Human livers make about three cups per day of bile from about half the cholesterol we make each day through a complex series of reactions within the liver and the P450 enzyme pathways. Bile is stored in the gallbladder to be used for digestion of fats and detoxification. Within the bile there might be toxins like heavy metals, bilirubin, and hemoglobin from old red blood cells. The gall bladder is really a reservoir of bile for when you eat but even for those people without a gall bladder, bile production continues in the liver and is emptied directly into the small intestine throughout the day. Bile is so important that the intestinal tract recycles 95% of it, yet because of excess stress and dietary insults, many of us are deficient in bile acids.
There are two main bile acids, cholic acid, and chenodeoxycholic acid which transform into deoxycholic and lithocholic acid by gut bacteria in the small intestine. There are also two main bile salts, which are bile acids bound (or conjugated) to an amino acid taurine or glycine. When bound they are called taurocholic or glycocholic salts. Bile salts and bile acids are used interchangeably but in the salt form they are stronger acting like a detergent to empty the gallbladder. Many people have difficulty with digesting fats because of a dysfunction in this normal process. It could be genetics, food sensitivities, lack of gut microbes to transform the bile acids to bile salts which is what is needed to reduce cholesterol, environmental chemicals or medications interfering with the P450 enzyme process, or it could be they have had their gallbladder removed and the reservoir for bile is not available for when they need it most.
A lack of bile or a sluggish release of bile impairs fat digestion and could predispose someone to gallstones, obesity, and the absorption of the important fat-soluble vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, and K). It also helps hypothyroid by converting thyroid hormone T4 to T3.
What follows are three choices in gallbladder supplementation.
Ox bile, at least a high-quality variety, is harvested from the gallbladders of cattle that lived off grasslands and is used as a supplement within the natural health community to help sluggish bile symptoms. It might help with gallstones, diarrhea, skin rashes, help in removing toxins from the body, reducing chronic inflammation in the gut, removing excess cholesterol, reduce elevated liver enzymes, and help with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Bear bile in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been prescribed to patients for over one thousand years. Known for its medicinal properties in healing fatty liver issues, gallstones, improving memory, helping digestive problems, fevers, sprains, lowering cholesterol, vision problems, and many other problems. Unfortunately, this prized medicine has resulted in inhumane bear farms throughout China and the far east where upwards of four hundred bear farms housing about 10,000 Asiatic black bears live in small cages and their gallbladders are emptied of bile twice a day through a permanent drainage port. These torturous practices cause pain and suffering and reduce their lifespan from 30 to 5 years. This bile is sold in the far east, the U.S., and other western countries where traditional Chinese medicinal herbs are sold. Why is bear bile so prized? It turns out that bear bile contains 50% UDCA. Humans and cattle make it too but in far lower amounts. UDCA makes up 50% of the bile acids in bears but only 2% of the bile in humans which explains why bear bile is so valued.
Fortunately, synthetic bear bile called TUDCA is readily available and although 200,000 kilograms (almost a half million pounds) of it is used worldwide, traditional bear farming still exists, and bears are hunted for their gallbladders and other parts such as paws for TCM. TUDCA, a synthetic form of bear bile, stands for tauroursodeoxycholic acid. If you break it apart this way, it is easier to pronounce: tauro-urso-deoxy-cholic acid. It is UDCA with a molecule of Taurine (an amino acid) attached to it. Although we make a small amount of TUDCA ourselves in our intestinal tract when microbes convert bile acids into UDCA which later binds to taurine forming TUDCA, we simply don’t make enough of it, and ox bile doesn’t provide enough of it to effectively treat more serious and chronic conditions that TUDCA can .
TUDCA is very safe. Even those with cirrhosis or hepatitis tolerate it well. It does take about six months of regular use to see results. However, pregnant, or breastfeeding women should avoid it and alcohol usage should be avoided as well. The dosage is usually 250-1500 mg per day. Some dose it at 15-20 mg/kg of body weight with caution at a dose over 1500 mg because it might result in diarrhea. It does have a bitter taste, so it is best to take it in a capsule. TUDCA can cross the blood brain barrier and therefore might help the nervous system and brain as well as protecting against neurological degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s or preventing strokes.
The Benefits of TUDCA– What the Science is Saying:
Here are studies that are worth reading about TUDCA.
Treatment of Non-Liver Diseases
Lowering NF Kappa B, a very inflammatory cytokine
Eliminating Kidney Problems from a High Salt Diet
Protection of Photoreceptors after Retinal Detachment
Helps with cognitive impairment
Because TUDCA reabsorption is slowed by dysbiosis (disrupted microbiome) in the gut, attention to removing unwanted bacteria, fungi and parasites is helpful to seeing improvement. Therefore, using TUDCA in conjunction with microbiome support such as probiotics, and natural antimicrobials is a natural fit to use alongside TUDCA.
The historical use of bear bile needs to stop. www.animalsasia.org is an organization that is trying to save as many of the Asiatic black bears so that they can live their lives in sanctuaries. Ox bile and TUDCA offer a much safer, effective, and ethical medical intervention for people who need gall bladder support without harming these endangered bears