What Does a Gallbladder Do?

The gallbladder is an organ that stores and transports bile produced by the liver. The function of bile is to break down and digest fatty foods in the small intestine. Humans can live without a gallbladder since bile can take other courses to reach the small intestine. Part of the biliary system, the gallbladder is located on the right side of the abdomen right under the liver. It is not needed for survival however, and can be removed surgically via a procedure called a cholecystectomy if medically necessary.

The liver produces bile, a yellowish-brown digestive enzyme. Bile aids in the breakdown and digestion of fatty foods in the small intestine. The gallbladder stores bile when it is not being used for digestion. The gallbladder also helps the liver drain waste products to the duodenum, which is the first part of the small intestine.

Gallstones are a common problem impacting the gallbladder. They appear when bile solidifies due to cholesterol or bilirubin saturation. They can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball, but only a slim minority of gallstones pose significant health problems. The larger stones can obstruct the flow of bile to the small intestine, resulting in other gallbladder diseases. Most stones pass naturally, but some require surgery to be removed.

A well-balanced diet consisting of fresh, fiber-rich fruit and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains contributes to maintaining a healthy gallbladder. Studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol and caffeine from coffee actually reduce the chance of gallstones. Hydration is essential for preserving the necessary amount of water in the bile. Foods that put people at a risk for gallstones include frozen or canned fruits and vegetables, packaged snacks like potato chips and cookies, fried food and whole-milk dairy products.