Bile or gall is a bitter-tasting, dark green to yellowish brown fluid, produced by the liver
The liver is a vital organ present in vertebrates and some other animals. It has a wide range of functions, including detoxification, protein synthesis, and production of biochemicals necessary for digestion...

 of most vertebrate
Vertebrates are animals that are members of the subphylum Vertebrata . Vertebrates are the largest group of chordates, with currently about 58,000 species described. Vertebrates include the jawless fishes, bony fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds...

s, that aids the process of digestion
Digestion is the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food into smaller components that are more easily absorbed into a blood stream, for instance. Digestion is a form of catabolism: a breakdown of large food molecules to smaller ones....

 of lipid
Lipids constitute a broad group of naturally occurring molecules that include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins , monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others...

s in the small intestine
Small intestine
The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract following the stomach and followed by the large intestine, and is where much of the digestion and absorption of food takes place. In invertebrates such as worms, the terms "gastrointestinal tract" and "large intestine" are often used to...

. In many species, bile is stored in the gallbladder
In vertebrates the gallbladder is a small organ that aids mainly in fat digestion and concentrates bile produced by the liver. In humans the loss of the gallbladder is usually easily tolerated....

  and upon eating is discharged into the duodenum
The duodenum is the first section of the small intestine in most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds. In fish, the divisions of the small intestine are not as clear and the terms anterior intestine or proximal intestine may be used instead of duodenum...

. Bile is a composition of the following materials: water (85%), bile salts
Bile acid
Bile acids are steroid acids found predominantly in the bile of mammals. Bile salts are bile acids compounded with a cation, usually sodium. In humans, the salts of taurocholic acid and glycocholic acid represent approximately eighty percent of all bile salts. The two major bile acids are cholic...

 (10%), mucus and pigments (3%), fats (1%), inorganic salts (0.7%) and cholesterol (0.3%).

In the medical theories prevalent in the West from Classical Antiquity
Classical antiquity
Classical antiquity is a broad term for a long period of cultural history centered on the Mediterranean Sea, comprising the interlocking civilizations of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, collectively known as the Greco-Roman world...

 up to the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, the body's health depended on the equilibrium between four "humors" or vital fluids: blood
Blood is a specialized bodily fluid in animals that delivers necessary substances such as nutrients and oxygen to the cells and transports metabolic waste products away from those same cells....

, phlegm
Phlegm is a liquid secreted by the mucous membranes of mammalians. Its definition is limited to the mucus produced by the respiratory system, excluding that from the nasal passages, and particularly that which is expelled by coughing . Phlegm is in essence a water-based gel consisting of...

, "yellow bile" (or choler) and "black bile". Excesses of the last two humors were supposed to produce aggression and depression, respectively; and the Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 names for them gave rise to the English words "cholera" and "melancholia". Those same theories explain the derivation of the English word "bilious" from "bile", and the meaning of "gall" in English as "exasperation" or "impudence".

Physiological functions

Bile acts to some extent as a surfactant
Surfactants are compounds that lower the surface tension of a liquid, the interfacial tension between two liquids, or that between a liquid and a solid...

, helping to emulsify the fats in the food. Bile salt anions have a hydrophilic side and a hydrophobic side, and therefore tend to aggregate around droplets of fat (triglycerides and phospholipid
Phospholipids are a class of lipids that are a major component of all cell membranes as they can form lipid bilayers. Most phospholipids contain a diglyceride, a phosphate group, and a simple organic molecule such as choline; one exception to this rule is sphingomyelin, which is derived from...

s) to form micelle
A micelle is an aggregate of surfactant molecules dispersed in a liquid colloid. A typical micelle in aqueous solution forms an aggregate with the hydrophilic "head" regions in contact with surrounding solvent, sequestering the hydrophobic single tail regions in the micelle centre. This phase is...

s, with the hydrophobic sides towards the fat and hydrophilic towards the outside. The hydrophilic sides are positively charged due to the lecithin
Lecithin is a generic term to designate any group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues, and in egg yolk, composed of phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids .The word lecithin was originally coined in 1847 by...

 and other phospholipids that compose bile, and this charge prevents fat droplets coated with bile from re-aggregating into larger fat particles. Ordinarily, the micelles in the duodenum have a diameter of around 14-33 μm.

The dispersion of food fat into micelles thus provide a largely increased surface area for the action of the enzyme pancreatic lipase
Pancreatic lipase
Pancreatic lipase, also known as pancreatic triacylglycerol lipase, is secreted from the pancreas, and is the primary lipase that hydrolyzes dietary fat molecules in the human digestive system, converting triglyceride substrates found in ingested oils to monoglycerides and free fatty acids.Bile...

, which actually digests the triglycerides, and is able to reach the fatty core through gaps between the bile salts. A triglyceride is broken down into two fatty acids and a monoglyceride
A monoglyceride, more correctly known as a monoacylglycerol, is a glyceride consisting of one fatty acid chain covalently bonded to a glycerol molecule through an ester linkage....

, which are absorbed by the villi on the intestine walls. After being transferred across the intestinal membrane, fatty acids are reformed into triglycerides, then absorbed into the lymphatic system through lacteals. Without bile salts, most of the lipids in the food would be passed out in feces, undigested.

Since bile increases the absorption of fats, it is an important part of the absorption of the fat-soluble substances, such as the vitamin
A vitamin is an organic compound required as a nutrient in tiny amounts by an organism. In other words, an organic chemical compound is called a vitamin when it cannot be synthesized in sufficient quantities by an organism, and must be obtained from the diet. Thus, the term is conditional both on...

s D
Vitamin D
Vitamin D is a group of fat-soluble secosteroids. In humans, vitamin D is unique both because it functions as a prohormone and because the body can synthesize it when sun exposure is adequate ....

, E
Tocopherols are a class of chemical compounds of which many have vitamin E activity. It is a series of organic compounds consisting of various methylated phenols...

, K
Vitamin K
Vitamin K is a group of structurally similar, fat soluble vitamins that are needed for the posttranslational modification of certain proteins required for blood coagulation and in metabolic pathways in bone and other tissue. They are 2-methyl-1,4-naphthoquinone derivatives...

 and A
Vitamin A
Vitamin A is a vitamin that is needed by the retina of the eye in the form of a specific metabolite, the light-absorbing molecule retinal, that is necessary for both low-light and color vision...


Besides its digestive function, bile serves also as the route of excretion for bilirubin
Bilirubin is the yellow breakdown product of normal heme catabolism. Heme is found in hemoglobin, a principal component of red blood cells. Bilirubin is excreted in bile and urine, and elevated levels may indicate certain diseases...

, a byproduct of red blood cells recycled by the liver. Bilirubin derives from haemoglobin by glucuronidation
Glucuronidation is the addition of glucuronic acid to a substrate. Glucuronidation is often involved in xenobiotic metabolism of substances such as drugs, pollutants, bilirubin, androgens, estrogens, mineralocorticoids, glucocorticoids, fatty acid derivatives, retinoids, and bile acids...


The alkaline bile also has the function of neutralizing any excess stomach acid before it enters the ileum
The ileum is the final section of the small intestine in most higher vertebrates, including mammals, reptiles, and birds. In fish, the divisions of the small intestine are not as clear and the terms posterior intestine or distal intestine may be used instead of ileum.The ileum follows the duodenum...

, the final section of the small intestine. Bile salts also act as bactericides, destroying many of the microbes that may be present in the food.

Bile soap

Bile from slaughtered animals can be mixed with soap
In chemistry, soap is a salt of a fatty acid.IUPAC. "" Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed. . Compiled by A. D. McNaught and A. Wilkinson. Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford . XML on-line corrected version: created by M. Nic, J. Jirat, B. Kosata; updates compiled by A. Jenkins. ISBN...

. This mixture, called bile soap, can be applied to textiles a few hours before washing and is a traditional and rather effective method for removing various kinds of tough stains.

Abnormal conditions associated with bile

  • The cholesterol
    Cholesterol is a complex isoprenoid. Specifically, it is a waxy steroid of fat that is produced in the liver or intestines. It is used to produce hormones and cell membranes and is transported in the blood plasma of all mammals. It is an essential structural component of mammalian cell membranes...

     contained in bile will occasionally accrete into lumps in the gallbladder, forming gallstones. Cholesterol gallstones are generally treated through surgical removal of the gallbladder. However, they can sometimes be dissolved by increasing the concentration of certain naturally occurring bile acids, such as chenodeoxycholic acid
    Chenodeoxycholic acid
    Chenodeoxycholic acid is a bile acid. It occurs as a white crystalline substance insoluble in water but soluble in alcohol and acetic acid, with melting point at 165-167 °C. Salts of this carboxylic acid are called chenodeoxycholates...

     and ursodeoxycholic acid.

  • On an empty stomach – after repeated vomiting, for example – a person's vomit may be green or dark yellow, and very bitter. The bitter and greenish component is bile. (The color of bile is often likened to "fresh-cut grass", but in vomit it may be mixed with other components in the stomach to look greenish yellow or dark yellow.)

  • In the absence of bile, fats become indigestible and are instead excreted in feces
    Feces, faeces, or fæces is a waste product from an animal's digestive tract expelled through the anus or cloaca during defecation.-Etymology:...

    , a condition called steatorrhea
    Steatorrhea is the presence of excess fat in feces. Stools may also float due to excess lipid, have an oily appearance and be especially foul-smelling. An oily anal leakage or some level of fecal incontinence may occur. There is increased fat excretion, which can be measured by determining the...

    . Feces lack their characteristic brown color and instead are white or gray, and greasy. Steatorrhea can lead to deficiencies in essential fatty acid
    Essential fatty acid
    Essential fatty acids, or EFAs, are fatty acids that humans and other animals must ingest because the body requires them for good health but cannot synthesize them...

    s and fat-soluble vitamins. In addition, past the small intestine
    Small intestine
    The small intestine is the part of the gastrointestinal tract following the stomach and followed by the large intestine, and is where much of the digestion and absorption of food takes place. In invertebrates such as worms, the terms "gastrointestinal tract" and "large intestine" are often used to...

     (which is normally responsible for absorbing fat from food) the gastrointestinal tract
    Gastrointestinal tract
    The human gastrointestinal tract refers to the stomach and intestine, and sometimes to all the structures from the mouth to the anus. ....

     and gut flora
    Gut flora
    Gut flora consists of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of animals and is the largest reservoir of human flora. In this context, gut is synonymous with intestinal, and flora with microbiota and microflora....

    are not adapted to processing fats, leading to problems in the large intestine.

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