Photo: Mackenzie Stroh
Q: I've had my gallbladder removed. I've been feeling bloated and think I might be gaining weight as a result. Should I be changing my diet or taking supplements to help my body compensate?
— Veronica Reynolds, Arvada, Colorado
A: Removal of the gallbladder, usually because of gallstones, is among the most common surgical procedures in the United States: More than 500,000 such procedures are performed annually.
Those numbers might make a person believe she could get by quite nicely without a gallbladder, but the organ does in fact serve an important purpose in digestion. It stores and releases bile, a substance that helps the body process fat.
When the gallbladder is removed, bile still flows from the liver (where it originates) into the small intestine. However, the release is more haphazard and can result in discomfort after a meal—particularly one that is high in fat.
My first recommendation is to consider eating smaller meals evenly spaced throughout the day and to reduce your intake of dietary fat. You may find these minor changes are all you need.
If that doesn't work, try slowly increasing your intake of fiber—from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, and lentils—which helps speed the movement of food through your system. More efficient digestion can also help reduce bloating.
Another useful practice is to take a daily probiotic supplement, such as Culturelle. Research suggests that the friendly bacteria in these supplements can help break down food, increasing the efficiency of digestion.
A few gradual adjustments should ensure that you and food get along just fine, even without your gallbladder there to referee.