In 2010 I underwent surgery to remove a chunk of my stomach, as well as my gallbladder. After about a year of hospital stays and various tests, my gastroenterologist found a small tumor in the lining of my stomach. Thankfully, it was a benign tumor, but after a year of keeping a close eye on it, it had started to grow. Being twenty years old, my doctors didn’t want me to have to go through such a major surgery, but they were worried that this tumor could potentially become malignant so it was decided that it needed to be removed. Being young, I was super naïve about the whole thing. I just thought that they would remove this little tumor and I would go home and move on with life.
Well, that was not how it went down.
The surgery was very long. They removed about a 2-inch section of my stomach, as well as my gallbladder (there was actually nothing wrong with my gallbladder, but my surgeon and GI specialist decided that they would just remove it). I was in the hospital for a little over a week, with an NG tube for over half of that time. For those of you who are unaware of what an NG tube is, it’s basically a little tube that goes up through your nose, down the throat, and into the stomach. It is very uncomfortable and is often used to feed elderly patients, but in my case it was used to suck all of the acid out of my stomach. So, I had the joy of spending a few days sharing a bed with a container of my own stomach acid.
A day or so before I was released my surgeon came into my room to tell me that the small tumor that they had removed had come back from pathology, and it ended up being pancreatic tissue..in my stomach. Pretty weird. To make matters worse this little pancreas had ulcerated and was leaking stomach acid into my abdominal cavity. At this time my surgeon also gave me a run down of post-op instructions. At this point in my life I was twenty years old and was leaving the hospital weighing in at 90lbs. I had basically just had a gastric bypass at 100lbs, so my surgeon urged me to go home and ‘eat a burger.’ Yes, that was all the nutritional advice I received.
It’s been seven years since my surgery, and I’ve had a lot of digestive issues because of it. Since my surgery I found out that my stomach now digests food much slower than the average person because of the way it was stapled back together. I have also recently stumbled upon a lot of information regarding nutrition after a Cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal surgery).
According to the research done by Melissa Hartwig from the Whole30, if you’ve had your gallbladder removed, you should be steering clear of a high-fat diet. The gallbladder is basically a storage bin for bile, which is produced in the liver. When you eat a meal that is high in fat, your liver can’t send enough bile out into the small intestine fast enough, so it sends bile that is stored in the gallbladder.
Well, without a gallbladder, there is no longer a storage of bile to be called upon to help digest a fatty meal. Therefore, if you eat a meal that is high in fat, some of that fat will remain undigested and will pass through your system quickly, leading to diarrhea and possible cramping.
How can this be avoided?
· Switching from three big meals a day to four or five smaller meals will allow you to still ingest the amount of healthy fats you need, without taxing your liver
· Don’t snack on high-fat foods like nuts and seeds (something that I’ve done all my life!)
· Stay away from intermittent fasting
· Consume plenty of water, but don’t drink it during meals. Drinking water with your meals can actually dilute the small amount of bile that the liver puts out, making it even less effective
· Experiment with cooking oils. The medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut oil can be digested without the help of bile
· Lastly, look into taking an ox bile supplement, which can provide all the digestive help you may need.
One lesson that has come from this is that I’ve learned to ask more questions. My gallbladder didn’t need to be removed, so why didn’t I argue this point? I didn’t even know what the gallbladder did up until a couple years ago! Asking the right questions and knowing the right information would have probably prevented me from having the digestion issues I’ve battled with since my surgery.