What Is the Function of the GALLBLADDER – Explore 8 Major Functions
The fact that over 20 million individuals have gallstone disease in the US alone fires up a reader to learn about the gallbladder function. A digestive organ, gallbladder performs lots of functions like:
- StorageTemporarily stores bile juice.
- DigestionLipid breakdown and providing alkaline medium.
- AntioxidantRemoves toxins and delays the process of aging.
- NeutralizationNeutralizes gastric acid for fat digestion.
- EmulsificationEmulsifies lipids to prepare for enzyme action.
- AbsorptionFacilitates uptake of digested food into the bloodstream.
- Waste DisposalHelps in the elimination of wastes like bilirubin, etc.
- SecretionBicarbonate and mucins protect cells against bile acids.
These are just the key points about the purpose of the gallbladder in the human body. A detailed discussion on “What is the function of the gallbladder?” will follow. In addition, you will get answers to FAQs about gallbladder function, given at the end.
A 3-word answer to “What is the function of the gallbladder?” is, “Reservoir for bile”. But the story of its functions does not end here.
Most people usually don’t talk about or care for this 4-inch, pear-shaped biliary vesicle unless there is some interruption in the role of gallbladder. Sometimes, even its disease may be asymptomatic, i.e. it does not involve any symptoms.
It jumps to prominence when you encounter problems like abdominal pain, nauseated feeling or vomiting, shaking chill accompanied by fever, jaundice, and changes in urine (dark colored) and bowel movements (unexplained diarrhea), etc.
8 Major Functions in Detail:
Here follows a brief description of the gallbladder function. A careful read will give you an idea about the role of this tiny organ and its vital importance in the body.
Temporary Storehouse for Hepatic Bile:
The major gallbladder function is to act as a storehouse for bile juice. The bile juice remains here until the need arises in the intestine for the digestion of lipids. The liver is the organ that secretes the hepatic bile.
Here it is interesting to note that the liver is the hottest organ in your body.
Also known as “gall”, bile is a dark-green or yellowish-brown fluid that contains up to 97% water. The remaining 3% of its composition comes from other substances, including bile salts, inorganic salts, bilirubin, and fats.
Here it is necessary to realize that there are no enzymes in the bile juice.
Gallbladder Function in Digestive System:
Did you know? Most of us feel uncomfortably bloated after a heavy meal rich in fats and oil. It highlights the importance of gallbladder function in digestive system.
The condition is linked to the proper functioning of this digestive organ. It is because fats take longer digestive period in comparison with that of proteins and carbohydrates.
The breakdown of fat globules in food into simpler particles is essential for multiple reasons. First, larger particles need to be broken down into smaller ones for absorption across the intestinal wall into the bloodstream.
Second, it is done for the end that the regular digestive enzymes may act upon them effectively. This process of breaking down complex fatty substances into simpler molecules is termed as emulsification.
As an Antioxidant:
Did you know? Antioxidants help keep you young. Also, note that the gall or bile behaves like an anti-oxidant. Therefore, the gall can remove toxins from the blood and ingested food.
Oxidation reactions taking place in the body produce free radicals which are harmful to health.
On the other hand, playing the role of an anti-oxidant, bile juice counters the poisonous effects of these substances.
Another important thing, worth mentioning here, is that the removal of these free radicals also serves to delay the process of aging. So, you look young when actually you are not!
Gallbladder Function in Acid Neutralization:
As bile is alkaline in nature, it also helps to neutralize hydrochloric acid in the stomach during times of starvation. Hydrochloric acid or HCL, in the stomach, has a pH value of 2.
This strong acidic concentration helps in the digestion of proteins present in the food. First, the inactive pepsinogen converts into an 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.
Emulsification of Lipids:
Another significant gallbladder function is that of the emulsification of lipids. The bile juice, coming from the gallbladder, also has the potential to emulsify lipids or fatty substances in the diet.
Thereby, it becomes easier for the enzymes to undergo the digestion of emulsified fats. As an emulsifier of fats, the bile aids a great deal in the process of food digestion.
Facilitation of Absorption:
Bile is also important from the point of view of the absorption of food. This fluid 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 small 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.
Secretion of Bicarbonate and Mucins:
How does the gallbladder regulate the composition of bile? It is the unique absorptive and secretive capacity of the walls that the bile composition is maintained at the required level.
The epithelium of the gallbladder is specialized to secrete the compounds like bicarbonate and mucins. Both these types of compounds provide cytoprotection, i.e. they protect the cells against damages by bile acids.
Elimination of Waste Products:
The elimination of waste products is another gallbladder function. The gallbladder plays an important role in the disposal of waste products from the body.
The waste substances, including bilirubin, are secreted into the bile. In this capacity, it can be considered an accessory organ of the excretory system.
During the recycling of red blood cells by the liver, bilirubin is produced as a by-product. This gall then empties into the small intestine.
From there, it travels along with other waste products in the intestine towards the posterior end of the gastrointestinal canal.
Finally, it discharges out of the body along with feces.
What Affects the Gallbladder Function?
Mostly it is diseases that can affect the gallbladder function.
The gallbladder diseases are of several different types. Sometimes, they are infectious in nature and may occur due to the attack of germs, cholelithiasis (formation of gallstones), or some other cause.
At times, this small organ may also fall victim to some sort of malignancy or a cancerous condition.
Here follows a brief description of some diseases that can affect the gallbladder function:
Cholelithiasis – Stones of Gallbladder or Bile Duct:
Cholelithiasis refers to the formation of gallstones in the bile storing organ.
You can have an idea about the widespread occurrence of gallstones from the fact that as many as 700,000 individuals undergo cholecystectomy in the US alone.
And it has become the most frequently performed surgical procedure of the gastrointestinal tract in the country.
The gallstones are usually of two types. Based on their composition, they are called cholesterol stones and pigment stones. The first type, i.e. cholesterol stones, accounts for 80% of all cases. The pigment stones, on the other hand, account for the remaining 20% cases.
As the name suggests, cholesterol stones result from the supersaturation of cholesterol in the bile. Cholesterol is one of the major components of bile along with bile acids and phospholipids. Bile also contains plenty of water, bile salts, bile pigments, triglycerides, and electrolytes.
The pigment stones may be composed of either calcium palmitate or calcium bilirubinate. They may be colored black or brown.
The black stones are usually associated with cirrhosis or hemolytic conditions. On the other hand, the brown pigment stones are associated with bacterial infections and the disorders of biliary motility.
It is one of the most common diseases of the gallbladder.
Cholecystitis is one of the several complications of cholelithiasis. Other complications include choledocholithiasis (common bile duct stone) and gallstone ileus (reversible reduction in gastrointestinal mobility caused by a gallstone).
The condition of cholecystitis refers to the inflammation of the biliary vesicle. There can be different background factors for the onset of this disease, such as gallstones.
The gallstones cause an obstruction in 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.
Gallbladder cancer is the development of malignant cells in the organ. Here it is important to note that the malignancy of biliary vesicle is usually very rare.
The diagnosis of the condition is also very difficult. It is because the symptoms of cancer and other diseases are usually very similar and include fever, jaundice, nausea, and vomiting.
Especially when you know the role of gallbladder is vital in the digestive system, it is surprising to note that people can survive and lead a normal healthy life even without this organ.
In the case of gallstones, the organ is removed from the body through a surgical procedure. However, this surgical operation is quite expensive. And there are risks associated with such surgeries.
Nevertheless, this biliary vesicle has got certain very important roles to play in your body. The gallbladder functions include serving as a storehouse for bile and acting as an antioxidant.
The emulsification of lipids, contribution to digestion, facilitation of absorption, and elimination of waste products are also the functions of the gallbladder.