First off let’s start by clarifying what bile is and where it comes from. Think of bile like a detergent that helps us break down fats. it’s one of your digestive juices. This doesn’t just mean fat from food, this means supplements (certain fat soluble nutrients like vitamin A, D, E, K1 and K2, ) and things like Omega 3’s that need our bile to be utilized properly.
Bile is produced in the liver but stored in our gallbladder, if we don’t have a gallbladder we lose our storage facility and that is an issue. When we don’t have enough bile we can end up with painful and smelly gas, erratic bowel movements, stomach cramps, diarrhea, sometimes pale coloured stool and bloating. But that isn’t all! Listen, if you don’t poop regularly and find yourself grumpy it’s because your simply put – full of sh!t. It can make us tired, moody, have us showing high cholesterol on labs, give us migraines, reflux, and even show vitamin deficiencies (like vitamin D….) If you don’t have a gallbladder you should likely be supplementing with ox bile/bile salts after your meal.
If you have a gallbladder but are worried maybe you have sluggish bile you may still want to add in some bile salts. The first step is hydration since about 85% of bile is made up of water, then we throw in a good bile salt and see what happens. When we don’t have adequate bile we can end up with kidney stones and gallbladder stones – this is especially common for those who have Crohn’s or IBS as these are considered high risk for bile salt malabsorption.
A sluggish liver leads to thick, sluggish bile flow – this is why I recommend liver support and bitters to all of my patients. Most of the time when I see a vitamin deficiency I can link it to insufficient bile flow. If you are constipated chances are this applies to you. Bitters help promote bile flow and this liver tincture helps the liver out as well as supporting your other organs.
When we eat our liver squirts bile into the opening of the small intestine (called the duodenum). This is where we break down fat soluble toxins, vitamins, fatty hormones like estrogen (say what?!) and of course food itself. When our bile becomes sluggish and congested or thick we dampen what we call the “digestive fire” (this happens when we drink cold water when we eat as well so don’t do that either). Think of bacon grease, when it is warm (digestive fire) it flows nicely, when it is cold it becomes solid (hardened by cold beverages or foods). Want to thin the bile use a good liver tincture, want to support bile production use good bitters. It’s that easy (and stop drinking when you eat please). Hibiscus (found in the above linked bitters) is fantastic to help thin bile out, plus the addition of the other herbs like fenugreek, cinnamon, ginger and star anise to support the rest of the digestive process (enzymes for the win!)
Triphala and shilajit are also fantastic for helping with healthy bile flow and structure.
Did you know that in women sluggish bile flow can be a contributing factor (and even the main cause) of hypothyroidism? Bile helps break down fat to help the body make active thyroid hormones. Being tired and having unexplained headaches were two signs I found in my own health journey, then add in some random shooting pains in the area of my gallbladder and a lightbulb went off… I added back in bitters and other supportive protocols and voila! I’m also now a carnivore/low oxalate fan since that helped clear any other lingering health issues I was suffering (but that is a whole other blog post)
Grab your last labs and have a look, if you have had your antibodies tested peek at those numbers and then look at your bilirubin. If both are out of range you may want to give this a look at. If you are one of the many women (not too many men do this) who fell for that low fat fad I can tell you right now that is another factor in a “slowing of bile” and when it slows… it thickens. Does your poop float? Yup that means undigested fat so get that ox bile into you to help your body out a bit.
A nice healthy bile boosting fat is butter, yes… butter. I wanted to throw that out there for the low fat fans and margarine eating people reading this – go eat some butter baby! Saturated fats are what stimulates bile.
Bile also helps keep your microbial communities in balance. Our gut bacteria helps us recycle bile (90% of it in fact!). The rise in non alcoholic fatty liver syndrome is tied to insufficient bile – due to the undigested fat. If you have inflammation in your liver or liver damage you need to support your liver. This is why I recommend both the liver tincture and bitters (plus bile salts)
Looking for good bile salts or ox bile? This is one of my favorite brands.