Bile is a vital body fluid that plays an important role in the absorption of nutrients in the small intestine as well as flushing the liver of toxins. Bile is continuously produced in the liver by cholesterol oxidation and conjugated to glycine and taurine, and subsequently stored in the gallbladder. Bile also works as a signalling molecule both inside and outside of the liver.
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the root cause of the majority of imbalances in the body is liver dysfunction. In TCM, the liver is known as the "master organ" as it is the causative factor in many of the body’s ailments. The liver helps with detoxification, enzyme production, bile production, hormone production, immune cell activation and the storage of vitamins and iron.
How Does the Liver Function?
A critical function of the liver is the excretion of bile. A healthy liver also plays an important role in nutrient distribution by effectively metabolizing energy as well as storing vitamins and minerals for later use. In fact, everything that enters the body via the mouth is processed by the liver.
In modern society, livers are often overburdened and cannot perform their essential functions. This breakdown of function can lead to disease. Blockages in the gallbladder (such as gallstones and bile duct stones) can increase the amount of daily nutrition required, due to the lack of nutrients being absorbed. Additionally these stones can hinder bile’s ability to remove toxins. A non-optimally-functioning liver produces less bile, which can result in digestive issues such as bloating, constipation and stomach pain.
The Importance of Bile
Bile has many functions; one of these functions is to lubricate the small intestines and stool. Less lubrication can result in constipation and too much can lead to diarrhea. A blockage in this area also increases the accumulation of toxins in the body, which creates oxidative stress, backing up waste matter. When too much food is left in the intestine, it ferments, which leads to leaky gut due to toxic gasses penetrating the intestinal lining.
Bile salts break down fats, so adequate bile is required for processing fats and, as such, are essential for weight loss. Bile also transports toxins out of the liver into the feces, and keeps everything flowing. If bile is not continually being produced and flowing, cholesterol stones can result.
Fat soluble vitamins, like vitamins A, D, E and K can only be broken down in the body if there is adequate bile. Patients that have had their gallbladder removed must be aware that they have no bile storage system, and, therefore, must manage bile production.
Liver Function is Important for Hormonal Balance
The liver and thyroid have a synergistic relationship, because T4 is converted to T3 by bile in the liver. T3 is the more potent thyroid hormone, metabolized from iodine. A thyroid problem may actually be the result of a bile or liver malfunction rather than anything to do with the thyroid.The liver also metabolizes many other hormones such as insulin-like growth factor and plays a major role in the inactivation of excess hormones.
Mental and mood imbalances can result from a sick or fatty liver because of the liver’s influence on hormones. Because mental and mood balance correlates with hormonal balance, it is vital to keep the liver healthy.
Signs of Liver Imbalance
Bile cannot be produced effectively by an unhealthy liver. There are a wide range of symptoms of liver imbalance that could be contributing to low bile output including:
- Gas, bloating, constipation
- Leaky gut
- Poor fat digestion
- Irregular stool
How to Support the Liver to Produce More Bile
1. Remove Causative Factors
First, remove causative factors that may be harming the liver. For example, avoid anything that increases lactate, such as coffee, sugar, alcohol and processed foods. The liver is the primary organ for lactate clearance, therefore, it’s important to ease the burden as much as possible.
2. Eat Foods that Support the Liver
Liver-supporting foods include bitter greens, dandelion, milk thistle, berries, and beetroot. Ginseng also promotes a healthy liver and bile production. To optimize the effectiveness of liver-supporting foods, it’s best to choose organic, which lowers the toxin burden on the liver.
3. Practice Diaphragmatic Breathing Exercises
An interesting area of research in supporting the liver is diaphragmatic breathing exercises. The liver is positioned just below the diaphragm, and many people have shallow breathing. During deep diaphragmatic breathing, the diaphragm pushes down and massages the liver, stimulating bile production.
Diaphragmatic breathing is said to help activate the liver and its detoxification pathways. When stressed the breath is shallow, which keeps stress producing toxins inside the liver. The relaxation response (RR) via deep breathing has been studied in recent trials with positive results.
4. Try Intermittent Fasting
Bile is continuously produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder when not eating. Intermittent fasting can be a good way to increase the bile that is concentrated in the gallbladder.
5. Reduce Stress
Emotional stress is detrimental for health and it creates a cascade of fight or flight hormones, such as cortisol, nitric oxide and adrenaline. This puts a huge burden on the organs of the body, but especially the liver as it’s responsible for the removal of excess toxins and hormones.
When it comes to the liver, it’s the bile the keeps the energy moving and releasing waste products into the feces. Nitric oxide and cortisol get trapped inside the liver if there is no way for it to flow out with adequate bile.
Lowering stress and increasing bile production improves the body’s ability to detoxify and balance hormones. Increasing bile production also optimizes the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K in the small intestine.
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