Bile salts are one of the primary components of bile. Bile is a greenish-yellow fluid made by your liver and stored in the gallbladder. In addition to bile salts, bile contains cholesterol, water, bile acids, and the pigment bilirubin.
Bile salts help with the digestion of fats. They also help the body absorb fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Bile and bile salts are made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder between meals.
The role of bile and bile salts in the body is to:
- aid digestion by breaking down fats
- help absorb fat-soluble vitamins
- eliminate waste products
After you eat and there are fats present in your digestive tract, your hormones send a signal to the gallbladder to release bile.
The bile is released directly into the first part of the small intestine, called the duodenum. This is where most of the process of digestion happens. The bile helps break down and digest the fats present in food.
Another primary function of bile that bile salts help with is the removal of toxins. Toxins are secreted into the bile and eliminated in feces. A lack of bile salts can cause a buildup of toxins in the body.
Bile acids are made by the hepatocyte cells in the liver and derive from cholesterol. Bile salts are similar to bile acids and form when bile acids bone to molecules of potassium or sodium. This process allows bile salts to take on specific properties that make them effective at breaking down fats.
Types of bile salts
All bile salts start as primary bile salts. These consist of cholesterol-derived bile acid bound to potassium or sodium ions. From there, there are a few different paths bile salts can take.
Some bile salts stay unaltered and travel to the duodenum as primary bile salts. Others encounter intestinal bacteria that remove a group of atoms from a molecule of bile salt. This creates what is known as a secondary bile salt.
Other bile salts gain further additions in the form of taurine or glycine amino acids, creating conjugated bile salts.
Each type of bile salt plays a slightly different role in the digestion process, with conjugated bile salts being the most important for fat breakdown.
If the fat-soluble vitamins and fatty acids that you eat can’t be absorbed, they pass into the colon, which can cause complications.
People who don’t produce and store enough bile salts, possibly because they’ve had their gallbladder removed, can experience:
- trapped gas
- bad-smelling gas
- stomach cramps
- erratic bowel movements
- weight loss
- pale-colored stools
Bile salt supplements
People with bile salt deficiency may try bile salt supplements to counteract these symptoms. It’s also important to stay hydrated since about 85 percent of bile is made up of water.
It can also be helpful for people who don’t produce enough bile salts to eat a lot of beets and beet greens. This is because they contain a lot of the nutrient betaine, which is one of the most powerful liver detoxicants.
Untreated bile salt deficiency
If a bile salt deficiency is left untreated, it can increase your risk of forming kidney stones and gallstones.
There are two conditions that are associated with higher risks of bile salt malabsorption. These are Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
Bile salts are a primary component of bile and are needed by the body to help break down fats, aid digestion, absorb important vitamins, and eliminate toxins.
Bile salts are stored in your gallbladder when they’re not being used. If your gallbladder is removed, it can lead to a bile salt deficiency. This condition can also be caused by other diseases of the bowel.
If you experience any of the symptoms of a bile salt deficiency, it’s important that you see your doctor. They’ll be able to talk you through your options. They’re likely to suggest that you stay properly hydrated at all times, increase your consumption of beets, and begin taking bile salt supplements.