A reader with agonizing symptoms inquires about the connection between gallbladder/liver health and the mouth, as answered by Edward Leyton, MD, CCFD.
Dear Dr Leyton:
Can you elaborate on the following statement, which appeared under the symptoms heading in a health textbook? “A lasting bitter taste in the mouth is a sign of gall bladder or liver trouble.” What is the bitter secretion referred to? Where does it come from? What is the connection between the mouth and the gall bladder/liver? Can a bitter taste in only one side of the mouth be rationalized? I’m 54 and I’ve had this aggravating symptom for several years. I also know for certain that I have a gallstone problem, which I manage by doing periodic holistic liver cleanses.
Bile is an emulsifier and is excreted into the upper part of the small intestine to help digest fats. The liver makes about one quart of bile per day. Excess bile that is unused is stored in the gall bladder and can form gallstones in some people. During a fatty meal intake, the gall bladder contracts, secreting bile into the upper intestine in order to help digest the fats that you have eaten. Bile is an extremely bitter-tasting substance and can easily be tasted in the mouth, particularly if the liver is stagnant and sluggish as a result of excessive alcohol, fatty food and toxic overload. Vapours from excessive bile secretion can find their way up through the intestine, stomach and esophagus to the mouth, or through absorption into the bloodstream and out through the lungs in exhaled air. This creates the bitter taste, and hence the term “biliousness.”
In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) the theory is slightly different. In TCM each organ in the body opens to an orifice. The liver opens to the eyes and throat, whereas the heart opens to the mouth and tongue. If the bitter taste is in the morning only, it indicates a full heat pattern of heart fire (ie, excessive heat) usually accompanied by symptoms of agitation or trouble sleeping. The tip of the tongue may be red.
If the bitter taste is present all day, it is usually due to liver fire. This is often due to prolonged liver stagnation from overeating fatty foods and excessive alcohol intake. There is usually a tendency for this kind of person to store a great deal of anger and frustration. For further information on the theories of traditional Chinese medicine, please see Fundamentals of Traditional Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia or Handbook of Traditional Chinese Medicine: Patterns and Treatment by Bob Flaws.
In the homeopathic medicine model, a bitter taste is often relieved by using Pulsatilla or Nux vomica, particularly if digestion is bad in addition to the bitter taste. A bitter taste on one side of the mouth is unusual, but it could be due to many mercury amalgam fillings on that side. Amalgam contains mercury, silver and tin. A hair analysis would be a good screening test to see if you are overburdened with other heavy metals such as aluminum or lead. I would suspect that a consultation with a TCM practitioner, naturopath or homeopath would explain that one-sided symptom in combination with other symptoms, and provide a treatment for it.