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What Happens to Food When the Gallbladder Stops Working?

author image Janet Renee, MS, RD
Janet Renee is a clinical dietitian with a special interest in weight management, sports dietetics, medical nutrition therapy and diet trends. She earned her Master of Science in nutrition from the University of Chicago and has contributed to health and wellness magazines, including Prevention, Self, Shape and Cooking Light.
What Happens to Food When the Gallbladder Stops Working?
Fatty foods stimulate gallbladder function. Photo Credit: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

Digestion is a complex process that involves the coordination of several organs. An array of fluids work together to help your body digest nutrients from food. Your gallbladder, in particular, functions to aid fat digestion. Fat from fat-containing foods goes through your system without proper digestion when your gallbladder fails to function properly. Improper fat digestion can cause uncomfortable symptoms.

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The gallbladder is a small pear-shaped organ connected to your liver through the hepatic duct. It stores a substance called bile that flows from the liver. The gallbladder contracts to release bile through your intestines when you eat fat-containing food. Bile is a substance composed primarily of specialized salts that help emulsify fat, enabling intestinal absorption. Fat is one of six essential nutrients that your body needs to function properly.


Gallbladder dysfunction prevents your body from properly breaking down and using fat from food you eat. Other nutrients in the food are broken down and absorbed normally, while some of the fat remains undigested. You may experience flatulence and bloating after eating fat-containing meals. You may notice stool changes, such as diarrhea because of undigested fat in your stools. You may experience fatty, foul-smelling stools that float. The color of your stool may appear very pale, because bile salts are responsible for the brown color of normal stools.

Eating Habits

Doctors typically recommend adhering to a reduced-fat diet if your gallbladder is dysfunctional. Food is composed of complex molecules that must be broken down before your body can use them. A reduced-fat diet is designed to help compensate for the lack of gallbladder function, since you are not able to properly digest fat from foods. A reduced-fat diet helps decrease the gastrointestinal symptoms associated with gallbladder dysfunction, too.


Your physician may recommend gallbladder removal if your gallbladder is no longer functioning. Your liver will continue to produce bile after gallbladder removal, and it will drip slowly into your intestines. You will be able to digest a small amount of fat, but without a functioning gallbladder to store and release bile, high-fat meals may cause discomfort. Consult your physician regarding your options if your gallbladder has stopped functioning properly.

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