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Chapter: Medical Physiology: Secretory Functions of the Alimentary Tract

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Liver Secretion of Cholesterol and Gallstone Formation

Liver Secretion of Cholesterol and Gallstone Formation
Bile salts are formed in the hepatic cells from cholesterol in the blood plasma.

Liver Secretion of Cholesterol and Gallstone Formation

Bile salts are formed in the hepatic cells from cholesterol in the blood plasma. In the process of secreting the bile salts, about 1 to 2 grams of cholesterol are removed from the blood plasma and secreted into the bile each day.

Cholesterol is almost completely insoluble in pure water, but the bile salts and lecithin in bile combine physically with the cholesterol to form ultramicroscopic micelles in the form of a colloidal solution. When the bile becomes concentrated in the gallbladder, the bile salts and lecithin become concentrated along with the choles-terol, which keeps the cholesterol in solution.

Under abnormal conditions, the cholesterol may pre-cipitate in the gallbladder, resulting in the formation of cholesterol gallstones, as shown in Figure 64–12. Theamount of cholesterol in the bile is determined partly by the quantity of fat that the person eats, because liver cells synthesize cholesterol as one of the products of fat metabolism in the body. For this reason, people on a high-fat diet over a period of years are prone to the development of gallstones.


Inflammation of the gallbladder epithelium, often resulting from low-grade chronic infection, may also change the absorptive characteristics of the gallbladder mucosa, sometimes allowing excessive absorption of water and bile salts but leaving behind the cholesterol in the bladder in progressively greater concentrations. Then the cholesterol begins to precipitate, first forming many small crystals of cholesterol on the surface of the inflamed mucosa, but then progressing to large gallstones.


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