The Ketogenic Diet without a Gallbladder
Since the 1920s, ketogenic diets have been used as a therapeutic method to treat obesity, epilepsy, diabetes, neurological disorders, cancer and many other pathological diseases (1). This very low carbohydrate diet that combines moderate protein consumption with high amounts of quality fats puts the body into a state of fat or ketone adaptation.
Following a ketogenic diet without a gallbladder can pose complications because of the body’s inability to adequately secrete bile to break down fatty meals. Fortunately, these 7 strategies will answer your concerns for maintaining ketosis without a gallbladder.
What Is Ketosis?
When net carbohydrate consumption remains less than 50 g/day (in some cases under 30g/day), insulin concentration reduces and the body begins using stored fat for energy via lipogenesis (1). Following 3 to 4 days of this dietary carbohydrate restriction, the central nervous system (CNS) has an inadequate supply of glucose and must seek other fuel.
The alternate energy source the CNS seeks along with tissues and organs is ketone bodies. These ketone bodies are produced at high concentrations in the liver during the metabolic state of ketogenesis which is also attainable during periods of prolonged fasting. The 3 major ketone bodies include acetate, acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate.
Ketosis results in numerous health promoting benefits including: (1)
- Decreased fatty acid production
- Increased metabolism of fats and lipids
- Higher metabolic rate to use ketone bodies
- Improved mitochondrial function
- Modified satiety hormones including ghrelin and leptin
- Regulates blood lipid levels including triglycerides and cholesterol
- Reduced insulin signaling
- Improved glycemic control
- Reduced whole body inflammatory levels
Is a Ketogenic Diet Right for You?
Reverse Neurological Dysfunction: Many individuals can benefit from ketosis to improve insulin sensitivity, combat chronic inflammation, reduce the risk of developing chronic disease, prevent muscle fatigue and encourage healthy weight. Ketosis is shown to favor the reversal of neurological decline in patients suffering from neurological disorders affecting sleep habits, causing headaches and those showing symptoms of Alzheimer and Parkinson’s disease as well as multiple sclerosis and autism (7).
Combat Cancer: A diet with normal or high levels of glucose fuels the development of cancer cells. Diminishing your carbohydrate intake will deprive cancer cells of their primary energy source. The state of ketosis has been shown to weaken cancer cells and make them more susceptable to various cancer treatments and the bodies immune attack. (2).
Contraindication: Due to associated health risks, it may not be appropriate for the following people to enter and maintain a state of ketosis in the body:
- High performance athletes
- Children and teenagers
- Women who are pregnant, nursing or experience irregular menstrual cycles
- Some individuals with adrenal fatigue or poor thyroid function
Gallbladder and Liver Function as One Unit
If you are still wondering if ketosis is possible, safe and healthy for someone without a gallbladder, the answer is yes. The gallbladder is an organ that aids in the digestion of fatty foods by storing up bile reserves. Bile is generated in the liver and carried to the gallbladder via the bile ducts. The gallbladder will contract to force bile out when it receives ques that fats have been eaten.
Bile serves four primary functions in digestion:
- Breakdown fatty acids
- Stabilize blood sugar
- Inhibit bacterial overgrowth
- Remove toxic waste and cholesterol from the liver for excretion from the body.
If your gallbladder has been removed, the liver still produces bile. However, because bile cannot be stored for efficient fat digestion, it slowly seeps into the intestines. This results in its inadequacy to properly digest a meal with a high amount of fat in it.
Gallbladder and Liver Issues:
Addressing the health of both the liver and gallbladder is vital to improving health. When the bile ducts of the liver harden, they can form a crystallized structure called gallstones that obstruct bile flow and secretion. Gallstones are created from the combination of excessive cholesterol and/or bilirubin.
The liver is responsible for the production of bilirubin. Therefore, the presence of gallstones and gallbladder dysfunction indicates an underlying liver problem. (8)
If fats are not properly digested, someone that has had their gallbladder removed or has a gallbladder disease will experience malabsorption of valuable nutrients. Essential fatty acids like omega-3 and omega-6 fats as well as vitamins that require fat for absorption (vitamins A, D, E, and K) can become deficient. This nutrient loss causes systemic issues including dry skin, thinning hair and even autoimmune symptoms.
Unfortunately, symptoms of gallbladder and liver issues do not disappear with the removal of the gallbladder. Individuals can suffer from digestive distress including nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, gas and bloating, as well as symptoms distant from the abdominal region such as itchy skin, pain between the shoulder blades, headaches and migraines, fibromyalgia and hormonal imbalances. (14)
Following a Ketogenic Diet
A ketogenic diet consists of about 75% healthy fats, 20% proteins and 5% carbohydrates. In general, you will want to consume about 20 to 35 grams of protein at each meal depending on your body size and intensity of exercise. Individuals with a sedentary lifestyle only require 10-15% of calories from protein whereas someone with high physical demands requires 20-25% calories from protein.
Although a ketogenic diet will have your body producing ketones within a few days, training your body to stay in a state of ketosis takes about 2 or 3 weeks (6). The following list provides staple foods which promote ketosis.
Fats: Coconut oil, full fat coconut milk, raw nuts and seeds especially pumpkin seeds, chia and flaxseeds, olive oil, avocados, MCT oil, pastured butter, hemp powder, and organ meats such as grass-fed beef and pasture-raised chicken liver.
Proteins: Grass-fed beef, wild game, organic free range poultry, organic and grass-fed raw dairy and fermented dairy.
Carbohydrates: Brussel sprouts, kale, broccoli, asparagus, collard greens, spinach, celery, cauliflower, cabbage, lemons, limes and other non-starchy veggies.
7 Key Strategies:
If you have had liver or gallbladder problems in the past or no longer have your gallbladder than be sure to follow the strategies below. Many people without a gallbladder are able to thrive when they successfully apply these tips, so give them a shot and see how you respond.
If you feel extremely tired and irritable for more than a few days than try adding back more healthy carbs with your evening meals. People with liver or gallbladder issues typically do very well with beets, carrots, green apples, squash and berries. These would be better sources of carbohydrates than grains and sugar sweeteners.
1.) Bile Healthy Foods:
Ginger is a carminative herb and one of the best foods for producing stomach acid and bile (15). Adding apple cider vinegar to your meals and beverages can help thin bile for efficient flow from the liver. Artichokes stimulate bile production in the liver and increase its flow into the intestines (16).
Add plenty of sour foods into your diet like lemons and limes to improve your tolerance of fats. These citrus fruits cleanse the liver and thin bile for improved digestion and nutrient absorption. Fermented vegetables and drinks such as a low-carb coconut water kefir are excellent for improving digestive juice production.
Fibrous vegetables and fermented foods and beverages are excellent to stimulate a healthy digestive system and prevent the overgrowth of intestinal bacteria that can lead to digestive disturbances (18). Celery and cucumbers are great low carb foods that naturally contain sodium, vitamins B and C and trace minerals for liver health.
Celery as well as asparagus are good foods for detoxifying the liver and improving bile flow. Add radishes to your meals to support the metabolism of fats from increased bile production (17).
2.) Ginger and Dandelion Tea:
Both ginger and dandelion are considered bitter herbs that increase bile production and boost bile flow for a healthy liver.
Ginger has well known carminative properties that can help relieve symptoms of indigestion and prevent nausea and vomiting. Ginger stimulates the secretion of gastric juices like hydrochloric (HCL) acid and bile. It has also been shown to inhibit inflammation of liver tissue aiding in the removal of toxins (10). Here is my favorite ginger tea and a great green tea and ginger tea combination here.
Traditional Medicinals offers an Organic Dandelion Leaf and Root Tea that is excellent in supporting healthy digestion and enhancing detoxification. Dandelion leaf or greens is also a prebiotic food source that supports a healthy gut microflora and keeps pathogenic bacteria at bay (5).
3.) Good Hydration:
Without plenty of water available to the liver, bile production decreases and the body creates a thick, sluggish bile flow. Aim to drink 32 ounces of purified water within the first hour of waking up and between 32 and 48 ounces of water by noon.
Drinking plenty of purified water is essential to improving gut motility and preventing constipation while maintaining ketosis. It is also critical for healthy liver function and bile release.
4.) Support Stomach Acid Levels:
Optimal stomach acid levels are necessary for stimulating bile secretion from the liver and destroying pathogenic microbes that can overpopulate the intestines causing inflammation and indigestion. The combination of optimal stomach acid and bile flow is critical to the detoxification process of the liver and digestive tract so that you feel healthy and energized while maintaining ketosis without a gallbladder.
Producing adequate stomach acid will support your body’s ability to metabolize fats, absorb essential nutrients, and prevent feelings of discomfort and digestive problems.
Support stomach acid levels by avoiding water intake within a 30 minute window before and after meals and relaxing to enjoy your meal. Higher levels of stress block the secretion of stomach acid, so it is very important to relax the body before meals. You may also consider a hydrochloric acid supplement in the form of betaine HCL tablets taken during or immediately following a meal.
5.) Use Digestive Enzymes and Ox Bile:
Supplementing your diet with digestive enzymes and ox bile can significantly support fat metabolism without a gallbladder.
Digestive Enzymes: Digestive enzymes contain natural bile salts, betaine HCL, herbs and a complex of enzymes that support the function of other digestive organs like the pancreas. Finding a good quality digestive enzyme is an effective way to produce adequate stomach acid, inhibit inflammation of the intestines and aid in fat metabolism and the assimilation of fat soluble vitamins (9).
Ox Bile: Ox bile supports the body in breaking down fats without the presence of bile. Some digestive enzymes contain ox bile but it is recommended to be supplemented separately.
Ox bile serves similar purposes in sanitizing or killing off microbes and helping to assimilate fats for absorption. Ox bile can help relieve your symptoms of indigestion and feelings of an upset stomach that you may otherwise experience consuming a high fat diet without healthy bile concentrations. (13) If you want extra bile support, I recommend using BioGest with your meals.
6.) Avoid High Amounts of Long-Chain Fats:
Long chain fatty acids need bile in order to be metabolized into triglycerides. Small and medium chain fatty acids do not require bile and are easier on the liver. In addition, long-chain fats take a longer period of time to break down and require significantly more energy for digestion (3).
We find long-chain fatty acids in avocados, nuts and seeds, olives and olive oil and meats. We find small and medium chain fatty acids in grass-fed butter and coconut fats.
It is especially critical for individuals without a gallbladder to eat small meals. Inadequate gastric juices and bile secretion will cause digestive distress from the inability to break down long-chain fats. Instead, consume 3 or 4 small meals throughout the day. Substitute liquid nutrition that is easy on the digestive tract with shakes and smoothies to support liver function.
7.) Use MCT Oils:
Medium chain triglyceride (MCT) oils are rapidly metabolized into ketone bodies for efficient energy use. Consuming MCT oil reduces your energy dependence on fats to 60-70% making MCTs easily absorbable by individuals without a gallbladder and those with slow liver function (3).
You may be surprised to know that coconut oil is actually made up of 35% long chain triglycerides, only 15% medium chain triglycerides and 50% lauric acid which is utilized as a long chain fatty acid. (4)
Adding MCT oil to your diet is one of the best ways to increase the medium chain triglycerides that favor maintaining ketosis without a gallbladder. Unlike most fatty acids, MCTs do not rely on the production of bile to be metabolized and begin breaking down immediately from contact with enzymes found in saliva. MCTs have been shown to effectively synthesize ketones and cross the blood-brain barrier for healthy brain function (5).
Greater than 700 toxins are carried by any individual in organs including the digestive tract and liver (11). It is especially critical for individuals without a gallbladder to practice lifestyle habits that support liver function. Preserve nutrition by consuming organic foods and drinking purified water to reduce the toxic burden on your liver and body.
Incorporating a lifestyle of habits that supports your body’s need for detoxification rather than inhibits it will leave you feeling great on the ketogenic diet even without a gallbladder.