Your gallbladder (shown in green) is your storage vessel for bile – a fluid that is produced in the liver, and then shunted to the gallbladder for storage.
Bile is released from your gallbladder when you eat a meal with fat in it. This greenish fluid is like detergent for your body. Just like dish washing detergent emulsifies and breaks up oil and grease on your dinner plates, bile does the same for the fats you ingest. It breaks up fat into tiny little beadlets (called micelles), increasing the surface area of the fat so that your lipases (fat-digesting enzymes produced by the pancreas) can break it down and you can absorb the essential fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins. These nutrients are then absorbed through the villi (finger-like projections) that cover the wall of the small intestine. Those fatty acids and fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E + K) are used for thousands of functions and structures throughout your body!
Other functions of Bile
Bile is also a powerful bacteriocide and fungicide (kills bacteria). It helps kill off potential pathogens in food. The small intestine is meant to have a very low bacterial population and bile helps to maintain this low count. Insufficient bile often results in Small Intestinal Bacterial or Fungal Overgrowth (SIBO / SIFO). Symptoms of these conditions include bloating, gas and other symptoms of IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
Bile serves as a route of elimination for a substance called bilirubin. Bilirubin is a by-product of red blood cell recycling / breakdown in the liver. Your may have heard of jaundice – this is caused by a build-up of bilirubin.
Not enough bile means we can’t digest fats. Undigested fat gets eliminated through the bowels. This can result in poops that float, or in more severe cases steatorrhea – where poops are pale (even white or grey), fluffy or have an oily appearance, float and are difficult to flush. As a result, deficiencies in essential fatty acids and vitamins A, D, E + K develop.
These deficiencies are common in people who have had their gallbladder removed as they no longer have a storage vessel for bile. Instead, the liver essential drips out bile and needs to make it on demand. Without a gallbladder the is no reservoir of accumulated bile, instead there’s a dripping tap. We need a good squirt of bile to digest fats and the drip approach is not as effective. Do What you can to keep your gallbladder! More coming up on this in the next article.
In the meantime, see when the next online gallbladder flush is being run, and keep your liver and gallbladder in good nick (and in your body!).