Bile acids are a group of steroid acids that are synthesized in the liver and secreted into the small intestine to aid in the digestion and absorption of fats. They are important components of bile, which is a digestive fluid produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder.
Bile acids play several roles in digestion. They emulsify fats, breaking them down into smaller droplets that can be more easily digested by pancreatic lipase. They also help to solubilize fat-soluble vitamins, cholesterol, and other lipids, making them more accessible to absorption by the small intestine.
There are two primary types of bile acids: primary bile acids and secondary bile acids. Primary bile acids are synthesized from cholesterol in the liver, while secondary bile acids are produced by the action of intestinal bacteria on primary bile acids.
Bile acid synthesis and secretion are regulated by a complex feedback system involving several hormones and enzymes. Disorders of bile acid metabolism can lead to a range of medical conditions, including cholestasis, gallstones, and liver disease. Bile acid sequestrants are a class of drugs that can be used to treat hypercholesterolemia by binding to bile acids in the intestine and preventing their reabsorption.