Your gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ located in the upper right part of your abdomen. Along with your liver and pancreas, your gallbladder is a part of your biliary system.
Your biliary system focuses on the production, storage, and release of bile, a liquid thats important for the digestion of fats. Your gallbladders specific function is to store bile until it needs to be released into your small intestine.
You probably know that consuming alcohol can affect your liver. But have you ever wondered whether alcohol can also impact your gallbladder?
Lets look at whats known about alcohols effect on your gallbladder, what else can cause gallbladder issues, and how to keep your gallbladder healthy.
Alcohol consumption is a known risk factor for many health conditions. However, research has indicated that moderate alcohol consumption may actually help prevent gallstones.
Gallstones are deposits of a substance, often cholesterol, that harden and accumulate in your gallbladder. Theyre common, affecting 10 to 15 percent of people in the United States.
A 2019 analysis published in the journal Gut and Liver reviewed the results of 24 studies on alcohol use and gallstone risk. The researchers found that alcohol consumption was associated with a decreased risk of gallstones.
How exactly alcohol reduces gallstone risk is unknown. One theory is that alcohol consumption increases the rate at which the gallbladder empties. This would reduce the amount of bile that lingers in the gallbladder, lowering the risk of stone formation.
However, research hasnt supported this finding. Instead, researchers have observed no difference in gallbladder emptying between drinkers and nondrinkers or have found that alcohol actually slows gallbladder emptying.
Other ideas about how alcohol lowers gallstone risk are related to cholesterol, which many gallstones are made up of. For example, its possible that alcohol consumption may lead to lower cholesterol levels in bile.
We mentioned moderate alcohol consumption above, but what exactly does that mean?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines moderate alcohol consumption as:
The amount thats considered one drink varies based on the type of alcohol youre consuming. A standard drink is defined as:
While moderate alcohol consumption may lower your risk of gallstones, drinking too much alcohol can have a negative impact on your health in several ways.
Excessive drinking can be associated with things like binge drinking, heavy drinking, and alcohol use disorder.
Binge drinking and heavy drinking may seem similar, but they have different definitions:
Engaging in frequent binge drinking or heavy drinking can increase your risk of developing alcohol use disorder. Excessive alcohol consumption is also associated with an increased risk of:
If you believe that you or a loved one has a dependence on alcohol, there are many resources you can turn to for help and support. These include:
Lets take a closer look at some of the most common gallbladder issues and what can put you at risk for each of them.
Gallstones are hard objects that can develop in your gallbladder. Theyre often made up of either cholesterol or bilirubin and can vary in size and number. Its believed that gallstones form when your bile contains too much of either of these substances.
Many times, gallstones cause no symptoms. However, when they block the ducts of your biliary system, they can cause pain in the upper right part of your abdomen. This pain often occurs after a meal.
There are many risk factors for developing gallstones. Some are out of your control, while others are related to underlying conditions or lifestyle habits.
You may be at a higher risk of developing gallstones if you:
The presence of gallstones can sometimes lead to complications within your biliary system, particularly when they block the flow of bile. Well discuss some of these conditions below.
Cholecystitis is a condition where your gallbladder becomes inflamed. This most often happens when a gallstone blocks one of your biliary ducts, causing bile to back up in your gallbladder. It can also happen due to growths like polyps or tumors.
Pain due to cholecystitis is often more severe and prolonged than it is with gallstones. Other symptoms can include fever, nausea, and vomiting.
This condition is sometimes also called acalculous gallbladder disease. This is when gallbladder inflammation occurs without gallstones being present. The symptoms are similar to those of cholecystitis.
Gallbladder disease without stones is often seen in people who have experienced severe physical trauma or burns or who have an autoimmune condition like lupus. Having heart or abdominal surgery can also be a risk factor for this disease.
Choledocholithiasis occurs when a gallstone blocks your common bile duct, the tube that transports bile from your liver to your small intestine. A blockage in this area can cause bile to accumulate in your liver.
Choledocholithiasis causes pain in the upper right part of your abdomen. Other symptoms can include:
Polyps are growths that can occur in your gallbladder. Most gallbladder polyps are benign (noncancerous). In rare cases, they can be malignant (cancerous). Little is known about the risk factors for developing gallbladder polyps.
A gallbladder polyp may not cause any symptoms. However, if it blocks a duct, it can cause symptoms like pain, nausea, and vomiting.
You can take several steps to help keep your gallbladder healthy and functioning well:
Research has found that moderate alcohol consumption may help reduce the risk of gallstones, although researchers arent sure how this occurs.
While drinking in moderation may lower the risk of gallstones, excess alcohol consumption can increase your risk of many health conditions.
If you believe that you or a loved one misuses alcohol, there are many resources available to help.
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