Low-Carb Digestive Relief
Anyone who has gallbladder problems or IBS knows how painful, inconvenient, and downright embarrassing they can be. Moments of relief can be few and far between, if at all, and the drugs prescribed for help aren’t designed to cure, but can lead to more problems in the long run. This is where a more natural, low-carb solution can step in to save the day.
The digestive tract is a complex machine with a lot of moving essential parts. If one of those parts fails, it can lead to a host of problems that can spell misery for years to come.
Luckily, a low-carb diet can help with digestive issues and turn around two common maladies: gallbladder disorder or removal and IBS.
Here’s how: Let’s begin with the gallbladder since a malfunctioning or removed gallbladder can actually lead to our second topic, IBS. (If you’re looking for low-carb’s effect on IBS specifically, you can scroll down to the bold IBS section below.)
This Is Your Gallbladder
Here’s the deal with your gallbladder: it’s a little organ with an unappealing name that’s connected to your liver and produces an even less appealingly named enzyme: bile.
Most people don’t think or even know about their gallbladder until it starts to malfunction, and once it does, you’ll know all too well that it exists. Gallbladder pain is actually ranked higher on the intolerability scale than giving birth.
This funny, little bile machine is there to pump fat-digesting alkaline fluid into the liver to help break down long-chain fats for easier nutritional absorption. Like we said, easily forgettable…
Until it decides it doesn’t want to play by the rules anymore and has to be removed. But what causes the gallbladder to go haywire in the first place?
Gallstones are concentrations of cholesterol that form and harden over time. A hefty percentage of gallstones don’t cause problems, they just hang out in the gallbladder and stay out of the way and you never even know you’ve developed them.
The problems occur when one of them decides it has bigger dreams and needs to escape. That’s when they get stuck in the cystic duct that feeds the liver, and the pain train starts rolling.
One of the biggest misconceptions about low-carb dieting is that eating low-carb can cause gallstones.
Eating a fat-rich diet actually helps the gallbladder and keeps it working and in shape, producing the bile the fats need. Eating low-carb, high fat is actually one of the best ways to prevent gallstones and keep the gallbladder healthy.
This Is Your Gallbladder on Low-Carb
Rather, this is low-carb living without a gallbladder.
How can anyone efficiently eat and digest a diet where 70% of the calories come from fat without the fat-digesting helper?
Yes, it seems crazy.
But like anything in life, if you want it, there’s always a way around an obvious problem.
Having your gallbladder removed doesn’t have to keep you from experiencing the many benefits of low-carb living. Especially since, with a little extra care, low-carb eating can actually help you repair a compromised digestive system.
It seems like focusing on an all but forgotten organ is a narrow course when talking about low-carb living, but the concern is real. 15% of the United States’ population has or will have their gallbladder removed due to stones. That’s 25 million people, a number that is growing exponentially by the year as our high sugar, high starch diets get further and further out of our control.
Eating high quality fats including good amounts of medium-chain fats like coconut oil and grass-fed butters, along with low-carb veggies, is the best way to prevent stones from forming in the first place.
Fibrous vegetables like those recommended on a low-carb diet are excellent for keeping the cholesterol that make up the stones from forming into solids. Couple that with good fats, and you’re giving your gallbladder the optimized fuel it needs to run a healthy machine.
- High Quality Fats
A good balance of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids provide the vitamins and minerals, like iron, vitamin D, and calcium, that help to keep the gallbladder functioning and in practice. It’s when the gallbladder has less work to do that the cholesterol has a chance to sit in the bladder, waiting for sugars and starches to help it solidify into stones. [source]
This is another key component that most people don’t realize has a stabilizing effect on the stomach acids that directly affect the output of the gallbladder.
If you still have your gallbladder and are coming to low-carb from a typically carb-heavy western diet, you need to heed these warnings to keep your gallbladder healthy and working to help you. Once the stones form and become too much for the bladder to contain, it’ll be too late. Surgery is the only fix once the problems start.
Once the Gallbladder Is Gone
This is the real question. What do I do when it’s too late to work on prevention?
You can still pursue a low-carb diet—and probably should—you just need to take special care to help out your gallbladder-less liver.
Your liver can and must produce a certain amount of bile on its own so it can breakdown and absorb the nutrients from fats. Your new job, now that your gallbladder has gone rogue and been kicked out of the party, is to ensure you give your liver every opportunity to function at its highest level.
So how do you help a major organ you’ve never met?
First and foremost, eat bile-producing and stomach-acid friendly foods. Luckily, the best foods for liver and stomach health after gallbladder surgery are well within the low-carb diet’s guidelines.
Ranked number one when it comes to bile production. This root is powerful and a major liver helper. Some shredded fresh ginger hidden in a few meals is enough, or you can drink ginger tea to receive the positives…why not try both?
- Apple Cider Vinegar
ACV is another big player in the bile production game. It’s also easy to slip into a drink or meal, or you can do what a lot of low-carb dieters do and mix up 1 ounce with about 8 ounces of water and drink it down first thing in the morning.
They promote bile production in the liver and help with intestinal function once everything is sorted out.
- Lemons and Limes
Believe it or not, sour helps you to tolerate fats better and support the bile by helping to further the nutrient absorption that can be lost without a gallbladder’s help.
- Fermented Foods
Sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, miso, and kombucha are all fermented foods that will help to regulate gut bacteria and prevent stomach upset and the “dumping syndrome” many people without a gallbladder experience for the first few years.
Celery, mint, cucumbers, cilantro are all good greens that will help your system adjust to the missing gallbladder (just remember that waxy greens like kale, lettuces, green beans, and most legumes are not good if your gallbladder is gone).
Taking an MCT supplement is low-carb dieting 101. It’s recommended for every step of the ketogenic process and can really help those without a gallbladder. Medium chain fats absorb fast and efficiently since they don’t need bile to break down.
This means that taking MCT will promote the ketone production process, giving energy and assisted metabolic function to a person without a gallbladder who otherwise may suffer from low energy and the dumping of nutrients before they’ve had a chance to do any good in the body.
Digestive Enzyme supplements are a good topic to discuss with your doctor. These supplements are a great idea to take to assist your stomach function during the first few months without a gallbladder when your system and liver are still adjusting to living without the backup they’re used to having.
That’s how the gallbladder functions, and it can finally find some rest and normalcy with the help of a low-carb lifestyle.
But the digestive issues may not stop even though the missing gallbladder has been accounted and made up for. Oftentimes a failing or missing gallbladder can lead to serious digestive distress which triggers irritable bowel syndrome.
What Is IBS?
IBS isn’t a comfortable topic to talk about, nor write about, so imagine how uncomfortable it is for the people who actually suffer from this serious problem?
The nice thing is, as with so many other health issues, low-carb eating can help.
So what is irritable bowel syndrome?
Irritable bowel syndrome casts a very wide net when it comes to symptoms and resulting issues. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome/symptoms-causes/syc-20360016
- Abdominal pain is the most reported symptom associated with IBS. Severe pressure, shooting pains, and throbbing in the gut and colon areas can all result from IBS and are the reason IBS is sometimes called spastic colon.
- Bloating and distention are also results of IBS that cause serious pain, and in some cases, debilitation.
- Gas, which can cause or be the result of the pressure and bloating, is a very common symptom that IBS sufferers report as painful and embarrassing. People with bad gas issues resulting from IBS have been reported to skip social events and miss work due to the embarrassment of the condition.
- Constipation is yet another symptom that an irritated bowel can lead to. Binding up the system as the colon tightens spastically is a very real and painful result stemming from the bloating and other fallout of IBS.
- Diarrhea, being the exact opposite of constipation, is a symptom of IBS and shows just how awful and disruptive IBS can be as it runs through a broad spectrum of abdominal issues.
One of the largest problems with irritable bowel syndrome is that a majority of people who suffer from IBS do so in silence. [source]
Either they don’t realize their stomach and colon issues are due to IBS, or they are so embarrassed due to gas issues or problems with incontinence that they ignore it and won’t even mention it to their doctors.
Another issue with IBS is that it can have the same symptoms as celiac disease, crohn’s disease, and even some cancers.
This is a problem because when a person suffering from IBS goes to the doctor, these tests for cancers, crohn’s, and celiac are the ones run to find the problem. But when the results return negative, IBS sufferers are told it’s a temporary issue that will heal.
This “pain without proven test results” is a huge reason why IBS was dismissed by medical science for so long: it was thought to be all in a patient’s head.
It’s due to this dismissive attitude that IBS has been so understudied and misunderstood. But now that IBS is an acknowledged medical condition with several types (IBS-A, IBD-D, IBS-C and others), it’s becoming more and more clear that the answer to alleviating the symptoms is a low-carb diet that takes advantage of medium chain fats for better gut and colon health.
How Low-Carb Eating Can Help with IBS
By now it’s no secret that low-carb and ketogenic dieting has many health benefits, and the once obscure diet is now a mainstream way of life for many, gaining traction with everyone from people who want to drop some weight, to celebrities who depend on their bodies and performance to make a living.
IBS is another such affliction that can be helped by living a low-carb life style.
Inflammation is a huge leader in the cause of IBS and the resulting symptoms. Luckily, low-carb and ketogenic dieting is wonderful at helping to reduce or stop inflammation. It’s when hormones like insulin spike that inflammation can occur, but low-carb foods keep insulin levels lower and more leveled out which prevents the flare ups that can lead to the other IBS symptoms.
IBS related diarrhea results from either inflammation or food intolerance, and low-carb eating helps temper and alleviate both of those conditions. A study done in Australia [source] shows that short-chain carbohydrates like those not welcome on the keto diet are mostly responsible for IBS intolerance that results in diarrhea. Grains, legumes, sugary dairy full of lactose sugars can all trigger and further irritate those with IBS. Cutting them out as part of an all-around low-carb diet, coupled with the anti-inflammatory properties of keto, can spell the end of IBS diarrhea.
On the other end of the IBS symptoms scale, some suffer from IBS-C, which is an irritated bowel that results in painful constipation. IBS constipation can come from a bad diet, from too much external stress, from your hormonal response, or from medication. A low-carb diet can help no matter which of these is the cause of the constipation. Thankfully low-carb can address any of these and help.
- Low-carb dieting will lead to a more balanced gut after living with a bad diet, and the amount of water and healthy fat required for low-carb living will soften stool and make it far easier to pass.
- Stress constipation is another fix low-carb can offer, as stress causes the over production of insulin and ghrelin, two hormones that lead to inflammation and hunger respectively. Because low-carb eating lowers insulin production and limits the stomach’s production of ghrelin, the negative effects of stress can be negated when it comes to being able to go to the bathroom.
- Low-carb eating can help people who take medication for diet related illnesses, like type 2 diabetes, to get off the meds permanently, thereby stopping the ill effects of the medication on the constipation problem. And surprisingly, some of the medication for the other symptoms of IBS can lead to constipation. So, if a low-carb diet can alleviate the other symptoms of IBS then the constipation causing medications will no longer be needed. Simple.
- Gas can be an embarrassment result of irritable bowel syndrome and can lead to sufferers who avoid seeking help to get rid of it, creating a real catch-22. But for those who do talk to a medical professional, the number one answer to stopping gas is to change your diet. What needs to change? Docs say to remove FODMAPs. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26255043]
- FODMAPs are Fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols… basically, short chain carbs like grains, starchy veggies, fruits that contain a high fructose percentage, and anything with added sugar. Sound familiar? FODMAPs are everything that should be eliminated form a low-carb diet. Score another one for the low-carb way of life.
- Abdominal pain, as mentioned, is a major symptom of IBS and can make living day-to-day life very difficult for sufferers. The pain often stems from the contraction of muscles in the intestines and stomach. IBS has the gut and digestive system working on overtime, which can lead to spasms and fatigue. Once a lower carb diet has been adopted and the above symptoms have been remedied, the abdominal pains will likely stop as the muscles calm and are allowed to work at a normal pace.
Please remember that IBS can become very dangerous if left unchecked, and you should mention any IBS symptoms to your doctor. It’s also very important to see a doctor immediately if IBS causes any of the following issues:
- Severe and sudden weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
- Rectal bleeding
- Persistent pain that isn’t relieved by passing gas or a bowel movement
Educate yourself about low-carb eating and speak to your doctor about the benefits of eating low-carb for people with serious digestive issues like a missing gallbladder or IBS. Keto is great way to help normalize your system after a huge metabolic change has occurred.
If your doctor doesn’t see any complications in your specific case and gives the okay, going low-carb could be the fastest way back to a normal gastrointestinal tract and regular function.