Joanne Smith and Kylie JamesPeople rarely give their gallbladder much thought until they have a problem. Those of us with SCI should be paying attention to this little pear-shaped organ long before that because we have an increased prevalence of gallstones (cholelithiasis). Studies indicate our risk of developing gallstones is three to six times higher than nondisabled people belonging to similar demographic groups. Cholelithiasis is so significant that it is now considered a secondary complication of SCI.

Gallstones range in size from a speck of sand to a pea. The gallbladder’s role is to store and secrete one liter of bile produced by your liver each day. Bile is a critically important digestive secretion that plays a multitude of roles in your digestion and health.

Bile breaks down fat globules into smaller fat droplets, so they can be properly digested. Fat molecules carry vitamins D, E, K and A throughout your body. These four fat-soluble vitamins, commonly deficient in people with SCI, play vital roles in the prevention and management of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and pressure sores. Sufficient amounts of bile are essential for the proper digestion of fats, absorption of essential nutrients and prevention of serious secondary health complications. Bile also helps neutralize acidic food and damage it causes, keeps your small intestines free of microorganisms, reduces bloating, helps stimulate intestinal peristalsis and helps prevent constipation.

Gallstones can block the bile duct through which bile is released into the intestines. The gallbladder can then become inflamed and unable to perform its vital role. In extreme cases, surgery is required to remove the gallbladder, which drastically decreases the amount of bile reaching the small intestine. Even tiny gallstones can significantly impair your digestive system and overall health.

Symptoms of Insufficient Bile Secretion:
• Gas and bloating, especially from onions, cabbage, radishes and cucumbers
• Fatty/greasy foods cause nausea or headaches
• Constipation
• Chronic bad breath or bad taste in mouth
• Excess body odor

Studies indicate that diets low in fiber and high in sugar and food allergens are associated with increased risks of developing gallstones. Be sure to reduce your sugar intake, eliminate all known food allergens and boost your diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Dandelion tea helps increase bile secretion and the solubility of bile, thus decreasing risk of gallstones. Lecithin, a natural fatty substance found in high concentrations in eggs, beef liver and peanuts, has also been shown to help reduce gallstone development. Below is a lecithin-rich recipe to help keep your gallbladder healthy and happy.

Joanne Smith and Kylie James are co-authors of the book Eat Well Live Well with SCI and Other Neurological Conditions. For more information on nutrition for neurological injuries, go to www.eatwelllivewellwithsci.com.

Protein Pancakes
¼ head cauliflower, steamed and mashed (or use broccoli or spinach)
2 eggs
1 tbsp. whole grain flour
2 tbsp. red onion, chopped
1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp. coconut oil (or butter)
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste

Steam cauliflower in microwave and gently mash. Add eggs. Sprinkle in flour and parmesan cheese. Heat coconut oil, fry mash in pancake shape and enjoy. Cook and store extra pancakes in fridge for microwave meal later!