The Link Between Gallbladder Disease and Iron Deficiency

Gallbladder Disease and Iron Deficiency: How Are They Related? 

As a gallbladder-focused nutritionist, I work one on one with tons of people dealing with gallbladder disease and gallstones. And I’ve found that several of them are on iron supplementsWhy? 

Often, patients with gallbladder issues are told they’re iron deficient. So it leads to the question: Do gallbladder problems relate to iron deficiency?  Iron deficiency anemia is when your body’s not getting enough iron, so your hemoglobin levels are low in your blood. When your body’s anemic, you don’t have enough red blood cells for proper functioning. 

This often leads to fatigue, paleness, and dizziness. 

It’s known that many people with gallbladder disease, or without a gallbladder, are anemic and need to take iron supplements. So– let’s take a deeper dive into why gallbladder disease and iron deficiency are correlated. Then, we’ll discuss how we can best manage iron deficiency through a balanced diet.

What Causes Low Iron Levels? 

When you’re deficient in iron, it could be from your dietary intake, or it could be from other physiological conditions. Let’s break down some of the known causes of iron deficiency. 

Mineral Deficiency

Minerals work together in the body. Low levels of certain minerals– specifically copper– can lead to low levels of iron. 

Vitamin Deficiency

Vitamins play a role in the absorption of iron. We need to have enough Vitamin A in our diets, therefore in our bodies, for iron to absorb correctly. Vitamin C can also increase iron absorption in the body. 

Gut Bacteria Imbalance and Digestive Conditions 

Any imbalances of gut bacteria can impact iron, especially small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Intestinal and digestive conditions, like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and Helicobacter pylori infection can decrease the body’s ability to absorb iron properly. 

Inflammation

The Link Between Gallbladder Disease and Iron Deficiency

Inflammation has been linked to low iron levels. Increased inflammation means more iron 

storage and decreased iron in the blood. Some long-lasting conditions like congestive heart failure and obesity can lead to inflammation. And this inflammation makes it difficult for your body to use and regulate your iron supply.1

Diagnosing Low Iron Levels 

When assessing iron levels, most medical professionals will run the following lab tests:

  • Serum iron
  • Hemoglobin 
  • Ferritin 

But for a full picture of what’s going on and how to fix it, requesting more extensive blood work gives you a better idea of iron status. 

Additional lab markers for iron deficiency are Total Iron Binding Capacity (TIBC), transferrin, or a peripheral smear. 

Typically, practitioners won’t order all of these lab tests. But if you work with a functional practitioner, they can help by ordering additional blood work, micronutrient testing, or hair tissue mineral analysis.

Iron Recycling System

Iron is processed in a complex way in the body. The iron recycling system is comprised of the small intestine, liver, bone marrow, red blood cells, and spleen. 

Throughout this cycle, iron is constantly transported and changed from a dangerous to a safe form. 

To do this, our body needs a key mineral– copper.

When this system functions well, our body naturally produces 24mg of iron every 24 hours. Bone marrow then uses iron to make red blood cells. Red blood cells live for about 120 days.

Then it’s broken down and the process is repeated.

The recommended dietary allowance for iron is:

  • 18mg for women 
  • 8mg for men

But remember your body makes 24mg of iron every day!

And it only takes 25mg of iron to support red blood cell production. So, as long as the iron system is working well, we really only need 1mg of iron in the diet. 

But it’s worth it to ensure you eat enough iron in your diet to stay in optimal range. 

What’s the Relationship Between Iron Deficiency and Gallbladder Disease? 

So– can iron deficiency anemia really cause gallstones? The Link Between Gallbladder Disease and Iron Deficiency

Here’s some research that explains the connection between iron deficiency and gallbladder disease. 

Iron deficiency can alter liver enzymes which increases gallbladder cholesterol saturation. This promotes the crystallization of cholesterol, leading to gallstones.2  

Low serum iron levels cause a defect in hepatic cholesterol metabolism, as well as decreased motility in the gallbladder. This causes bile becomes static which leads to MORE cholesterol– which can ultimately cause gallstones. 

Deficiency in both iron and calcium is associated with increased super-saturation of bile in the gallbladder. This too can lead to a higher risk of gallstone formation.2

An additional study of 100 people concluded similar findings: 

Low serum iron level is associated with a high risk of gallstones– or cholelithiasis.

Of these participants that had a diagnosis of cholelithiasis, this study also concluded that low serum iron, serum cholesterol, serum ferritin, and hemoglobin were more prevalent among females.3

Iron deficiency anemia can cause gallbladder pain through the formation of gallstones. When people have gallstones, they usually have: 

  • Severe and sudden right-sided abdominal pain 
  • Pain to the central abdomen 
  • Pain behind the shoulders or the right shoulder
  • Nausea and vomiting

Iron deficiency is a proven risk factor for the formation of gallstones, so it makes sense that anemia can cause gallbladder pain.

If you’re someone who’s struggling with gallbladder pain or frequent gallbladder attacks, you’ve likely experienced these symptoms. 

Gallbladder attacks can be best managed through diet changes and lifestyle modifications. I offer an exclusive nutrition guide specifically for gallbladder attacks to help when you’re struggling through these painful episodes. 

The Gallbladder Attack Nutrition Guide offers you guidance through: 

  • 2 weeks of gallbladder-focused meals 
  • A 2-week supportive grocery list 
  • Full recipes with detailed instructions
  • Trigger foods to avoid 

Stop your gallbladder pain fast by implementing the recommendations from this 2-week nutrition guide!

How Diet Changes Can Improve Iron Deficiency 

Iron deficiency can usually be resolved through the incorporation of an iron-rich nutrition plan. 

Iron, Copper, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C are essential nutrients to include in your diet to prevent iron deficiency anemia. There are great sources of each of these from different foods, but you can always take them through a daily supplement as well. 

Iron

Iron is a mineral your body needs for proper growth and development. Iron is a crucial component of our circulatory system, and as we’ve learned– low levels can impact your daily functioning. 

Iron Rich Foods: 

  • Beans 
  • Dried fruits
  • Eggs
  • Lean red meats
  • Salmon
  • Iron-fortified bread and cereals 
  • Dark green leafy vegetables

The Link Between Gallbladder Disease and Iron Deficiency

Iron supplements may also be taken if recommended by your doctor for iron deficiency. Oral iron pills are the most common treatment for anemia.

It can take three to six months to get your iron levels back to an optimal state. So it’s always beneficial to eat an iron-rich diet even while taking iron supplements. 

If you have side effects like a bad metallic taste, vomiting, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal symptoms while taking iron, talk to your doctor about switching supplements or altering the dose.

Copper

Copper is a mineral needed by the body for energy and essential bodily functions. Copper and iron work together to help regulate oxygen. 

Copper is responsible for regulating the amount of iron that enters the blood. So, when your levels of copper are low, iron remains stored in tissues. This is what causes iron deficiency anemia

Without copper, the iron recycling system doesn’t work. 

And without Vitamin A, copper doesn’t work efficiently.

Vitamin A is a vitamin important for growth, immunity, reproduction, and vision. It’s crucial to help organ functioning. We need Vitamin A in our diets to help the other minerals do their jobs. 

So– boost copper and vitamin A-rich foods in your diet to help improve iron levels.

Copper-rich foods: 

  • Organ meats
  • Beef liver
  • Citrus fruits
  • Bee pollen
  • Shellfish
  • Raw cacao

Vitamin A-rich foods:

  • Liver 
  • Fish 
  • Eggs
  • Green leafy vegetables

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is another vitamin our body needs. It helps with forming muscle and collagen, and it aids in the body’s healing process. Foods rich in vitamin C can help your body absorb iron. The Link Between Gallbladder Disease and Iron Deficiency

Vitamin C-rich foods: 

  • Oranges
  • Strawberries
  • Tomatoes 

Overall, we can tell diet is a huge factor in avoiding iron deficiency. Because anemia can cause gallbladder issues, having optimal levels of iron in your body can reduce your risk of developing gallstones. 

Diet is so important to your body’s health and functioning! 

As a functional nutritionist, I strive to offer my clients as much knowledge as I can to help them adjust their diets to achieve their health and wellness goals.

If you’re someone who’s struggled with symptoms of gallbladder disease, I’m here for you. And you’re not alone! 

There are so many people just like you dealing with similar symptoms. And because of that, I offer one-on-one integrative nutrition counseling. Here, we work together to develop a nutrition plan and incorporate lifestyle adjustments to help you reach your health and diet goals. 

Connect with me today so I can get to know you. So we can optimize your diet, and so you can feel confident prioritizing your health!

References: 

  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Iron Deficiency Anemia. Mar 24, 2022. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/anemia/iron-deficiency-anemia
  2. Prasad PC, Gupta S, Kaushik N. To study serum iron levels in patients of gallbladder stone disease and to compare with healthy individuals. Indian J Surg. 2015 Feb;77(1):19-22. doi: 10.1007/s12262-012-0739-6. Epub 2012 Sep 16. PMID: 25829706; PMCID: PMC4376827.
  3. Dadhich, Y., Bhardwaj, G., Goel, G., & Mandia, R. (n.d.). Correlation of serum iron and ferritin levels in patients of cholelithiasis and comparison with healthy individuals. International Surgery Journal. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://www.ijsurgery.com/index.php/isj/article/view/4336
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