As if women with PCOS don’t have enough on their plates to deal with already, add another to the list- gallbladder dysfunction and gallstones!
Yes, it’s true… many women with PCOS also have problems with the workings of their gallbladders. But please, don’t despair. There are many options to help your gallbladders function better, and when they work better, all of you will work and feel better!
Let’s begin with some gallbladder basics. Do you even know why you have one? And why is it even important, as many women have their gallbladders removed and no one seems to bat an eye! There reality is that, like all organs we were are born with, the gallbladder serves a very important purpose. Should yours have been removed already or truly must be removed in the future, please don’t think that it doesn’t matter and then make no accommodations for its loss.
What is a gall bladder and why do you have one?
The gallbladder is a very important part of digestion … don’t part with it lightly or readily. The gallbladder is a storage vehicle. It holds cholesterol and bile, secreted by the liver. Bile is truly a fascinating creature. It, like many things in the human body, is an amazing multitasker! Bile is vile! Well… just sort of. Bile is the toxic waste material created by the liver in the process of detoxification, also known as biotransformation, of your body’s own old hormones and neurotransmitters, and of environmental toxins and pharmaceuticals. It really is toxic waste!! But it’s amazing stuff. It is also an emulsifier.
When you eat fat, you need to break it down into its little component pieces and then digest and absorb it. Please don’t think fat is evil. Actually, it is essential to life, which is why fats are called essential fatty acids. You truly cannot live without fats in your diet. You need a proper balance of the different types of fats, and many women are deficient in the type called Omega 3, which is primarily obtained from fish and somewhat from plants like flax seeds and walnuts. Many of you have probably heard that olive oil and coconut oil are healthful fats. So is the fat in the yolk of organic eggs. We will talk more about fat another time…for now, take me at my word that fat is essential to life and you need bile to help you digest it.
Back to bile… it is a natural emulsifier. That means it can take a fat and turn it into being water soluble, so it can mix with water! This is truly like a miracle. You probably know that if you have greasy hands and simply run them under the water faucet, the hands stay oily. If, however, you rub in soap, the grease will be able to be washed off your hands without a problem! Soap is an emulsifier-it makes fat able to be washed off with water.
Without bile, you simply can’t digest fats, and with the fats come the fat soluble vitamins… like Vitamin E, A, K, and D! These vitamins are essential to proper functioning! If you don’t have a gallbladder, or the one you have doesn’t work well, you will naturally have difficulty with your digestion of fats and of fat soluble vitamins!! If that’s the case, you need to actually take bile at the beginning of each meal. This type of bile comes from an ox! It’s the closest we have to human bile, and it works well. You also need to take digestive enzymes as well because that nearly always becomes a problem when the gallbladder is gone or malfunctioning. The gallbladder triggers the pancreas to release it digestive enzymes. It is very important that you do this, or you’re quite simply not going to digest your food properly! Women with PCOS have enough issues…malnutrition shouldn’t be one of them!
What goes wrong?
So why do women with PCOS have problems so often with their gallbladders? It’s related to gastrointestinal problems in general, and women with PCOS are renowned for what we term “gut problems.” Many have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with constipation or diarrhea and general gut issues, acid reflux (GERD), dysbiosis (the wrong gut bacteria), and sometimes even more serious inflammatory bowel disease. There are quite a few theories as to why PCOS women how so many gastrointestinal problems, but it is known for sure that many have what is called “leaky gut” and small intestinal bowel overgrowth, along with many food allergies, sensitivities, and autoimmune states as well. Because of these issues, the proper signals to the gallbladder don’t occur and it becomes sluggish, can actually get sludge in it, and it can even progress to gallstones. Just because you have sludge or stones does not mean the gallbladder must go! Only if you’ve had recurrent pain, pancreatitis, or infection, is it then absolutely necessary to have it removed, but remember you’ll absolutely need a bile and digestive enzyme supplement.
What can you do?
Some PCOS women get gallstones or sludge because she goes on a low fat diet for a long time. I don’t recommend a woman go on such a diet!! That is not the way to get healthy! You already know that fat is essential to life!!
I believe strongly that all women with PCOS should have their GI tracts checked out for overgrowth of bad bacteria, small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO), issues with low levels of stomach acid and digestive enzymes, constipation or diarrhea, stomachaches, and the like. Please…do not go on a low fat diet…nor should you go on a prolonged very low calorie diet…as that too will make you more prone to gallstones.
If you do have gallstones and you haven’t had severe pain, infection or pancreatitis, get another opinion before having your gallbladder removed. Often women can live a long and normal life with gallstones. With gallstones, you’ll want to do a liver detox regularly, eat a healthy amount of good fats, work on stress as that is so unhealthy for the gut, and you can even consider medication to try to dissolve your gallstones if you meet the criteria. In general though, my first choice, as always, is to try to work with you simply with a lifestyle approach.
The key take-home points are that we should 1) try hard to maintain good gallbladder health by eating healthy fats, 2) getting the GI tract checked out by a good doctor who understands what is needed for PCOS women, and 3) if you have gallbladder issues already or have had yours removed, get on bile and digestive enzymes right away!
Remember, stay positive and focused on doing the right things to maintain your health, at least most of the time!!!
Good luck and give your gallbladder a virtual hug today!
Here are some supplements that Dr. Gersh recommends for gallbladder support. All from Pure Encaspulations.
1. Digestion GB
1-2 with each meal
Contains gall bladder digestive enzymes, bike salts, taurine, and herbal extracts to promote healthy gall bladder function and fat utilization.
2. Digestive Enzymes Ultra with Betaine HCl
This is for those women who have additional issues with digestion, and can use the addition of stronger digestive enzymes and some stomach acid to facilitate digestion. I normally recommend that women be seen by a physician such as I to embark on these sorts of supplements, as I think Gut Healing should involve healthcare professionals.
3. Heartburn Essentials or DGL Plus
These are great products for those who have heartburn and indigestion. Take one at the start of meals and for symptoms should they occur.
4. GI Fortify
Great product to support a healthy GI environment, bowel regularity, colon cell function, and detoxification and support production of short chain fatty acids
I prefer the powder but the capsules are great if powder not preferred.
For a great gallbladder cholegogue, try Vitanica’s Bitters Extra-it helps stimulate the gallbladder to contract
Dr. Felice Gersh is one of only a small number of fellowship trained integrative gynecologists in the nation. She blends the best of the world of natural and holistic medicine with state of the art functional and allopathic medical treatment. Because of her extensive knowledge of the complex inter-relationships of the body’s organs, she recognizes the need to investigate all aspects of health, always working to re-establish a healthy gastrointestinal tract, adequate sleep,
good mood, great nutrition, high energy, and balanced hormones.
Expert in all areas of women’s health, and particularly of gynecological and reproductive matters, Dr. Gersh deals in an integrative manner with such uniquely female issues as polycystic ovary disease (PCOS).
She is currently writing a book on Polycystic Ovary Syndrome and writing a chapter on the same topic for a medical textbook.
You may contact Dr. Gersh at:
Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, 4968 Booth Circle, Suite 101, Irvine, California 92604