Ox Bile Supplements: Uses, Health Benefits, Safety, & More

September 15, 2023

While it may sound a little gross, ox bile is actually a popular supplement used to aid with gastrointestinal issues and for individuals who are having trouble producing bile on their own.

The use of bile therapeutically dates to ancient times. Bile from many different animals (and even humans in the time of battle) were recorded in traditional Chinese medicine beginning in the Zhou dynasty from 1046-256 BCE. These bile acids were used for the treatment of gallstones, infectious skin diseases or burns, vision and eye conditions, respiratory infections, and even coma and epilepsy (1).

In this article, we’ll discuss the important role bile plays in your body and how ox bile can be a viable supplement if you struggle with chronic diarrhea, fatty liver, psoriasis, and much more. 

The Role of Bile in Your Body

To understand what ox bile is, it's necessary to grasp the role of bile in the body. Bile is a natural substance produced by the liver, which then accumulates in the gallbladder. It consists of bile salts, cholesterol, water, bile acids, and bilirubin (the pigment gives it that greenish-yellowish color) (2).

The primary function of bile is to facilitate the digestion and absorption of fats from food, along with fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins A, D, E, and K. Additionally, bile acts like a hormone that sends signals when specific nutrients are present. These signals activate proteins (called nuclear receptors) that are responsible for sensing substances like steroids, thyroid hormones, cholesterol, and vitamins (3). By sensing these substances, nuclear receptors help ensure that the body maintains healthy levels for various biological processes (think: the regulation of inflammation, metabolism, and growth and development).

Furthermore, bile aids in the elimination of toxins, metabolic waste, and medications—and can even assist the liver in removing excess cholesterol. Lastly, bile plays a crucial role in the gut microbiome, an essential part of the body that significantly impacts digestion, immunity, mental health, metabolism, and more.

So what if your body struggles to produce enough bile? That’s where bile supplements, like ox bile, can help.

What Is Ox Bile?

What Is Ox Bile Made From?

Ox bile is an extract of exactly what its name suggests…the bile of an ox. Ox bile, in particular, is the most common supplemental form of bile because it’s so chemically similar to what our bodies naturally make.

How Is Ox Bile Harvested?

Ox bile for supplements is typically obtained through a process known as "bovine bile harvesting." During this process, the bile is extracted from the gallbladder or liver of bovines used for meat after their death. The collected bile is then processed and purified to remove impurities and ensure safety for consumption.

It’s important to note that this process should be conducted in accordance with strict standards and regulations to guarantee the quality and purity of the ox bile used in supplements.

What Is Ox Bile Used For?

Ox bile supplements can serve as a support for your digestive system and your body’s natural detoxification process.

It’s most commonly recommended for the following conditions—many of which can result in a lack of bile production:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Gallbladder removal
  • Fatty liver disease 
  • Liver inflammation 
  • Cystic fibrosis 
  • Primary Biliary cirrhosis 
  • Diabetes (4, 5)
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Psoriasis
  • Chronically poor diet low in taurine 

7 Health Benefits of Ox Bile

While research is relatively new and limited for the use of ox bile, there are some promising potential health benefits:

1. Improve Fat Digestion

One of the main functions of bile is to dissolve dietary fat, which allows for proper digestion and absorption. Bile causes fat globules to break down into very small, microscopic droplets. This process—called emulsification—is significant because it greatly increases the surface area of the fat, enabling lipases (the main enzymes responsible for breaking down dietary fats) to digest it effectively (6). Put simply, through emulsification, bile plays a crucial role in facilitating the digestion of fats.

2. Enhance Absorption of Fat-Soluble Vitamins

Fat-soluble nutrients—like vitamins A, E, D, K, magnesium, iron, and calcium—are crucial to our health. Bile makes it easier for our bodies to absorb and digest them. If we don’t have enough bile in the body, we can develop nutrient deficiencies because they aren’t being properly absorbed.

3. May Improve Gallbladder & Liver Function

Ox bile can help improve gallbladder function by reducing inflammation of the bile ducts and helping normalize blood flow. It can also help relieve gas and bloating caused by gallbladder dysfunction. 

Ox bile can help improve liver function by assisting in the natural detoxification process. 

This may help ease the symptoms of liver conditions like cystic fibrosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and primary biliary cirrhosis (7, 8).

4. May Help Lower Cholesterol

About 500 milligrams of cholesterol are converted into bile acids and eliminated from your body every day. Free cholesterol is insoluble in water-based solutions, but when it’s in bile, it’s made soluble by bile salts and lipids like lecithin. In this state, cholesterol can be transported and removed from the body through digestion (9).

5. Can Help Dissolve Gallstones

Gallstones form when cholesterol and other substances in bile bind together and become solid. As a result, they become lodged in the inner lining of the gallbladder and grow into gallstones. Ox bile can help dissolve gallstones that have formed in the gallbladder and prevent them from forming in the first place by breaking down fats before crystallization. 

According to research, ursodeoxycholic acid—a naturally occurring bile acid—can be used as an anti-inflammatory agent that works as an alternative therapeutic approach in high-surgical-risk patients with symptomatic gallstones (10).

6. Improve Gut Health

Bile has natural anti-microbial properties. It can help protect us from certain types of harmful bacteria that thrive in our gut which helps maintain a healthy balance in our intestines.

Bile has the ability to disrupt the outer covering of bacteria, acting as a defense mechanism against them. On the other hand, it acts as a signal for bacteria that are suited to survive and thrive in the gut. This helps regulate the types of bacteria present in our gut microbiota, ensuring a balanced and healthy environment (11).

7. Help Regulate Blood Sugar Levels

Bile acids help regulate our metabolism and have a role in how our body regulates sugar, fat, and energy expenditure. Research has shown that enhancing the signaling of bile acids in the intestines can contribute to maintaining balanced glucose levels in the body (12). 

Another study found that bile acids activate certain receptors in our body to counteract the loss of insulin sensitivity and also help reduce inflammation (13). This makes bile acids a potential target for developing new therapies for diabetes.

How Do I Take Ox Bile?

Ox bile supplements can now be found in many forms including pills, capsules, powder, chewable tablets, gummies, and liquid extracts. It’s often recommended to take it with a high-fat-containing meal.

How Many mg of Ox Bile Should I Take?

Since there’s no standard dosage for ox bile, recommendations can range anywhere from 100 to 500 grams. It’s always best to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider to figure out the best dosage for your particular needs.

Is Ox Bile Safe?

Taking an ox bile supplement is generally considered safe, but some people may experience side effects.

Here are some potential side effects of bile salts:

  • Diarrhea 
  • Abdominal pain
  • Low stomach acid 
  • Headaches

Most of these side effects are typically mild and will disappear once you stop taking bile salts. However, if you experience severe or persistent symptoms, it’s important to consult with a healthcare professional.

Kat Kennedy
Article by

Kat Kennedy

Kat Kennedy is the Fitness and Nutrition Editor at NativePath. With a NASM CPT, NCSF CPT, and NCSF Sports Nutrition Certification, she has a passion for giving people the tools they need to feel healthy, strong, and confident.

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    Medical Disclaimer

    This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.

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