If you are interested in biohacking, you most likely already know about the ketogenic diet. If not, check out our introduction: Biohacking Basics: Introduction to the Keto Diet.
The core idea of the ketogenic diet is to eliminate most carbohydrates from your daily food intake, and replace them primarily with healthy fats. This puts your body into a state called ketosis, where instead of relying on glucose and glycogen for energy, it utilizes ketones instead. Ketones are produced in the liver from fats, which means that when you are ketosis your body is optimized to burn fat quickly and easily.
This diet works extremely well for most people, but what if you don’t have a gallbladder? If you’ve had a cholecystectomy (surgical removal of the gallbladder) as a result of gallstones in your gallbladder, or other complications resulting from gallstones, it can make following the ketogenic diet somewhat more challenging. This is because the gallbladder plays an important role in digesting fats. Bile, which your body needs to break down fats, is produced in the liver, and stored in the gallbladder. When you eat food with fat in it, the gallbladder releases stored bile into the intestines.
Because bile is produced in the liver, your body will still have a supply of bile even if you don’t have a gallbladder, but wont be able to store it up for when it is really needed. Most people who’ve had their gallbladders removed don’t experience any digestive troubles, but for some people it can cause some issues when eating high fat meals – which which happens regularly on the ketogenic diet. People without gallbladders can feel bloating or discomfort when they eat fatty foods, and may experience nausea, frequent bowel movements, and diarrhea. Because the intestines won’t be breaking down fats as efficiently, valuable nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids and certain fat soluble vitamins may not be absorbed properly.
Fortunately, it is absolutely possible to follow the ketogenic without a gallbladder, and avoid such problems. Following these simple steps will help ensure your body is well equipped to digest fats, and help you avoid any unpleasant symptoms – or help reverse them if you’ve already experienced them.
Maintaining good hydration supports liver health and bile production, and ensures that the bile produced by the liver won’t become too thick or slow moving. Unfortunately many people are chronically dehydrated – so take a close look at your daily water intake, and make sure you are always drinking enough. Try to drink at least 32 ounces of water during the first couple hours of the day, and another 32 ounces by midday. Daily water intake should be at least 64 ounces, but more if you are working out, working in hot conditions, or doing anything else that makes you sweat significantly.
Without a gallbladder, your body can’t store bile to release when you eat a high fat meal, so the bile your liver produces constantly flows into the intestines. This can make breaking down large, high fat meals especially difficult, and lead to discomfort or the other symptoms mentioned above. Eating smaller, more frequent meals can alleviate this, because your body won’t need so much bile all at once. In particular, avoid large meals containing high amounts of long-chain fats, such as those found in avocados, olive oils, nuts, and meats. Long-chain fats require bile to be digested, whereas short and medium-chain fatsdo not.
Supplementing with digestive enzymes can make all aspects of digesting foods easier, including metabolizing fats and absorbing nutrients from fat-soluble vitamins.
Ox bile is a supplement made from the bile of bovine animals. Taking it with high fat meals supplements your body’s own bile, making it easier for your body to break down fats. It can be particularly helpful when you eat a large high-fat meal.
Certain foods help support your body’s bile production, or thin bile to make it flow more easily. These include:
Apple cider vinegar
MCT oils are one of the best fats for those on the ketogenic diet, because they are quickly metabolized into ketone bodies to produce energy. They are particularly helpful for those without gallbladders, because they don’t require bile to be metabolized. Coconut oil is a common source of MCTs, but be aware that much of the fat in coconut oil is long-chain or lauric acid – which is metabolized like a long-chain fat. If you don’t have a gallbladder, it’s best to use true MCT oil instead of coconut oil if possible.