Last time I talked about the various roles and processes that our liver has to do on a daily basis. I want to pick up where I left off and get into more detail on these processes starting with one of the liver’s most important function: bile secretion.
Every day the liver makes about one quart of bile. Bile consists of bile salts, bilirubin, cholesterol, lecithin, hormones and electrolytes. In addition, it will contain toxins that have been processed by chemical reactions in the liver to make them safer for elimination.
The bile is stored temporarily in the gallbladder, where water and minerals are reabsorbed, making the bile more concentrated, which improves its ability to digest fats. In addition to emulsifying fats, bile helps lubricate the intestines and gives the stool its normal brown color. Bile is released from the gallbladder and the liver as needed in response to the presence of fat in the intestines. In the gallbladder, the bile becomes a darker color. Good quality bile is reflected in a walnut brown color stool, but if there is insufficient bile, the stool is light in color.
Bile is important for good health. Not only does it break down fat, but it also assists in absorbing fat-soluble vitamins and in assimilating calcium. It also converts beta-carotene into vitamin A and promotes peristalsis, helping food move through the intestines preventing constipation.
Bile also serves as a carrier for the elimination of many toxic substances. The bile and the toxins it carries are absorbed by dietary fiber in the intestines and then excreted. If there is insufficient fiber, the toxins and bile are reabsorbed. The toxins are actually in a more dangerous state now that they have interacted with the bacteria in the intestine which is more damaging than just reabsorbing toxins.
Since bile is the carrier for toxins to be eliminated, diminished bile flow (cholestasis) is a large contributor to liver impairment. When bile flow is inhibited, toxins stay in the liver too long. The liver then stores these toxins in its fatty tissue. As it stores more toxins, its efficiency is compromised and bile flow decreases. The liver becomes constipated just like the colon.
Another problem can occur when bile ducts become blocked by gallstones. Gallstone formation is thought to be due to an imbalance of bile salts and minerals, dehydration, toxins and excess cholesterol in the bile. In addition, a high fat, low fiber diet and pregnancy have been associated with gallstone production. Gallstones are a huge problem, blocking the flow of bile and sometimes obstructing the pancreas and intestines as well. These situations often cause a surgical emergency.
Another common problem is the excretion of toxic bile (bile that has not been chemically transformed adequately by the liver’s enzymes). Toxic bile can literally burn the bile ducts, gallbladder and intestines eventually leading to hepatitis, cholecystitis, pancreatitis, and duodenitis. Toxic bile could ultimately contribute to the development of cancer of the involved organs. An early sign of toxic bile is recurrent pain in the upper right abdomen.
Gallbladder problems can develop when the liver is so overloaded that it sends toxins to the gallbladder before for they are neutralized. Irritation from these toxins can cause the gallbladder to malfunction and irritate the pancreas and duodenum causing inflammation.
Next time I will talk about the liver’s role in hormones and cholesterol.