Why is Gallbladder Disease Common in Pregnancy?
Why is Gallbladder Disease More Common in Pregnancy and What to Do?
Women are twice as likely to develop gallbladder disease than men, and hormones are a big reason why this is the case. During pregnancy, the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, leading to changes throughout the body, including the gallbladder.1
The Effect of Hormones on the Gallbladder
There are two factors contributing to the development of gallstones during pregnancy: slowed gallbladder motility and thicker bile.2 First, progesterone binds to receptors and slows gallbladder motility and impacts the sphincter of oddi which may contribute to the formation of gallstones.3,4 As mentioned in another blog post on estrogen dominance (link), estrogen also binds to receptors on both the gallbladder and liver.4 The result is an increase in cholesterol saturation of the bile, biliary sludge and higher risk of gallstone development. During pregnancy, risk of gallstones is particularly high in the third trimester due to elevated estrogen levels.1,2,5
Actions You Can Take to Support Yourself
- Nourish Yourself – Build nutrient-dense meals with a balance of healthy fats, lean protein and plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit trigger foods and high fat meals, especially if you are dealing with gallbladder attacks.
- Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals – Eating small meals every 3-5 hours instead of 2-3 larger meals will put less stress on your digestive system, including your gallbladder. It will also help stabilize your blood sugar which is beneficial for hormone balance.
- Focus on Fiber – Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are beneficial to our digestive system and gut health. Soluble fiber helps by binding with excess estrogen, toxins and bile. Since estrogen levels fluctuate during pregnancy, soluble fiber is important! High amounts of soluble fiber can be found in oats, root vegetables, apples, berries and legumes.
- Joyful Movement – Keep your body moving throughout pregnancy in a way that feels good to you. Not only is it helpful for balancing hormones and blood sugar, but exercise also promotes better sleep, improves mood, and helps with digestion.
- Reduce Stress and Prioritize Rest – Your gallbladder is sensitive to stress. Incorporate adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night) and healthy coping mechanisms. My suggestions for stress management include meditation, prenatal massage, chiropractic care, deep breathing, journaling and acupuncture.
- Get Support – I also recommend building a good support team with your medical provider, a Midwife, Naturopathic or Functional medicine doctor and nutritionist that understands the gallbladder + diet strategies. Your support team can better guide you how to navigate gallbladder disease while being pregnant.
*****For a personalized approach to your specific gallbladder concerns during pregnancy including comprehensive consultations with both myself & a naturopathic doctor, individualized support and meal planning…then, click the link below!*****
George E, Schluger L. Special women’s health issues in hepatobiliary diseases. Clin Fam Pr. 2000;2(1):155-169. doi:10.1016/s1522-5720(05)70011-8
|2.||Celaj S, Kourkoumpetis T. Gallstones in pregnancy. JAMA. 2021;325(23):2410. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.4502|
|3.||Tierney S, Nakeeb A, Wong O, et al. Progesterone alters biliary flow dynamics. Ann Surg. 1999;229(2):205-209. doi:10.1097/00000658-199902000-00007|
|4.||Singletary BK, Van Thiel DH, Eagon PK. Estrogen and progesterone receptors in human gallbladder. Hepatology. 1986;6(4):574-578. doi:10.1002/hep.1840060405|
|5.||de Bari O, Wang TY, Liu M, Paik CN, Portincasa P, Wang DQH. Cholesterol cholelithiasis in pregnant women: pathogenesis, prevention and treatment. Ann Hepatol. 2014;13(6):728-745. doi:10.1016/s1665-2681(19)30975-5|