How Fat Digestion Works:
In my last post, I talked about how important fats are in your diet as well as which fats to include and which ones to avoid. So much of this process is about relearning or learning for the first time what our bodies are designed to do so that we can actually help ourselves get well.
Nothing could be more essential to that goal than understanding the digestive process. If you don’t water a plant, it dies. If we don’t eat the right foods, digest them well and absorb them well, we too will suffer.
Here’s a super quick intro into fat digestion. The organs below are the primary players:
The liver and gallbladder are the real workhorses here. The lipase from the stomach and pancreas only help prepare the fat to be broken up by the bile. Bile is what makes this whole process work.
Diabetics (and Many Others) Need Extra Support for Fat Digestion
In order to properly digest and utilize fats, you need a healthy liver and gallbladder. The problem is that, while fat is healthy and quite advantageous for diabetics, most have poor pancreatic function and compromised liver and gallbladder function due to a long history of elevated blood sugars and poor diet, which leads to fatty liver. A fatty liver is not able to make healthy bile for storage in the gallbladder, which also compromises gall bladder function. So, if you’ve had your gallbladder removed, blame your liver. It’s not the gall bladder’s fault. Those without gallbladders needs digestive support for life, especially the recommendations I offer below.
Fatty liver is becoming so common that up to 25% of the population have it and don’t know it (1). Even if you don’t have a diagnosis of either fatty liver or diabetes, if you’re carrying excess abdominal weight, you may also be someone who has a “sluggish” liver. You can be any weight or even underweight and have liver/gallbladder problems as this is a very common side effect of our modern diet, stress, prescriptions and consuming large amounts of fructose or alcohol. Rapid weight loss also can lead to fatty liver, which is why it’s so important to avoid extreme weight loss diets or bariatric surgery.
People often feel that fats cause them indigestion or pain in the right side of their rib cage (back or front) or they experience unexplained nausea. Chronic constipation is also a sign of a liver and gallbladder that need support. Fatigue, low blood platelets, water retention or edema, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and jaundice (yellowing of skin and/or eyes) are all overt symptoms, but again 25% of people with fatty liver have no symptoms. Menstrual irregularities can also be an indication. And, you can have liver problems without having fatty liver. So, this is an organ that I like to support with the majority of my clients.
Refer to this previous post on how to support stomach digestion, which must be working for everything else downstream to work.
How to Support Your Liver and Gallbladder
The key here is to encourage healthy bile flow to support fat digestion. You also want to do this because healthy bile encourages healthy gut bacteria, keeps you regular, destroys pathogenic organisms, and is how your body rids itself of toxins.
Here are my top 5 Tools:
Seek Professional Guidance
I never recommend self-diagnosing and treating any symptom or condition, so you’ll want to seek out a health care practitioner that understands how to support digestion and liver function, whether that be a naturopath, functional nutritionist or functional medicine doctor or herbalist. All of these people generally have these tools at the ready. They can recommend the right products and the right dosages for you.
The other reason you’ll want to get a professional opinion is because when an organ needs support, you don’t just want to give it a crutch like bile salts and digestive enzymes and do nothing else. Short term digestive support is critical, but you’ll also want a comprehensive, long-term strategy to help support both the liver and gallbladder and many other aspects of your health so that everything is being addressed properly and you eventually no longer need the crutch.
In the meantime, feel free to visit a health food store and get digestive bitters that can be taken right before meals. You can also start a meal with a shot of diluted apple cider vinegar or lemon juice and drink lemon water throughout the day. A salad that contains bitter greens like arugula or mixed greens is also helpful to stimulate fat digestion by priming the release of bile. These are basic helpful strategies that anyone can do.
Now I’d love to hear from you: have you ever experimented with any of these or other tools to help improve digestion? What have you found works for you? Share so that others may benefit and feel free to leave other questions and comments below or reach me directly.
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