The gallbladder, a small organ located just under your liver, is basically a sac for storing bile. The liver produces bile and transfers it through ducts to your gallbladder, which releases it to digest fat. At some point and for reasons that are not clearly understood, you may form gallstones. Prolonged fasting can exacerbate their formation, according to Baptist Memorial Health Care.
Bile consists of water, fats, bile salts, proteins and cholesterol. When there is fat in your small intestine, your gallbladder contracts and pumps stored bile through the bile duct into your intestine. Eighty percent of all gallstones consist mainly of hardened cholesterol, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. The stones form when your bile contains too much cholesterol. Gallstones vary widely in size. In fact, stones of many sizes sometimes are found together in one gallbladder.
Under normal circumstances, your body derives most of its energy from carbohydrate metabolism, according to the McKinley Health Center. When you fast for an extended period of time, you deprive your body of its normal source of fuel, and it eventually starts to break down its fat reserves for energy. Your liver begins to secrete more cholesterol into the bile it produces. In addition, bile may stay in your gallbladder longer because it may not empty normally, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.
The consequences of fasting and fat metabolism may lead to the formation of gallstones. They may not cause you any problems unless they get bigger or get stuck in the bile duct and prevent the normal flow of bile from the gallbladder to the small intestine. The classic symptom of gallstones is pain in your upper abdomen, which may become very severe and last for up to several hours, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Gallstones may also cause pain between your shoulder blades, indigestion, nausea and vomiting, belching, gas, fever and chills. X-rays, ultrasound or other types of scans may be performed to check for gallstones. If your symptoms are not severe, you doctor may recommend a low-fat diet and pain medication. If your condition becomes serious, you may require surgery. Typically, your gallbladder is removed, although sound waves can be used to break up the stones, according to Baptist Memorial Health Care.