The gallbladder does have a function within our body. Unlike the appendix, which has only been theorized to have had a function in the past, the gallbladder does aid in digestion. The gallbladder mostly serves as a reservoir. It reserves some of the bile that is made within the liver. Our bile is a greenish yellow fluid that flows from the liver down the bile ducts and into the intestine. Bile is necessary in order for us to digest any fat which we eat.
Since oil (fat) and water do not mix, a detergent such as bile is necessary in order to bring the fat into solution with the water which is the predominant component of our blood. The blood has to carry the nutrients from our digestive tract and distribute the energy created from those nutrients to all of our cells. The gallbladder will take in some of the bile and it holds on to that extra bile and concentrates it by taking some of the water from it. When our stomach recognizes that we have taken in food with fat in it, a chemical messenger is sent to the gallbladder telling it to empty out some (or most) of that stored bile. The extra bile then mixes with the fat we ate in our small intestine so that the fat can be absorbed by the digestive cells and taken into our bloodstream.
So, what happens if we do not have a gallbladder? Well, the bile continues to be made in the liver and trickle down the bile ducts into the intestine, but now there is no ‘reserve’ of bile within a gallbladder. Therefore, it is possible for a person without a gallbladder to overwhelm their system with ingested fat and not have enough bile to be able to help digest the fat within the intestine and it is also possible to have too much bile within the intestine. This could possibly lead to bloating, gas discomfort, and loose stool known as bile acid diarrhea. If someone without a gallbladder is experiencing these symptoms, they closely monitor their intake of fat initially and if the problem persists, medications are available to help. Surprisingly, this situation does not happen very often and most of those people who do not have a gallbladder eat a normal diet without noticing any problems with digestion.
Since the gallbladder does still serve a role in digestion, we only remove gallbladders which are not functioning normally or are deemed to be at high risk of causing the patient problems in the future. Did you know that some people are actually born without a gallbladder at all? This condition is known as gallbladder agenesis.
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