Professor of Anatomy/Consultant Reproductive Endocrinologist
The gallbladder is a hollow organ that sits in a shallow depression below the right lobe of the liver that is grey-blue in life. In adults, the gallbladder measures approximately between 7cm and 10 cm (2.8 to 3.9 inches) in length and 4 cm (1.6 in) in diameter when fully distended.
The gallbladder has a capacity of about 50 ml (1.8 imperial fluid ounces). Here is a brief description of its functions below. Please read it carefully and have an idea of the kind of role that this tiny organ plays in the body.
Storehouse for bile
The gallbladder serves as a storehouse for bile juice. This is its primary and most important function. The bile juice remains here until a need arises in the intestine for the digestion of lipids. The liver is the organ that secretes the bile.
Also known as “gall,” bile is a dark green or yellowish brown fluid that contains up to 97 per cent water. However, the remaining three per cent of its composition comes from other substances, including bile salts, inorganic salts, bilirubin and fats. Here it is necessary to realise that there are no enzymes in the bile juice.
An essential and vital function of the gallbladder is the ability to remove toxins from the blood and ingested food. As an anti-oxidant, bile juice counters the poisonous effects of free radicals in the blood. The removal of these free radicals also serves to delay the process of aging. So, you look young when you are not.
Neutralises acid in the body
As bile fluid is alkaline and it helps to neutralise hydrochloric acid in the stomach in times of starvation. Hydrochloric acid or HCL, in the stomach, has the pH value of 2. This strong acidic concentration helps in the digestion of proteins present in the food.
First of all, the inactive pepsinogen converts into active pepsin enzyme in this acidic medium. The digestion of fats, on the other hand, requires an alkaline medium. So, bile comes to play its role here. It quickly turns the acidic medium into alkaline one as food enters the small intestine after partial digestion in the stomach.
Emulsifies lipids (fat)
The gallbladder also plays a crucial role in the emulsification of lipids. The bile juice, coming from the gallbladder, also has a potential to emulsify lipids or fatty substances in the diet. After that, it becomes easier for the enzymes to undergo the digestion of emulsified fats. As an emulsifier of fats, bile aids a great deal in the process of food digestion.
The gallbladder is also important for the absorption of food. It assists in the uptake of fats and fat-soluble molecules across the wall of the small intestine into the body. After entering the bloodstream, these tiny food particles travel through blood vessels. Finally, these food particles reach every individual cell.
The powerhouses of the cells, mitochondria, carry out the further breakdown of these particles. This breakdown occurs through the process of respiration to extract energy present in the bonds of compounds.
Eliminates waste products
The removal of waste products from the body is another function of the gallbladder. The waste substances, including bilirubin, are secreted into the bile.
Actually, after the recycling of red blood cells by the liver, bilirubin produces as a byproduct. This gall then empties into the small intestine. From there, it travels along with other waste products in the gut towards the posterior end of the gastrointestinal canal. Finally, it discharges out of the body along with faeces.
Factors that impede the functions of the gallbladder
Disease can affect the functions of this vital organ. The gallbladder diseases, on the other hand, are of several different types. Sometimes, they are infectious and may occur due to attacks from germs, formation of gallstones or some other factor.
This refers to the inflammation of the biliary vesicle. There can be different background factors responsible for the onset of this disease, such as gallstones.
Gallstones obstruct the bile duct, which carries gall and empties it into the small intestine. The accumulation of hepatic juice leads to high swelling in the organ. Cholecystitis involves the symptoms of fever, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the abdominal area.
Gallstones are among the most prevalent diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract. Once associated with older people, they are now seen frequently even in the younger generation due to poor dietary habits and stressed lifestyle.
The prevalence of gallstones is lower in Africa than in Europe and America. Approximately one in two Americans have gallstones and 750,000 people will have their gallstones removed by the end of the year. It is due to differences in dietary cholesterol and fibre in the diet.
When we cook in Africa, it is typical to have either palm or vegetable oil flowing at the top of the stew. Furthermore, the oil we commonly use in cooking has 100 per cent saturated fat content. In general, the average daily requirement for oil in cooking is about two to three tablespoonfuls.
To be continued..
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