Celiac disease and gluten intolerance are gradually becoming more recognized within today’s medical communities. Although there is progress, individuals with either of these conditions continue to go undiagnosed, because they present with a collection of symptoms that physicians do not always associate with such ailments. Patients with symptoms such as mouth sores, osteoporosis, muscle cramps, anemia and/or micronutrient deficiency are often overlooked as candidates for celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, because they do not have classic symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, weight loss and/or intermittent diarrhea.
Despite this and thanks to medical advances, a wider range of health issues are being connected to celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Attributed to these positive developments in medical knowledge is the matter of a link between gluten intolerance/celiac disease and gallbladder disease.
Individuals with celiac disease or gluten intolerance often experience a wide range of adverse reactions. Over the past several years, researchers have begun to find a link between gluten and digestive issues like gallbladder disease. In fact, 60 percent of individuals suffering from celiac disease have a liver, gallbladder or pancreatic condition.
Let’s step back a moment and take a look at the gallbladder. The gallbladder is a pear-shaped organ found just under your liver, below your rib cage on your right-hand side. The gallbladder is part of the biliary tract, teaming up with the liver and bile ducts to make, store and secrete bile. The purpose of the gallbladder in this relationship is to collect gall, or bile, from your liver while hanging onto those enzymes until they are needed for digestion.
Bile is made of water, bile pigments, cholesterol, various electrolytes and bile salts. Bile salts are the only components of bile that are actually used in digestion. Bile salts and digestive enzymes are not the same. Bile salts actually aid the digestive enzymes in the process of digestion, enhancing the absorption of fat soluble vitamins and fatty acids.
Bile salts act as an emulsifier by breaking fat globules up in the small intestine so they can mix with water. This enables the digestive enzymes that break fat up into fatty acids (or lipases) to function effectively. Bile salts also help the body to absorb fatty acids and cholesterol (some of which is reabsorbed). Fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, K1 and K2 are absorbed as well.
When you eat, cells within the first segment of the small intestine (the duodenum) detect the presence of fat and send a signal to request bile from the gallbladder by releasing a hormone called cholecystokinin. This same hormone also puts an order in for digestive enzymes from the pancreas. Cholecystokinin tells the stomach to slow the speed of digestion so the small intestine can digest the fats effectively.
What Happens When the Gallbladder Does Not Work Properly
When the gallbladder is not functioning as it should, fats are not properly digested and these fat soluble vitamins are not effectively absorbed. If you don’t have a gallbladder, your liver will still produce bile but it will simply “leak” into the small intestine, meaning adequate reserves that were once available to break down fats are present no more.
How Gluten May Play a Part in Gallbladder Disease
Looking further, in celiac disease, gluten triggers an autoimmune response. The body’s immune system attacks the villi which line the small intestine, resulting in the characteristic shortening of these fine finger-like projections. As these are damaged, a leaky gut is created, which also causes inflammation, stimulates the immune system, allows foreign proteins and toxins into the body and results in a reduced release of cholecystokinin. If the cells lining the small intestine are not able to secrete cholecystokinin, inflammation in the gallbladder occurs, thus raising the risk of gallbladder disease. A reduced cholecystokinin release has been reported in celiac disease and may be a key cause for the gallbladder malfunction found in many cases with celiac.
There is a strong link between celiac disease and gallbladder health. A failing gallbladder may be the first symptom of celiac disease or gluten intolerance. If you are suffering from gallbladder problems, talk to your doctor about testing for celiac or gluten intolerance or vice versa.