"This job is too important to mess up. I don’t think I’m up to it," Denise Hanson, 47, admitted to herself, putting down the delicate bouquet of flowers she was holding. "As a floral preservationist, I owned a business where I took people’s precious keepsakes — like their wedding roses — and turned them into art, preserved behind glass. But with fatigue and brain fog wearing me down, I knew I’d have to set my work aside for another day, and my unfinished tasks were starting to pile up, adding to my stress.
"It seemed like once I turned 40, my health started to go downhill. At first I figured my hormones were going haywire — my weight yo-yoed, my skin dried, and my hair thinned. My doctor said my lab work was typical and that I wasn’t in perimenopause. I argued that I was. We went around and around like that at every appointment.
"From the outside, I looked like I had endless energy. I worked all day and taught fitness classes in the evening. But the truth was, I struggled with each and every step, and it was upsetting. This was supposed to be a peaceful time for my husband and me — we were about to become empty-nesters with our daughter off to college. But my low energy and frustration often spilled over into our home life. Exhausted and unable to concentrate most nights, I found myself grabbing quick, unhealthy meals, robbing my husband and me of time to connect over dinner. I felt like I was falling short as a wife.
"I got really concerned when I developed pain that radiated up my side. It wasn’t the familiar discomfort I’d known from endometriosis, a condition I’d had for years. This pain made me double over. I was about to take my daughter on a special trip overseas and worried about ending up in a hospital far from home. I mentioned this to my chiropractor when I went in for an adjustment and he encouraged me to get an ultrasound to check my gallbladder. I did, but the test didn’t detect gallstones, so that seemed like yet another dead end.
"Through it all, I told myself I could handle the fatigue and the weight gain that came with menopause if I could just control the pain that seemed to come with it as well. So I told my gynecologist about my discomfort. Knowing my history of endometriosis, she told me to have a hysterectomy immediately — within the next two weeks! It was such a scary decision. I couldn’t believe someone wanted to rush to cut me open without taking the time to determine what was really wrong. So I pushed off the surgery and kept digging for answers on my own, praying that help would find me.
“One day I came across an online testimonial from a woman struggling with similar symptoms. She treated them with help from nutrition expert Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. I consulted Ann Louise, who ordered a tissuemineral analysis. The finding was that I was suffering from a subclinical hypothyroid issue. She explained that the problem was borderline — enough for me to feel symptoms of low thyroid but not enough for a traditional doctor’s test to detect. That’s why I’d always been told my thyroid was in the ‘normal’ range.
"What surprised me most: Ann Louise told me that my thyroid problem was likely caused by sluggish bile. She explained that bile breaks down fat to help the body make active thyroid hormones, so it’s key to thyroid health. And I had all the classic symptoms of sluggish bile: shooting pain in my gallbladder, fatigue, and headaches. If I improved the health of my bile, my thyroid would improve. Luckily, Ann Louise said it would be easy to remedy naturally.
"I started consuming foods and drinks proven to help with bile health. I sipped dandelion tea and apple cider vinegar, and I added collard greens, watercress, and arugula to recipes. I also took a bile builder, which contained choline and beet root. After three weeks, I noticed my energy rebounding day by day. The black circles under my eyes disappeared, I could stay completely focused from morning to night and I felt more calm.
"Ann Louise’s information is priceless. She is where my prayers led me. I’m so glad I loved myself enough to figure this out. Since making these changes, I haven’t had a single episode of gallbladder pain. And with my thyroid working properly, my weight is easier to manage — I’m in my high-school weight range! When I think about having an unnecessary hysterectomy, I know I dodged a bullet!"
Is sluggish bile making you tired and achy?
If you are exhausted and experience two or more of the following symptoms, suboptimal bile flow may be slowing your thyroid:
- Pain between the shoulder blades or under the rib cage
- Light-colored or gray stool
- Bloat, especially after a fatty meal
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
“For more than half my patients with thyroid slowdowns, suboptimal bile health is at the root," says Sandra Cabot, MD, author of Your Thyroid Problems Solved ($11.69, Amazon). Indeed, scientists in Finland discovered that people with reduced bile flow are seven times more likely to have hypothyroidism. Why? The digestive fluid breaks down dietary fats, releasing an enzyme crucial to the production of active thyroid hormones. Without enough bile, thyroid function slows, triggering fatigue, thinning hair, weight gain, and more.
Not sure what to do for a sluggish bile duct? Two simple tests can identify the problem: Ask for a blood test to assess levels of bilirubin (a compound excreted by the liver that can signal bile trouble), and a thyroid antibody test. And consider the many natural methods you can use to improve bile health and reboot the thyroid gland.
What causes sluggish bile?
Causes of a sluggish bile duct include toxin buildup from pollution or chemical exposure, which thickens the bile and reduces its ability to break down thyroid-revving fats, says Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, author of Eat Fat, Lose Weight: The Right Fats Can Make You Thin for Life ($19.97, Amazon). Plus, stress hormones hinder bile production, increasing the risk of thyroid slowdowns.
4 Natural Treatments for Sluggish Bile
1. Sip 8 oz. of hot water mixed with the juice of half a lemon. Gittleman says the fruit’s citric acid stimulates bile flow and helps the liver flush out toxins that thicken the fluid. Not a citrus fan? Here's another bile-thinning beverage.
2. Drink 8 oz. of water mixed with 1 oz. of unsweetened cranberry juice four times throughout the day.
3. Enjoy 1 1⁄2 cups of fiber-rich veggies (like sweet potatoes) or non-gluten grains (like brown rice) daily. This helps the body clear toxins to keep bile thin, says Gittleman.
3. Add 1 Tbs. of lecithin powder (available at drugstores) to smoothies, salads or cereal daily. As Gittleman explains, "This fatty compound is the primary agent in bile that breaks down fats."
Fire Up Your Metabolism With Bile-Boosting Fats
We’ve been told for decades to limit saturated fat, which some experts say can harm the heart. But Sandra Cabot, MD, says the fat can improve health. "A low-fat diet leads to bile slowdown, raising the risk of bile thickening," she explains. And when bile can’t flow freely, metabolism and thyroid function slow, leading to weight gain and fatigue. Her advice? Incorporate three daily servings of bile-boosting natural fats like butter, avocado, and olive oil. And for the biggest boost, get a dose of saturated fat from coconut oil in the morning. The oil’s medium-chain fatty acids revitalize the thyroid to increase metabolism by 50 percent — and research suggests consuming the fat in the first four hours after waking up fuels cellular energy and keeps metabolism fired up all day.
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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