The Gallbladder & Bile – The Missing Piece in Detox


Cleanses are quite popular.  Most focus on herbs & nutrients that support the liver’s ability to break down both metabolic & environmental waste.  These can be relatively gentle & short in duration or go after ‘deeper’ stored wastes like heavy metals and halide chemicals.

Without getting too technical, there are groups of enzymes (chemicals) in our liver that helps process these wastes to a form that is easier for excretion out of the body.  Roughly, they are grouped into categories we call Phase 1 enzymes and Phase 2 enzymes.  Phase 1 enzymes partially break down wastes & then this product in fed into the Phase 2 group for further breakdown.  Many people have used the term Phase 3 to describe a waste moving out of the body through the intestines.

Only recently though, have we begun to think of how a broken down waste in the liver physically gets to the intestine for excretion.  It turn out that the wastes are attached to the bile to be delivered from the liver to the intestines to get out.  This has been termed Phase 2.5 detox.

Let’s back-up for a while and talk about bile.  Bile is an alkaline (think bleach) substance that is produced in the liver.  It is stored in the gallbladder for release in response to eating fats.  When we consume fats, the gallbladder should contract & squirt bile out into the intestine to help us absorb fats as well as fat soluble nutrients (think vitamins A, E & D).  Most of us are vaguely familiar with this process.

What is new to a lot of people is the idea that the bile is serving double duty as a train that carries our processed wastes from the liver to the intestine for exit out of the body.  These wastes include things like halides (bromine, fluoride, etc.), heavy metals, excess copper, etc.

So it makes sense that in any detox process, we can’t forget to give attention to our gallbladder & bile flow.  This is be an even bigger challenge for folks that have had gallbladder removal.  When working with the gallbladder in any kind of detox scenario, I always think its better to work slowly at first.  For some people who have developed stones in their gallbladder, if we stimulate too strongly, you can take a stone in the gallbladder & lodge it into the bile duct creating an emergency situation (think of some of the extreme fat based cleanses).

Outside of aiding in detox, normal bile flow into the intestines is important in preventing/treating SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – more on this at another time) as well as healing the gut.

Many people are familiar with the term “leaky gut”.  While there are many components to why a person can develop leaky gut, it’s helpful to know that the gut is lined with epithelial tissue (same tissue that makes up our skin).  What is missing in a lot of cases is the final ability to heal the gut lining.

Many skin cremes contain retinol (real vitamin A – not beta-carotene) because it has been shown to help with skin healing.  Remember that vitamin A is fat soluble.  In general, we don’t consume a lot of real vitamin A (think beef liver – yuck!).  Not everyone is genetically capable of making real vitamin A from beta-carotene in appropriate amounts.  So those folks have to absorb it.  This comes back around to making sure we are supporting good bile flow.

As a side note; in the last year, I have been running vitamin A levels on many patients. Roughly 3 out of 5 of them are outright low.