It’s not uncommon for people to need to have their gallbladder removed at some point. This is partly because it’s possible to live a long, full life without a gallbladder.
Gallbladder removal is called cholecystectomy. You can have your gallbladder removed for several reasons, including:
While you can survive without a gallbladder, you’ll likely need to make some adjustments to your lifestyle and eating habits to avoid any problems. With these changes, you probably won’t notice any major differences in your day-to-day life after having your gallbladder removed.
To live well without a gallbladder, it’s important to start by understanding what the gallbladder does so you know what your body’s missing.
The gallbladder is a tiny digestive organ that sits in your abdomen, just behind the liver. It’s connected to your liver through the common bile duct. This duct transports bile from the liver through the hepatic ducts, into the gallbladder, and into the duodenum — the first part of your small intestine.
The gallbladder serves as a storage facility for bile, which is a substance that helps to helps your body break down foods and digest fat. When you eat, your gallbladder releases some bile into the small intestine, where it gets to work on breaking down fats.
Without a gallbladder, there’s no place for bile to collect. Instead, your liver releases bile straight into the small intestine. This allows you to still digest most foods. However, large amounts of fatty, greasy, or high-fiber food become harder to digest. This can result in gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
Making a few basic dietary changes will help your body adjust to changes in the way bile is released.
Limit your fat intake
Try to avoid foods that contain more than 3 grams of fat in a single serving. Pay special attention to the labels on processed meats, dairy products, sauces, and toppings, which sometimes contain more fat than you’d think they would.
Other foods to approach with moderation include:
- fried foods
- full-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese
- skin-on poultry
- foods that contain a lot of vegetables, peanut, canola, or olive oil
If you already eat a lot of these foods, start out by trying to find low- or non-fat versions of these foods. As a rule of thumb, fat should only make up about 30 percent of your diet. If you consume roughly 2,000 calories per day, aim for under about 60–65 grams of fat.
Eat regular, small portions throughout the day
Try not to eat most your food over the course of three large meals. This can overwhelm your digestive tract because your liver doesn’t produce enough bile to effectively digest large amounts of food.
Instead, aim for about six meals containing 300–400 calories at a time. Try to include lean meats, such as fish or skinless chicken, or other non-processed protein sources. You can also load up on fruits and vegetables.
Limit your fiber intake
Eating high-fiber foods right after having your gallbladder removed can make any bloating, abdominal pain, and diarrhea you’re experiencing worse.
Following the procedure, try to limit your intake of the following high-fiber foods:
- nuts, such as peanuts and almonds
- high-fiber breads, such as whole-grain or whole-wheat
- high-fiber cereals, such as bran
You don’t need to completely cut these foods out of your diet. Just start with smaller amounts, and gradually increase your portions as you figure out what your body can handle.
Limit your caffeine
Caffeine from things like tea, coffee, or soft drinks can also increase gas, abdominal pain, and bloating after having your gallbladder removed. This is because caffeine increases stomach acid production, which can make your stomach empty out faster than usual. Without enough concentrated bile to help break down stomach contents headed into the intestine, the typical symptoms of gallbladder removal can be aggravated.
As with your fiber intake, you just need to limit your caffeine consumption while you recover from the procedure. You can gradually start adding more to your diet as your body adjusts.
Try keeping a food journal or recording your diet in an app. This can help you modify your eating and drinking habits more mindfully. It may also limit the pain and discomfort of potential side effects.
As you eat, pay close attention to how your body reacts to specific foods, especially those high in fats, spices, or acids, and record your body’s responses. List the foods you eat and how much of each food you eat at a time.
Breaking your diet down to this level may help you notice patterns in your symptoms, which can help you identify specific foods to avoid, limit, or have more of. This can make the recovery process and your overall adjustment easier and more comfortable.
Whether you have a gallbladder doesn’t have any impact on your life expectance. In fact, some of the dietary changes you’ll need to make might actually increase your life expectancy. Eating smaller amounts of fats, oils, dairy products, and processed foods usually leads to weight loss. Maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers.
Eating fewer calories per day can also help you live longer by making your body digest food and use energy more efficiently.
You can definitely live without a gallbladder. This also shouldn’t have any effect on your life expectance. If anything, the dietary changes you’ll need to make may even help you live a longer, healthier life.