A common concern after gallbladder surgery is frequent indigestion, gas, and bloating. If you experience these symptoms, you know the discomfort they bring. You may not have found a lot of help from your doctor but understanding the cause of these issues may help find solutions. One possible solution is taking bile salts. But do they really help?
Those Awful Symptoms
Many people think that all their digestive problems will be over after their gallbladder is removed. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. There are several reasons for this. One is the fact that gallbladder difficulties are often related to diet and obesity. Unless these factors change, a person may continue to have digestive issues, even without their gallbladder.
Another issue is how the body responds to the removal of the gallbladder. When the gallbladder is intact and functioning properly, it releases bile into the intestines to aid in the digestion of fats. The timing of this release is coordinated with the digestive process.
After the gallbladder is removed, bile flows in small, but steady amounts into the intestine. This may cause diarrhea in some patients, due to bile not being mixed with sufficient food. However, another, more common side effect can occur: gas, indigestion, and bloating. The reason for this is because there is not sufficient bile available to mix with the stomach contents when a large or high-fat meal is consumed. The result is improperly digested fats, which results in digestive upset.
Help – I need it!
People often wonder if it is possible to find relief from these difficult symptoms. Thankfully, the answer is usually yes. Sometimes these issues can be caused by other disorders such as peptic ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and pancreatitis. But many times they are easier to treat. Here are a few suggestions:
- Eat a low-fat diet – reducing the amount of fat your body has to digest is an easy to understand solution. The more fats you consume, the harder your body has to work to digest them. Because you do not have a gallbladder to dump larger amounts of bile, you can help your body by reducing fat intake.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals – eating smaller meals means that your digestive tract has less content to deal with at a time. This means that the smaller, but constant amounts of bile can be mixed with the food better.
- Use probiotics – certain studies show that adding probiotics to the diet helps with digestive issues such as gas and indigestion. Your body normally maintains around 400 different strains of these “good bacteria” in the intestine, but they can be killed off by the use of antibiotics. Eating yogurt with live cultures or taking probiotic supplement may be a great help for your symptoms.
- Bile Salts – because the bile normally contains bile salts, these substances have been found to help break down fats. When the amount of bile salts is reduced due to gallbladder removal, supplementing the diet with bile salts can be helpful. Many suffers have found that cholacol (a mix of ox bile salts and collinsonia root, a diuretic) works better for them. Taken with meals, bile salts assist the absorption of the fats.
More on Bile Salts
Bile salts occur naturally in the body and are produced by the liver as part of bile. They are intended to help the digestion of fats in the body, and aid in absorbing fat soluble vitamins such as vitamins E, A, D, and K.
If these fat soluble vitamins and fatty acids are not absorbed, they are passed onto the colon, where they can contribute to diarrhea.
Most people produce adequate amounts of bile salts, but when the gallbladder is removed, fewer bile salts are available when food is digested. This can lead to indigestion, gas, and even deficiency of fat soluble vitamins. For these people, supplementing the diet with bile salts may improve their quality of life.
Other functions of bile salts include:
- Breaking down and eliminating toxins – the liver is the body’s primary toxin filter and sends most of the filtered toxins into the bile to be eliminated. In addition, bile continues to break down the walls of viruses and other substances in the digestive tract. When the body fails to properly break down these toxins they can cause skin problems, such as those found in psoriasis. Some research reveals successful treatment of psoriasis with bile salts. This demonstrates the powerful effects these substances can have on the body.
- Re absorption – bile salts are reabsorbed into the body for re-use in the liver. This ensures continual supply for optimal digestion.
The Good and Bad of Bile Salt Supplements
As with any supplement, it is important to evaluate the benefits and any negative effects of bile salts. Rather than quickly taking something and wondering about the results later, an informed decision will help prepare a person to observe how the substance effects their body.
- The Good – many people find relief from their digestive discomfort, indigestion, gas, and bloat while taking bile salts. In addition, some people have found other, seemingly unrelated symptoms clear up, including skin conditions, and toxicity of the blood.
- The Bad – a reported side effect of taking bile salts is more frequent diarrhea. This would be similar to the malabsorption of bile salts found in some people with conditions like Crohn’s and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. While diarrhea is never pleasant, steps can be taken to minimize it, allowing patients to find digestive relief without unpleasant side effects.
Since the main drawback to bile salt supplementation is diarrhea, it may be helpful to address how this can be managed. Two simple solutions have been found:
- Fiber – increased fiber intake bulks up the stool by absorbing excess water. Bile salts produce watery stools, so fiber is often an adequate solution. Fiber can be taken as a supplement, or may be acquired in the diet by eating high-fiber foods such as whole grains and vegetables.
- Calcium Carbonate – a common ingredient in medications for diarrhea, calcium carbonate has proven success in slowing diarrhea. It can be found in supplement form, and may help to reduce the diarrhea associated with bile salt supplementation.
If you are considering taking bile salts, it is recommended that you start slowly and add more as needed. Monitor your symptoms and only take as much as is needed to regulate digestion and provide relief. Too much can cause painful diarrhea.