The short answer to that question is that there is definitely a link. This stems from the fact that many who suffer from celiac disease also experience issues with their gallbladder. To add to this, there have been several studies that have shown a connection between celiac disease and different types of gallbladder disease.
The Possible Higher Risk
Gallstones happen to be the most common type of gallbladder disease. This is a painful digestive condition that individuals with celiac disease may face more frequently. While this might suggest that there is a higher risk for a celiac to develop gallstones, there is little clinical data to support this claim.
Yet researchers won’t leave that one alone.
The type of intestinal damage that a person with celiac disease experiences can lead to the development of something called sluggish gallbladder. This comes from researchers who see a potential link between gallbladder disease and celiac disease. The key point is that sluggish gallbladder may result in the formation of gallstones.
Before we dig deeper into the connection between the two, let’s take a quick lesson on what your gallbladder does for you.
How Your Gallbladder Works
A little below your ribcage and located to the right of your liver is a small pear-shaped organ. That is your gallbladder. Its job is far from sexy but it plays a vital role in how you digest foods.
The gallbladder is not much more than a container that stores bile (digestive enzymes) from your liver. It holds that bile, or gall until your body needs it to digest food. When food is detected, the gallbladder releases some of the bile into your small intestine where digestion takes place.
Far from sexy, but vital just the same.
Here’s the important part: when your gallbladder is firing on all cylinders, you don’t even know it is working. However, if something goes wrong within the system, you’ll feel it and know about it quickly and usually painfully.
The Most Common Problems
Two main conditions can develop in your gallbladder. One is gallstones and the other is cholecystitis.
Small clumps, called stones, can form in bile. They are not only painful, but they can result in inflammation. The conditions that trigger the formation of gallstones are not clearly known but too much cholesterol or bilirubin – another chemical your body produces – may be the cause.
There also happen to be two different types of gallstones that can form within the gallbladder. One type is cholesterol gallstones and the other is pigment gallstones. These form with a higher concentration of bilirubin in your bile. Sometimes gallstones form when the gallbladder does not function properly when releasing enzymes for digestion.
When gallstones block the path to the small intestine from the gallbladder, the organ can become inflamed. This is known as cholecystitis and it is accompanied by severe pain on the right side of your abdomen, fever, nausea, and vomiting. If you eat a meal that contains a fair amount of fat, it can trigger cholecystitis if there are already stones present.
If cholecystitis becomes severe, it can result in an infection within your gallbladder. This condition may even tear or burst your gallbladder. Symptoms of cholecystitis can only be controlled with antibiotics and, in some cases, hospitalization. If you happen to have recurring bouts of cholecystitis, you may require additional medical attention.
The Link Between Celiac Disease And Gallbladder Disease
Celiac disease does more than cause the erosion of the small intestine lining. It can also have an impact on your nervous system, your joints, your skin, and your fertility. With such a wide array of ways in which celiac disease can affect the body, it should not be much of a stretch to consider that the gallbladder could be affected as well.
Studies involving people with celiac disease who don’t stick to a gluten-free diet have shown that gallbladders don’t empty properly following a fatty meal, potentially resulting in the development of cholesterol gallstones.
Where the studies may have found a potential link between celiac disease and gallbladder disease in the speed in which the digestive enzymes are released into the small intestine. A study comparing individuals not following a gluten-free diet who had celiac disease with those who did not have celiac disease found an interesting pattern.
Those with celiac disease had gallbladders that emptied slower than those individuals who were not celiac. The follow-up to the same study found that once all subjects starting following a gluten-free diet, those with celiac disease had normal gallbladder function. While that may sound like a huge find, another interesting factor was observed.
Food moved more slowly through the small intestine of individuals with celiac disease compared to those who did not. Eating a gluten-free diet or not had no impact on this at all.
If you suffer from celiac disease, food may move more slowly through your digestive tract than in someone who is not a celiac. The specific foods you eat may not impact the rate at which they travel through the tract. Although having celiac disease can have an impact on how your gallbladder functions, it does not mean you are at a higher risk of developing gallbladder disease.
Although some sufferers of celiac disease may develop gallstones, it is not at a higher rate than the general population. And a gallbladder is not essential for digestion. If you have been recently diagnosed with celiac disease, you may want to have your gallbladder function assessed as well, especially if there is pain near its location.
The bottom line is that with a proper diet, which is low in fat and high in fiber, you can live your life to the fullest even if you have celiac disease.
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