No gall bladder - suggestions for supplements?
January 10, 2011 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Ten years after gall bladder removal surgery... I can't process fats and have difficulty with alcohol. Have any of you had luck with treatments like taking bile salts or other "gall bladder support" meds following gall bladder removal?

I had my gall bladder removed when I was 19. I am now 31 and still have trouble whenever I eat fatty foods or drink alcohol. (Trouble = stomach cramping and diarrhea for ~8-24h.) Have any of you treated these symptoms successfully? There are a number of over-the-counter supplements that purport to support gall bladder function, such as Vitaganic's Gall Bladder Health Advanced Supplement and EnzMedicines' LypoGold. Any experience with these or others like them?

I know I will never be able to eat a typical American diet (and I wouldn't want to anyway). But I would love to have a piece of pizza once in a while without getting sick.

posted by intoxicate to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Are you sure it's from the surgery?

I had MINE out ten years ago and I'm sitting here having a Miller while my supper was fried pork chops that my husband cooked. Any initial trouble I had was fleeting and temporary.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 9:02 PM on January 10, 2011

Response by poster: I'm pretty darn sure these symptoms are because I don't have a gall bladder. I have removed all of the common allergens from my diet (soy, dairy, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, corn, gluten) as well as caffeine and alcohol. The symptoms always happens after a fatty meal, and they are exactly as predicted by the medical literature on the topic.

I know many people have their gall bladders removed without consequences. But there are also many suffering similar symptoms...
posted by intoxicate at 9:25 PM on January 10, 2011

My wife had hers removed about 3 years ago, and still gets similar symptoms when she eats fatty foods/booze. Surgeons had told her that "the gall-bladder doesn't do anything anyway, so she should be able to eat and drink whatever she wants, with no ill effects", which we now know to be utter bullcrap. Her naturopath recommended milkthistle (silymarin) supplements to stimulate her liver, which takes over some of the role of the gall-bladder. They seem to do the trick, but they can be a bit expensive. I'd recommend asking around health-food stores and naturapaths for anything to help improve liver function.
posted by robotot at 9:26 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

Add me to the list of people without gall bladders suffering quietly with similar symptoms. I don't have any advice to offer, but will be watching this thread. Just wanted to let you know you are not alone.
posted by polyester.lumberjack at 9:28 PM on January 10, 2011

My SIL takes acidophilous pills before meals after her gall bladder removal and said it has hepled immensly.
posted by MsKim at 9:31 PM on January 10, 2011 [2 favorites]

I have same issues after my gb removal about 5 years ago. I had a tendency toward very mild IBS like symptoms before the surgery. Post-surgery, it's been severe and limits my activities. I would like to visit some local outdoor festivals, for example. But, to do so, I have to take an AD med, know where the bathrooms are, and limit food intake. I'm helped by the following: benefiber in various foods (IBS helper), probiotics, immodium (proactive before going out for dinner), lactaid (IBS/lactose helper), and avoiding triggers (fatty foods and large meals).

It took a long time for me to realize how badly I reacted to dairy, oddly enough. So, you might want to consider that, if you haven't already. Fatty meal could be ice cream or especially cheesy pizza.

Chicken wings are the biggest trigger for me. I haven't found a way to handle them, but they're not very healthy, so I only have them once a year.

When I did an IBS trigger isolation diet, I determined that caffeine, beef, dairy are primary triggers. Salad is a problem if eaten on empty stomach (before meal).

I asked a doctor, they poo-poo'ed my concerns and advised invasive testing. The symptoms are identical to the well known post-cholecystectomy syndrome. So, I've never followed up on their advice and it's actually an ongoing sore point with me. I have issues finding what I believe are quality doctors in my local area.
posted by ick at 9:52 PM on January 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

8 years here, had it removed in my teens and I still get the same issues.

I find that lactaid-type pills help me process dairy and excessively fatty foods with relative ease, which is funny because my doctor couldn't explain it. Acidophilius did nothing in comparison.

If you're just hankering for some cheese, I'd try that relatively cheap route first.
posted by darlingmagpie at 10:03 PM on January 10, 2011

I'd suggest trying the RPAH Failsafe Diet before adding any supplements. There are a few food chemical intolerances that tend to fly under the radar, and fatty foods are often accompanied by these other chemicals. Have you tried testing with pure vegetable oil or clarified butter?
posted by blackiron at 10:41 PM on January 10, 2011

For whatever reason, beef seems to be worst for me. Pork is usually not an issue, neither is chicken, but hamburgers trigger the worst symptoms, which is sort of unfortunate.
posted by Ghidorah at 10:48 PM on January 10, 2011

I'd see a doctor before I started supplements if I were you. I must say I agree with St Alia above - I had my gallbladder removed in 1995, and have never had much trouble. I can pretty much eat anything, although caffeinated beverages sometimes seem to annoy me. I suspect that this is more due to stomach reflux (which I also suffer from) rather than a lack of gall bladder. Fat and alcohol though - not a problem! The main function of the gallbladder is to store up bile in order to emulsify fats after a large meal. The way my surgeon explained it to me, is that once it is removed the bile simply flows straight from your liver, rather than from your gallbladder.

FWIW my wife has also had the same surgery a few years ago, and also without any ill effects.

However, judging from the above responses, it does seem that YMMV. Get thee to a doctor would be my advice.

Best of luck!
posted by humpy at 2:14 AM on January 11, 2011

My stock answer: try Apple Cider Vinegar, available in tablets. Seems silly, works wonders.

Post gall-bladder removal I was tried on (many) various meds which didn't help at all, and my weight crashed because I had so much trouble eating. Ended up trying this stuff, and simply adding one to my daily vitamins allowed me to return to a "normal" diet within a couple weeks. I went from from everyday (and particularly overnight) issues to 1-2 incidents a month, with those mostly blameable on my not taking an extra one or two after a difficult-to-digest meal. It works well enough that I've got friends/family with fully-functioning gall bladders using it with "tough" meals at this point. YMMV, but give it a try... it's not expensive and very unlikely to hurt.
posted by Pufferish at 7:31 AM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh My God! The question I was born to answer! After gall bladder removal surgery, I suffered terribly for years with this problem. I don't know why I never asked for treatment, but I finally did and was diagnosed with "dumping syndrome". My doctor immediately put me on a prescription bile salt product, and the issues completely disappeared. I have to take it every single day, but it's not expensive. It worked wonders and I can't function without it. I take cholestyramine. At least try it and see if it will work for you. It truly changed my life.
posted by raisingsand at 12:25 PM on January 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Woah, thanks raisingsand. I researched dumping syndrome, and it sounds like it matches my symptoms. I will make an appt with my doc asap...

Milkthistle and vinegar are worth a try too. Thanks all for the input!
posted by intoxicate at 7:26 PM on January 11, 2011

A little more info: I had my gallbladder removed at age 22, I just turned 54 a week ago. I had these awful symptoms for about 8 or 9 years after the surgery. I tried cutting out the trigger foods: nuts, salads, red wine. I had terrible headaches and just a strange feeling that my body chemistry was out of whack. That's the best way I can describe it. For those years, I kept thinking it was something I was eating and that I could control it, but never was able to. When I finally did go to my doctor and described my problem, it took him literally two minutes to look at me like I was crazy and tell me exactly what was wrong and how simple it was to fix. I've been on this prescription cholestrymine for about 15 years now and it's worked miracles. I still do have some minor stomach problems that fall in to the more normal spectrum, and seem to totally disappear when I stop eating sugar and flour, so maybe you should try that also. I asked my doctor last year if there had been any new developments in treatment of this, and he said no, that my medicine is still the best option. I hope every one of the Mefites here with similar issues will make an appointment asap to try this treatment. I wasted a lot of years trying to figure this out myself. Why do women do that?
posted by raisingsand at 8:16 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I tend to think of dumping syndrome as same as the PC syndrome, but a more layman's term. However, I haven't been able to get help from doctors. What type of doctor treated you, what testing was required, did you have trouble with getting treatment at all? I've often wanted the Questran or Welchol that folks speak so highly of, but I'm not sure how to obtain it. The last doctor I saw went on a lecture about having gb removed, so that was an extremely unproductive and frustrating appointment. I haven't discussed with a doctor since and that was about two years ago.

Came back to this post after this morning's frustration with my typical experience. I had a bagel with some melty cheese and since then, I've been in the bathroom. But, hey, I thought of another side effect - extremely cracked and dry winter hands from all that hand washing!

With the dumping syndrome description, I can definitely speak to the weakness, fainty feeling, dizzyness, chills, etc. It's very limiting, but typically ends almost as abruptly as it starts. And, the output from that is definitely different from typical diarrhea, in my opinion. It's more a yellow liquid. Sorry if that's tmi!
posted by ick at 9:33 AM on January 12, 2011

Best answer: This is it exactly! The doctor did ask me one question, now that I remember, and it was about the color! The doctor that treated me was just a regular GP, and I only saw him once because he closed his office due to his own health reasons. Now that I hear all this, I'm thinking I was really lucky that one time. I can tell you that my gall bladder was removed after an acute attack, but I had seen several doctors up until the attack and had constantly been told that it was stress related, they never bothered to check my gallbladder at the age of 22. I think it was related to my inability to assert myself in my younger days and demand the treatments that I needed, just as so many younger women do.

So, the advice I can give you is to go in to the appointment determined to leave with a prescription for Questron, which is the brand I take. One piece of advice, DO NOT tell your doctor you heard about it on the internet, as I don't think that will lend credence to your position. If you get pushback, you can always counter with the assertion that it at least won't hurt you to take it for a month, as far as I know there are very few side affects. My doctor will only prescribe it for one year at a time, so another great benefit is that I have to get an annual checkup just to keep getting the scrip. To me, this is great because I'm the type that wouldn't do it under normal conditions so it kind of forces me to keep on top of regular checkups. Also, I do still take the Apple Cider Vinegar for occasional constipation and it works great.

Please yall, make appointments and try this. I was miserable for years for no reason, and I'm not anymore. It breaks my heart to read your posts here and know that several of you have also been living with it for much too long, when there's a very simple solution to such a debilitating condition. For me, it really was just that easy to fix.
posted by raisingsand at 11:14 AM on January 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

One more thing, that doctor told me that about 25% of post-gallbladder surgery patients have some type of issue.
posted by raisingsand at 11:16 AM on January 12, 2011

My latest family doctor prescribed Welchol for me today, which is a pill form with similar function to raisingsand's Questran. She asked I keep her updated on effects, because there are a few alternatives (including Questran) we could try. If the medicines fail, then she said I'll need to see a GI doctor and she'd like to avoid that almost as much as me.
posted by ick at 5:27 PM on January 17, 2011

Just a quick follow-up. The Welchol I received back in January has worked wonders. Truly. The doctor told me to take up to 6 a day, but I typically only need 2 in morning and 1 sometimes in evening. The medicine was helping by the end of the first day. I've had 1 or 2 bad days since I started the medication. If I forget the medicine, the problems return within 24 hours.

It has changed my life in ways I just didn't realize were affected. I've stopped mapping restrooms. I've got a bazillion errands done, by eating beforehand and having some energy. I have more food choices, including healthier stuff like salads and spicy smaller portions. My hands aren't cracked and bleeding from all the handwashing after all the restroom visits. I'm no longer chronically dehydrated, as evidenced by first successful blood draw in 2 or 3 years. I've walked my dogs farther than a block for the first time since the gallbladder removal. I've had no panicked runs to the restroom at work. I've starting socializing again, lunch dates, dinners, movies, etc. I didn't even realize I was avoiding social stuff. I'm considering going back to college. I no longer worry about my symptoms at all!

I love this medication. I'm so thankful for intoxicate for opening the floor with this question and raisingsand for responding so well. It was just the extra push I needed to get back to a (different) doctor and try again. At the new doctor, once I started talking about it, I actually got upset. She seemed to feel bad and really aggravated with the previous doctor. She wants his name. The fear and anxiety surrounding food intake was more exhausting than I realized.
posted by ick at 6:55 PM on March 25, 2011

Response by poster: THANK YOU RAISINGSAND!!

This post has changed my life. After ten years of tests and medications without results, I went to my gastroenterologist and suggested I take cholestyramine. He said he thought that might be a good idea. That was three weeks ago, and now I feel like a normal person for the first time since my gall bladder removal in 1999. My quality of life markedly improved in a matter of days after being on the bile absorbant meds.

Since then, I have waffled back and forth between extreme gratitude for raisingsand and extreme anger at the medical establishment that dicked me around for years when such a simple solution was at hand. But better to fix the problem at age 31 than at 61, right?

The bottom line: Thank you, thank you, thank you raisingsand. Message me if you are ever in Oregon. I would love to take you out to dinner - a delicious, thank-goodness-I-am-finally-healthy dinner.
posted by intoxicate at 9:37 PM on March 26, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm so happy for you all. And thrilled that I had something to contribute, since Metafilter has been so good to me. Just pay it forward, ok?
posted by raisingsand at 12:35 PM on March 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older I knew it was too good to be true   |   Best place to buy gadgets in KL? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.