We talk a lot about the importance of fat as it is a backbone of a healthy diet. As you know, there are good quality and poor quality fat sources. Unhealthy oils such as soybean, canola, corn oil, and many “vegetable” oils can create inflammation and damage to our body, especially our immune and digestive systems. These polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) contain many double bond carbons which are pro-inflammatory and highly rancid. This is why we must, instead, focus heavily on high-quality, healthy fats such as avocado & avocado oil, coconut & coconut oil, organic nuts and seeds, ghee, grass fed butter, olives & olive oil.
However, sometimes whether we have been including healthy fats in our diet, or are just starting to, we can have trouble breaking them down properly, leaving us feeling a little…well…uncomfortable. This can also be true if we have pre-existing digestive issues, including having the gallbladder removed.
Symptoms of Fat Malabsorption:
- Floating and greasy/oily stools
- Gas and indigestion after eating
- Hormone imbalances
- Malabsorption (leading to unexplained nutrient deficiencies)
- Consistent dry skin
- Gallbladder pain
The Root Cause Approach:
Fat malabsorption or steatorrhea is typically due to insufficient pancreatic enzymes, inadequate bile production, or a congested or “sluggish” liver.
Insufficient Pancreatic Enzymes: Our pancreas is a most amazing organ, it secretes digestive enzymes protease, amylase, and lipase into our small intestine which helps break down protein into amino acids, carbohydrates (starch) into sugar molecules and lipase which helps break down fat molecules. If we do not have adequate pancreatic enzymes, we may experience all the signs of fat malabsorption including indigestion and smelly stools. While working on optimizing digestion through a root-cause approach, we can support the digestive system by supplementing with pancreatic enzymes. This has been a game-changer for not only me but also many clients.
Bile or Gall Bladder Health: The gallbladder is a pear-shaped muscular organ which sits right next to your liver and is essentially the storage tank for bile. The primary job of the gallbladder is to store bile, which is secreted by the liver and supports the body in digesting lipids. Bile is composed of cholic acid, which supports the breakdown of water and fat molecules. Bile acts as a key factor in the absorption process of fat-soluble vitamins such as D, E, K and A. Addressing gallbladder health is especially important if it has been removed. If there is no bile being produced, fat is poorly digested and often not absorbed well. We can support the body by taking enzymes which include ox-bile. Ox-bile is great to use if you have had your gallbladder removed or when you are adding more fat to your diet, so you do not congest both the gallbladder and liver.
Congested Liver: Our liver has many vital functions, detoxification of toxic chemicals from both inside and outside of the body, such as skin products, food waste, alcohol, and medications. The liver is responsible for the production of bile and is a key player for digestion as it helps break down nutrients. It also stores many vitamins, such as Iron, B12, and fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E and K.
A congested liver may be due to poor detoxification or impaired Phase I or Phase II liver detoxification. Phase I supports toxic chemicals and metals by converting them into less harmful chemicals. While Phase II is often referred to as the conjugation pathway, which supports the conversion of fat-soluble toxic chemicals to convert into water-soluble chemicals, so they are able to pass through the urine or bile. As you can see, supporting both of these phases is super important. We can support both phases through the following ways:
Stimulating the phase 1 pathway is critical as it neutralizes toxic chemicals and metals and helps break them down into smaller molecules through the enzyme called P450 enzyme. Certain environmental toxins (such as alcohol, dioxin exhaust fumes, nicotine, paint fumes and pesticides) can induce phase 1 detox while certain drugs (medications such as stomach-acid secretion blocking drugs and benzodiazepines for example) or botanicals (curcumin and capsaicin from chili pepper) can inhibit phase 1 detox. Curcumin is extra special as it can be beneficial in inhibiting the activity of cancer causing chemicals, while also increasing their detoxification and elimination.
Phase 2 converts fat-soluble toxic chemicals to water-soluble chemicals so they can then be passed through and out via our body fluid (bile and urine). This is also referred to as the “conjugation pathway.”
Foods which activate Phase II: Amino acids, Sulfur-containing amino acids (NAC, Taurine), amino acid foods such as eggs and sulfur-containing phytonutrients such as shallots, onions, and garlic.
Supporting Fat Digestion:
Remember, quality counts Choosing the right kind of healthy fats is so essential, as your body can easily break down and digest the correct sources of fats (grapeseed oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, ghee and grass-fed butter, flax oil, olive oil and hemp seed oil). Avoiding hydrogenated fats and oils, which are highly oxidized and very damaging to the immune and digestive system is an essential component of any healthy diet.
Include bitter foods such as dandelion greens, or try Urban Moonshine bitters, which is a cholagogue, a medicinal agent that helps to stimulate liver secretion and bile flow. Here you can purchase Urban Moonshine Bitters.
Incorporate Lacto-Fermented Foods, which are naturally rich in probiotics and help support proper bacterial balance within the microbiome and also help stimulate the production of digestive enzymes. Fermented foods can also help with the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) which naturally decreases with age. We have an entire blog dedicated to fermented foods here.
Stimulate bile production through raw carrots, beets, green apples, ginger, black radish and lemon water; artichoke leaf extract can also help stimulate bile flow and support motility.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids, such as fish oil have been shown to block cholesterol formation in bile. Taking fish oil on a regular basis can be supportive against gallstones.
Use Essential Oils, such as peppermint, rosemary, and ginger mixed with a carrier oil (we love coconut oil or almond oil) and rubbed directly on the stomach and gallbladder area.
Supplements such as Pancreatic Lipase or a combination formula such as Digestzymes or Digestion GB (This product incorporates digestive enzymes and ox-bile, which is especially great if you do not have a gallbladder!).
Proper fat digestion relies on several different factors. Healthy bile production from the liver, healthy bile flow, healthy gallbladder stimulation, and adequate detoxification all contribute to a healthy functioning body!
Leave a comment (if you’re brave enough ;)) and let us know how you digest fat and what has helped you!