet!
Also Read :
- 10 Tips to Prevent a Painful Gallbladder Attack
- Gallbladder Sludge: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Biliary Sludge
- Gallbladder Diet: Foods to Eat and Avoid
- Flush Your Gallbladder Naturally
- Ruptured Gallbladder: What Causes It and How to Diagnose and Treat Perforated Gallbladder
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