Detox Learning Center

Liver Bile Flow: Why It’s the Lifeblood for Healthy Digestion, Drainage, and Detox

It’s easy to go about the day knowing that your body will do exactly what it’s supposed to do to function properly without you even thinking about it.

However, you probably will think about it when your internal mechanisms are not operating like they should. When you feel out of whack, these unseen bodily processes become painful or tedious because they affect your overall health.

A bodily process that is commonly overlooked is drainage. But what is drainage exactly?

Drainage is not the same thing as detox. Rather, drainage is the first step to supporting the body’s automatic natural processes. This involves the important drainage pathways in your body: cells, organs, the lymphatic system, the liver and bile ducts, and the colon. 

Drainage involves the normal fluids in our body pathways. So, to detox effectively, the drainage pathways have to be open. If your body is draining regularly, it means you have good bile flow, lymph movement, and mitochondrial function, and are pooping two to three times a day.

These drainage organs all work together to flush toxins out of your body to keep you happy and healthy. So, if anything in the system gets backed up, the toxins stagnate in your body, and you start to feel unwell.

One of the main drainage fluids is bile. Before you eliminate toxins, they are stored in the bile. Without the proper bile acids, the whole bile duct system can clog. A bottleneck in this critical detox pathway could hinder the functioning of your organs and metabolic processes, causing all sorts of havoc in your body.

What Is Bile?

bile flow (square)

When you think about bile, your first instinct might be "Eww, gross!" You probably are wondering, when is bile ever a good thing?  But when it comes to your liver and digestion as a whole, healthy bile flow does a ton for your health. 

Bile is a greenish-yellow fluid made by liver cells that helps carry toxins and wastes away from the body. It also assists in your digestion by breaking down fats into fatty acids for proper elimination while neutralizing acidity in the body. The bile itself consists of bile acids, bile salts, cholesterol, waste products, and water. (1)

The liver makes the bile, directs this bile into the bile duct, and then pushes the bile into the gallbladder to store it between meals to make it stronger. The pancreas produces sodium bicarbonate and digestive enzymes, and the stomach releases acidic chyme (a semifluid mass of partly digested food) into the small intestine. 

These biliary organs are responsible for producing and transporting bile to drain waste products from the liver into the small intestine. A muscular valve called the sphincter of Oddi controls the release of bile into your small intestine. (2)

After the bile is released into the first section of the small intestine, it helps break fat droplets into smaller particles so they’re easier to digest. What’s more, bile provides a way for your body to eliminate unwanted elements as you excrete some bile in your stools. In fact, bile is actually what gives feces its dark brown color. (3)

As you eat, bile is released to neutralize acidity and digest fats. If there is not enough bile in the small intestine, the body decreases stomach acid. This leads to poor digestion and makes it easier for microorganisms to infiltrate your body. That’s why it’s important to support your body by increasing bile flow if your digestive processes are not acting the way they should.

What Role to Bile Acids and Bile Salts Play in Digestion?

Bile acids (which can be transformed into bile salts depending on the function) are the main tools that help break down and absorb fats and promote the movement of water and electrolytes from your colon. The bile salts also help your bowel cells absorb these fat droplets. (1)

Some of these acids have antioxidant and cell protection properties, whereas others could cause oxidative stress, which is harmful for your body. The goal is for your body to make enough of the helpful bile acids and salts to protect you from the harmful, oxidative ones. You want your body to work for you, not against you. (2, 4)

The overall volume of bile salts in humans is roughly 3-4 grams. To do the job properly, your body maintains this amount by recycling bile salts via enterohepatic circulation, or the circulation of the bile acids. At the beginning of the small intestine, the bile gets released and goes through the small intestine (about 20 feet). At the end of the small intestine, the bile gets reabsorbed and goes back to the liver. (2)

This important cycle happens daily six to eight times between the liver and the small intestine. This cycle needs to be operating at peak condition because the toxins you ingested or absorbed without realizing often come along with the bile. 

Although bile is an essential fluid for drainage and the gastrointestinal tract, it is also the major excretion route of trace metals such as arsenic, copper, lead, manganese, mercury, selenium, silver, and zinc. Bile also delivers vitamins — such as folic acid — to the intestines. (5)

Why Do You Need Bile to Flow in the Body? 

There is about 600 milliliters of bile flow in the body. The liver cells make up 75% of the bile and the rest is made by the bile duct cells. Therefore, not having a free-flowing bile duct causes a domino effect that hurts your health in every area. (1)

To help visualize this process, think of your liver as the water-processing plant of a city. Water from every pipe and drain in the city merges to a central place. There, it is cleansed of contamination and debris. Clean, purified water then flows back to all the homes and businesses in the city. The contaminated sludge gets hauled away so it doesn’t become a problem and pollute the water again. The cycle repeats to protect people from contaminated water.

Your body is the same. Your lymphatic and cardiovascular systems push all their fluid through their “pipes” to your liver. Then your liver filters out all the debris and other unwanted items. The cleansed blood and lymph go back into circulation. The contaminated sludge your liver collects gets dumped into your bile. Then it gets “hauled away” in your intestines and out through your stools so as not to pollute you. (6)

If your liver bile duct is blocked, your body can’t haul away the contaminated sludge. It sits stagnant in your liver and gallbladder. Eventually, that stagnant garbage begins to “rot,” which can cause health concerns.  

But the problems don’t stay in your liver. Not being able to remove unwanted elements through your bile duct affects your other organs, like your kidneys and lungs. It can also cause you to have itchy skin, and increases the chances of a bacterial infection. (7)

Because bile is also needed to break down and absorb fats and fat-soluble vitamins, not having bile flowing freely to the intestines will cause you to have a shortage of these important nutrients. This will add to the dangerous domino effect even more. (8)

microbe liver bile duct

How Can the Bile Duct Become Blocked?

Basically, there are two ways your bile system can become an issue: (9)

  • It can become physically blocked.
  • You start to produce less and low-quality bile that doesn’t do its job.

Imagine your bile ducts like a tree. Small, skinny branches on the outer parts of your liver lead down to larger branches. Those larger branches get bigger in diameter the closer you get to the trunk of the tree. All the branches eventually connect to the trunk. The trunk would be like your main bile duct away from the liver. The smaller ductules get clogged first. Then the intermediate ducts become blocked until the main liver bile duct becomes severely restricted.

Your liver bile duct can get physically blocked by a range of toxins and poor nutrition. Eating too many unhealthy fats can cause triglycerides to collect in the bile and block it. Of course, having a healthy diet can prevent the bile from being unable to flow properly. Gallbladder stones can also obstruct and stop the flow of bile. Even certain drugs can chemically alter your bile flow and bile quality. (10, 11) 

Getting your bile moving is going to help your other detox organs. Because your body mainly detoxifies through your liver, it filters unwanted elements and impurities out of your blood to prevent them from damaging your tissues. Then your liver breaks these unwanted elements down with enzymes, and dumps them into your bile so they can exit via your stools.

Remember, the unwanted substances in your body can make the bile thick and sludgy over time. Just like a clogged sink in your bathroom, your bile duct can get congested. That may leave unwanted materials to stagnate in your liver, preventing your body from naturally detoxing.

Signs of Good Bile Flow

At this point, you may be asking yourself, how do I know if my bile is flowing smoothly? A big sign of bile dysfunction is if your organs aren’t detoxing the way they should.

With good bile flow, your bile should be entering your bowels. When there is not good bile flow, your kidneys wind up detoxifying the bile acids. However, the kidneys are not supposed to be used for this purpose. This additional function can, over time, stress the kidneys. (12)

It’s essential that the liver processes the chemicals in your body, dumps them into the bile, and allows you to poop them out. No matter what, pooping is the easiest way for the body to clear toxins. When the body can’t dump these toxins into the bile, it puts them in the blood. This also affects the kidneys. (13, 14)

Although there is some testing that can see how much bile your gallbladder pushes out, a simpler test is to see if you have gentle, solid poops two-to-three times a day. If you are having gut issues, you may need to support your bile flow more. (15)

Also, check to see how you react when you eat fatty food. Again, not all fatty foods are bad — think avocados, coconut oil, and salmon — so do not cross off essential fatty acids from your grocery list. (16)

How Cholesterol Helps Bile Flow

As mentioned earlier, bile breaks down fats for digestion. Interestingly, 70%-80% of cholesterol is used for bile acid production. In fact, cholesterol is how the body makes bile acids. (3)

If you are low in bile acid production, you are low on cholesterol, or not converting cholesterol into bile acid. When you have high cholesterol, you have shut off the mechanism to make bile acids. If your bile is clogged, you have too many bile acids in the body that aren’t moving. This lack of movement causes the body to stop making bile and the cholesterol builds up. 

There is so much negative press on cholesterol. And although excess cholesterol is never good, it doesn’t mean that cholesterol itself is an evil thing. Rather, it’s more of a building block to support other important functions of your body. Most cholesterol is used for making bile acid and the rest is for hormone production. (3)

Bile to the Rescue

microbe drainage funnel

Remember, everything is connected in the body. As we have seen, bile is not just for your gastrointestinal tract. It’s also for detoxification, hormones, and delivering vitamins to your body. The liver itself has an intricate network of connections with the small intestine, large intestine, and microbiome. 

In fact, there is growing evidence that suggests cross-talk between the gut microbiome and the gut-liver axis. They all talk with each other to make sure everything is functioning properly, or if something is wrong. (17)

As you look at the drainage funnel image, here are several ways that bile can support other useful functions of the body to keep you healthy.

1. Liver bile-duct support

Your liver releases ATP (the energy our cells produce and live on) into bile when it is healthy. The reverse is also true. If your liver cells are unhealthy, they can’t fill your bile with ATP. 

But why would that be important? 

Your body has incredible protective and natural supportive mechanisms. It knows how important your liver bile duct is. Secreting ATP into the bile gives your bile duct cells added support. (18

This helps prevent them from becoming damaged or scarred as the liver dumps toxins to be taken away by your stools. Stimulating the bile flow and ATP release will strengthen the lining of your bile duct. (4)

2. Liver tissue support

No matter how amazing a filter your liver is, it can still take a hit from the unwanted elements that your liver encounters daily. That could increase the production of liver enzymes, signaling your liver is damaged. 

Because a significant source of health concerns is a clogged bile duct system, when the liver is under high stress because of a blocked bile duct, liver enzymes can elevate significantly. (19)

Remember, blocked bile flow into your small intestine will hinder your body’s natural detoxification processes. If the liver bile duct is blocked, your liver starts to deteriorate from the inside out on a cellular level. 

Specific bile salts support these concerns in your liver by helping to: (20)

  • Maintain the proper protein-folding process
  • Reduce free radical oxygen species
  • Stop your liver cells from programmed cell death 

3. Intestinal and microbiome support

If your liver bile duct isn’t working properly, your intestine function is also going to change. A blocked bile duct can lead to:

  • Altered gut microbiome (21, 22)
  • Changed gene expression in the gut (23)
  • Damage and loss of microvilli (5)
  • Increased insulin resistance (24)
  • Intestinal issues (25)
  • Leaky gut (26)

It’s important to strengthen the tight junctions in your gut to solidify the gut barrier. (27, 28)

Restoring the right microbiome in your intestines gives them more bile salts to work with. Low levels of bile also contribute to growth of unwanted elements like SIBO. (4)

Ensure that you protect and reestablish the microvilli in your intestines. Not having enough healthy microvilli to absorb nutrients will create deficiencies in both micro and macronutrients. (5, 29)

Remember, problems upstream in the drainage funnel will always affect everything downstream. Better bile flow keeps going downstream to your large intestine, too. Plus, it helps with any issues you may have in the colon by supporting the lining of your colon, similar to how it supports the cells in your liver. 

4. Thyroid and gallbladder support

How well your thyroid functions can determine how much energy you have. It can influence your weight and how well you use insulin. And having good bile flow benefits the thyroid

The sphincter of Oddi not only controls the release of bile into the small intestines, but it is also a receptor site for your thyroid hormones. If you are lacking thyroxine, a T4 thyroid hormone for thyroid function, it can keep the sphincter of Oddi contracted and lessen the amount of bile flow that is needed for the body to stay healthy. (6

So, while thyroid hormones affect the flow of bile, the bile acids can also affect energy. While more studies need to be done, bile acids play a role when it comes to energy metabolism by helping the thyroid hormones regulate energy levels in the body. (30)

Low levels of thyroxine also correlate to poor gallbladder function, which can lead to the formation of gallstones. Therefore, poor bile flow can contribute to gallbladder issues, so it’s important to support your gallbladder. (6)

Bile Flow — Basic But Powerful

A crucial part of your liver and other detox organs functioning efficiently is the bile production in your body. Stimulating bile flow affects your health. If you want to drain effectively at the cellular level, everything else must be draining properly. This is why it’s important that your liver is healthy and the bile duct flows well. 

Along with staying hydrated and eating bile-healthy foods, you can try to get certain nutrients (such as vitamin E and zinc) into your diet for better liver function. You can even look into coffee enemas to help your liver bile duct detoxify naturally. Additionally, some liver-supportive or bowel-moving herbs can support your bile flow.

Increasing this integral component in your body can be a powerful part of opening up your drainage pathways and unclogging your system. This will ultimately help get your body to do what it does best: keep you healthy.