Bile salts are a component of bile, a fluid secreted from the gallbladder during the digestion of lipids. The presence of bile salts gives bile the ability to emulsify, or mix, lipid in the aqueous environment of the intestine.
Bile is necessary for efficient digestion of lipids. According to "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism," during a meal, bile is secreted from the gallbladder into the small intestine. In the small intestine, bile helps to break dietary fat into smaller particles, a process called emulsification. Emulsified fat can be more easily acted upon by digestive enzymes. Without bile, digestion and absorption of fat is incomplete.
According to "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism," bile is derived from chemical modification of cholesterol. This modification of cholesterol occurs in the liver and creates bile acids. The two primary bile acids are chenodeoxycholate and cholate.
Conjugated Bile Acids
Bile acids are further modified in the liver. According to "Biochemistry: A Case-Oriented Approach," to improve the ability to emulsify fat, the amino acids taurine and glycine are linked to the bile acids. This generates the conjugated bile acids taurocholic acid, taurochenodeoxycholic acid, glycocholic acid and glycochenodeoxycholic acid.
Other Components of Bile
According to "Biochemistry: A Case-Oriented Approach," bile contains several components in addition to bile acids. Water, electrolytes, cholesterol, phospholipids and bile salts are all necessary to give bile its function.
In chemistry, a salt is produced when an acid is neutralized by a base. According to "Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism," the acid groups on conjugated bile acids are often converted to salts. Bile salts are a primary component of bile. Sodium is most often used to produce bile salts. Sodium glycocholate and sodium taurocholate are examples of bile salts. Potassium and calcium bile salts are also common.