The proper digestion of dietary fat is very important for our health. Many people struggle with fat malabsorption, which is when dietary fat is not properly digested and absorbed. Some symptoms of fat malabsorption include fatty stools that are light colored and float, deficiencies in the fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, E, D, and K), and a range of digestive symptoms, such as abdominal pain, gas, or bloating. There can be various causes of fat malabsorption, which we will discuss today, along with some tips on how you can improve your body’s digestion of dietary fat.
How Dietary Fat Is Digested
Your body first begins breaking down food the moment it enters your mouth, through the enzymes in saliva. Chewing helps allow these enzymes to reach more of the food. Food continues to be broken down once it reaches your stomach, and then it passes into your small intestine. The majority of fat digestion happens in the small intestine, which is also where most of the absorption of nutrients occurs. Your liver produces a substance called bile, which helps your body break down dietary fats. Bile is created in the liver, but stored in the gallbladder. So people who have either had their gallbladder removed, have gallstones, or have any degree of biliary sludge, may have certain issues with the digestion of fat. Biliary ducts send bile into the small intestine to help break down dietary fats that were contained in the meal you just ate. Your pancreas produces enzymes that also assist in the digestion of food. The most important digestive enzyme for fat digestion is an enzyme called lipase. If your body doesn’t produce enough digestive enzymes, or send enough bile into your small intestine, you may not be properly digesting and absorbing fat from your diet. Below, we will give four tips on how you can improve your body’s digestion of dietary fat.
1. Consume Bitter Foods or Herbs
Bitter foods help stimulate the release of bile, which keeps it flowing and prevents biliary sludge from building up. Some examples of bitter foods include beetroot, Jerusalem artichokes, okra, cruciferous vegetables, and leafy greens (especially dandelion greens, kale, and arugula). There are many bitter herbs as well, so if you struggle to consume bitter food in your diet, you can always supplement with a digestive bitters tincture before meals. When our taste buds detect the taste of bitterness, this signals our bodies to release digestive enzymes, and signals your liver to produce more bile. Some bitter herbs that are commonly found in a digestive bitters formula are angelica root, gentian, burdock root, dandelion root, ginger, and peppermint.
2. Take Digestive Enzyme Supplements
Supplementing with digestive enzymes, especially a formula high in lipase, can help assist your body in breaking down dietary fats. This formula is a great one that is specifically targeted to help those that struggle with fat digestion and absorption, since it contains high amounts of lipase.
3. Supplement With Bile Salts, or Ox Bile
Bile salts act as emulsifiers that assist in the breakdown of lipids, thus helping us digest dietary fat. In our bodies, bile salts are made from bile acids that are conjugated with glycine or taurine, which are amino acids. Cholic acid and chenodeoxycholic acid are our primary bile acids. When one has trouble digesting dietary fat, supplementing with ox bile may be helpful. Ox bile supplements are essentially the bile from oxen in supplemental form. Supplementing these bile acids, or bile salts, may be very beneficial to people who struggle to make enough of their own. Of course, it’s always best to consult your health care provider before taking any supplements. Consuming too many bile salts can cause diarrhea, so it’s best to start with a low dose, and work with your health care provider to determine your personal needs.
4. Stay Hydrated
As you now already know, bile is necessary to properly digest dietary fat, which breaks down into fatty acids that our bodies need. At least 85% of bile is composed of water, so if our bodies are dehydrated, they will have a much harder time creating bile. This means your digestion of fats may be compromised if you aren’t fully hydrated.
So if you are someone who knows that you struggle with properly digesting dietary fat, you may want to consider giving your body some extra support in this area. Dietary fat is essential for cellular function, energy production, and necessary for our bodies to produce hormones that are vital for our functioning. Improving how your body digests and absorbs dietary fat can help you to feel and operate at your best!