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The PCOS and Gallbladder Connection

Posted by Deborah Graefer, L.Ac., MTOM on

What is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome?

PCOS is a condition caused by a woman’s ovaries which develop cysts and produce an excess of androgens or males hormones such as testosterone.

One in every 5 reproductive-aged women suffers from polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). It is a condition caused by a woman’s ovaries which develop cysts and produce an excess of androgens or males hormones such as testosterone. It is characterized by hormonal imbalance with its accompanying mood swings and period problems, multiple cysts (fluid-filled sacs) within the ovaries, and irregular menstruation.

Symptoms of PCOS

  • pelvic pain
  • irregular menstrual periods
  • heavy bleeding
  • amenorrhea or missing periods
  • mood changes, depression, anxiety
  • insomnia, sleep apnea
  • infertility
  • weight gain
  • hirsutism - excess hair growth especially on the face
  • thinning or loss of head hair

The PCOS and Gallbladder Connection

Given the prevalence of PCOS, it is therefore not surprising that we get a significant number of inquiries from PCOS patients who also develop gallbladders problems. Indeed, there are an increasing number of studies associating the two conditions. And if you have PCOS but are unsure of your gallbladder status, visit our symptoms page and consult a health professional to know where you stand. If you are feeling pain under the rib cage on the right side and between shoulder blades, acid reflux, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, and other symptoms on top of your PCOS checklist, then it would be to your best interest to have your gallbladder checked ASAP.

But what connects these two conditions? And what can you do about it?

Aside from sharing some common at-risk groups (obese, female, reproductive age), below are some possible reasons why PCOS patients have a higher chance of developing gallbladder diseases:

1. Inflammation

Though the exact cause of PCOS has not yet been identified, chronic inflammation is said to be a primary culprit. Similarly, inflammation plays a crucial part in the development of gallbladder diseases, and continues to do so even after gallbladder removal. It is also closely related with other prominent aspects of both PCOS and gallbladder disease like obesity and insulin resistance.

2. Hormonal changes

It is a known fact that hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone, contribute to the development of gallbladder diseases. That is why pregnant women and those taking contraceptives are at a higher risk of having gallstones. With PCOS, the woman’s body produces more androgens (male hormones) that set off a number of symptoms and complications. To achieve balance, patients are often prescribed birth control pills made up of estrogen and progestin – two hormones that contribute to gallbladder disease.

3. Leaky Gut

By now, you probably have been convinced that leaky gut is not just a problem for the digestive system but for the gallbladder too! But did you know that PCOS can start in the gut too? Leaky gut can cause a lot of problems and one of the most common is systemic inflammation (inflammation that goes everywhere in the body). Studies also showed that PCOS patients are more likely to develop Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Hashimoto’s, Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO), as well as other digestive and autoimmune conditions that have also been identified as possible causes for gallstones and other gallbladder disease.

What can we do?

The Gallbladder Diet is a safe bet for PCOS patients who would like to know what to eat and what not to eat. It not only helps with gallbladder symptoms but also with a common symptom of gas that can accompany PCOS. While this does not have to be gas due to poor digestion of fats, a gallbladder diet is free of most gas-forming foods that affect PCOS patients like beans and the cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, as well as whole grains. This is largely due to the fiber, “raffinose” which is known to wreak havoc with the guts of PCOS-inflicted women in particular.

Of course, regular physical activity, stress reduction, sugar balancing and weight management can all help. Aside from those, making sure that you have all the help you can get through supplementation is key to avoiding or managing gallbladder diseases if you have PCOS.

To help address leaky gut:

Leaky gut often starts with an injury to the intestines by food poisoning, parasites, food intolerances, or allergies which all cause inflammation to the gut wall. Certain drugs such as anti-inflammatories and antibiotics can also damage the integrity of the lining. Whereas a healthy gut can heal itself quickly from one bout of antibiotics or the occasional pain killer, chronic use will make healing more difficult. Both antibiotics and anti-inflammatories cause a disruption in the flora of the bowel called dysbiosis which is a major contributor to gut permeability. The goal of treatment is largely dependent on being able to change the imbalance of gut flora.

Since leaky gut can be a serious concern not just for PCOS and gallbladder patients, we have dedicated a blog to enumerate details of our two-step leaky gut support – remove and repair. We also have a leaky gut diet page. There, you will know which foods to avoid or to eat, which supplements to take, and what structured diet program to follow.

To fight inflammation:

  • ContraFlam – this tincture is designed to target the type of inflammation known to hit the biliary tree.

To know more about inflammation, we also have a blog post discussing chronic inflammation and its role in the development of chronic diseases.

To help with hormonal issues:

  • Adaptogen - It has been proven that adaptogenic herbs help balance hormones and improve the body’s way of coping up with stress.

It can be frustrating to know that you still need to watch out for these three culprits – inflammation, hormones, and leaky gut. As if PCOS symptoms are not enough! However, it’s better to know all the complications and risks involved in dealing with this ovarian disease. Prevention and proper management through lifestyle modification and supplementation can definitely help save your gallbladder.

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