Love your liver (and its humble sidekick the gallbladder…)
Today I’m talking a bit about the liver, and his little sidekick the humble gallbladder. I’m quite well acquainted with my own gallbladder (hello down there, tucked under the lobe of the liver) as I’ve learned that I need to take care of it for it to take care of me.
Two new clients came along recently with liver and gallbladder issues. Both had been diagnosed with NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), and one had had an emergency gallbladder removal due to gallstones blocking her bile duct (ouchy, very painful – it’s very common).
I think everyone would admit to knowing how important the liver is – you only get one, it performs over 500 jobs in our bodies day in, day out. Most people know that cutting back on the booze is going to give the liver less work to do, but many are unaware of what they can do beyond that.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is extremely common. The NHS in Scotland says “it's estimated that up to 1 in every 3 people in the UK has early stages of NAFLD”[i]. In England in the financial year ending 2021, 2,085 people were admitted to hospital due to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease[ii].
In NAFLD the liver cells literally start to turn into fat cells. It’s a condition that often (though not always) goes hand in hand with insulin resistance, or full-blown type 2 diabetes. And, get this, in most cases it’s not about how much fat you’re eating, it’s about the SUGAR (and refined carbohydrate, which, to be honest, is one step away from sugar anyway).
There is currently no medication for NAFLD. Both my clients had come away from their diagnoses with a vague “ah, well, eat healthily, exercise, that’s about all you can do” from their doctors. Really? I beg to differ…..
One of the most effective ways to address NAFLD is a ketogenic diet – see this study by the National Institutes of Health Library in the States[iii]. A ketogenic diet fuels your body mainly on FAT rather than carbohydrate. What???? I hear you cry? But it’s a FATTY liver…. Yes, but in many ways fat burns “cleaner” than carbs, you don’t get all that rollercoaster spiking and crashing of blood sugar, and associated inflammation. (And what is fatty liver in French? It’s foie gras. What do they force feed the poor geese who are destined to become it? Normally, corn, in huge quantities. Poor things).
Signs to watch out for in NAFLD are a pain up under the ribs on the right-hand side, or in the back part of the ribs / shoulder blade again on the right; also fatigue and weakness, and sudden unexplained weight loss. But if you have been diagnosed with it, please don’t just jump blindly into a new regime, go book yourself a session with a nutritional therapist who will look at ALL of you, not just your liver, and get you on a path back to health.
Other things to note – there is a genetic SNiP (or single nucleotide polymorphism, if you want the geeky bit) associated with NAFLD. A SNiP is just a “glitch” in your genetic code – we all have them, they tend to relate to which enzymes are switched on or off. It’s called PEMT (Phosphatidylethanolamine N-Methyltransferase, again for the geeks out there). You can go and read all about your PEMT gene and associated symptoms of having it “switched off” in Dr Ben Lynch’s ground-breaking book “Dirty Genes”.
Well done for reading this far – stay with me! Now for a few words about the sidekick, the
gallbladder. So, bile is produced in the liver (from the base material cholesterol…are you on statins? Are they impeding your bile production??) along with bile salts, and biproducts of the liver’s other functions (one of the jobs of bile is to get by-products out of the body). This bile is stored and concentrated in the gallbladder, ready for use when we eat a meal containing fat, at which point you want a nice big swoosh of bile to hit the small intestine to break down the fat, for further digestion and assimilation.
But bile can become “sludgy” instead of free-flowing, and we’ve all heard of gallstones…my mum had her gallbladder removed at a young age and I know I need to keep half an eye on mine. How? If I’m not taking care of it, after a fatty meal, I get incessant burping and an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in my upper abdomen. Other symptoms might be clay coloured or floating stools, pain in the area of the gallbladder (both my clients reported pain in their upper back), nausea and vomiting.
For some people, the sludge becomes gallstones, which come loose, block ducts and cause enormous pain (people often report thinking they’re having a heart attack). If it gets to this stage the most usual solution is to cut out the gallbladder. You can of course survive without a gallbladder – bile will trickle rather than come in a big healthy gush – but you may experience digestive discomfort. Also don’t forget the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K – these need fat to be absorbed properly. (An aside – too much vitamin D in supplement form, which has been a bit of a thing with Covid, can actually lead to gallstones. One of vitamin D’s jobs is calcium metabolism – in very simple terms, metabolise too much calcium, the body doesn’t know what to do with it, it starts depositing the calcium where it shouldn’t be e.g. kidney stones, bone spurs, ganglion cysts, arteries….and gallstones).
So what can you do? For me personally, there is a certain combination of tissue salts (little mineral marvels which are easily absorbed by the body) which works wonders (that's them, in the pic). Eating bitter foods, and using Swedish bitters, is also good. If you recognise yourself here, then please do reach out and book a discovery call as your gallbladder solution might be different from someone else’s.
A final word. The liver and gallbladder are traditionally thought of as the organs of anger. For me, part of the “package” in resolving my gallbladder “stuff” is recognising and finding ways to deal with anger (and boy, there’s plenty out there at the moment to make anyone angry!). A good practitioner will not only look at the physical stuff, the diet, lifestyle and supplements, but will slip in a question there somewhere about any unresolved emotion. Just a thought.
[i] https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-nafld [ii] https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/liver-disease-profiles-january-2022-update/liver-disease-profiles-january-2022-update [iii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7132133/