The gallbladder is a pouch-like organ located above the duodenum (the top of the
small intestine) and below the liver. Its primary function is to store and concentrate bile produced by the liver. Often, gallstones may form inside the gallbladder, and those will occasionally cause problems. If a sizeable stone leaves the gallbladder and gets stuck, pain and anguish are the result.
One of the treatments for gallstones is a cholecystectomy, or a removal of the gallbladder. When faced with this, many patients ask how it will affect their digestion.
The Role of the Gallbladder
The truth is the gallbladder only has a very subtle role in digestion, but that role is useful nonetheless. Its function centers around the way it stores and concentrates digestive bile. To understand how this helps, we should first understand how bile is produced and used by the body.
Liver, Duodenum, and Bile
To digest food, the intestine uses bile. It’s the liver’s job to produce bile, which it then sends down the bile duct to the duodenum. Along this duct is the gallbladder.
When there is nothing to digest, bile is stored in the gallbladder. Here, it’s not only kept in reserve for when digestion needs to occur, but it also gets concentrated. Water is removed, and the substance becomes thicker and more potent. This is especially helpful for digesting certain complex fats to make them water soluble. Once food enters the intestine, the body sends signals to the gallbladder to release stored up bile.
Losing the Gallbladder
After a cholecystectomy, bile simply flows directly from the liver down the bile duct into the duodenum in a consistent diluted stream. This usually has almost no effect on digestion, though it may diminish your ability to process certain fats. Nevertheless, the effect is negligible, and most patients don’t notice any difference at all.