What Causes Yellow Bile?

The mouth, pancreas, liver, stomach and small intestines secrete digestive acids.
The mouth, pancreas, liver, stomach and small intestines secrete digestive acids. (Image: Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images)

Fats and triglycerides dissolve to make fatty acids. The liver, pancreas and small intestines direct digestive juices and other chemicals and acids into this mix to generate energy. Moving this solution to the gallbladder for storage, the liver is then able to continue the process of fat digestion. Bile that escapes from the digestive tract can damage the esophagus, throat and mouth from acid reflux. Cellular debris and fats create yellow bile.

What is Bile?

Bile dissolves fats. Liver cells, cholesterol, bile salts and bicarbonate ions flow from the gallbladder and mix with acids from the small intestines. The liver, pancreas and gallbladder all work together to help the body with the difficult digestion of fats, according to Washington University Professor Warren W. Buck, chancellor of science and technology.


Mixed with the healthy bacteria of digestion and worn out red blood cells, or heme, this product of metabolism takes on a yellow-green hue. Lipids, fats and bilirubin, old red blood cells both have a yellow hue. Since bile salts break down fats and cholesterol as well as transport bilirubin from the body, the main color of this chemical mixture, exiting from a relatively empty stomach, is yellow.

Role of Bile

The small intestines, with the help of bile, dissolve fats and fat-soluble vitamins. The small intestines process proteins and fatty acids in foods to create an energy source for the body. Fats, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins and minerals must be broken down and are then combined with a variety of proteins. This newly formed energy source travels through the bloodstream and nervous system to activate muscle tissue. The body needs about six hours to break down, store and produce energy to transform fats into power. The USDA food pyramid recommends that a 30 percent daily intake of fats provides sufficient energy for the body to maintain a healthy weight. Since fatty foods are difficult for the body to digest, they require several stages of digestion from the strong acidic content of bile to modify fatty foods so that they can be a source of continued energy for muscle activity.

Saliva in the mouth breaks down sugars prior to digestion in the stomach.
Saliva in the mouth breaks down sugars prior to digestion in the stomach. (Image: Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images)

Bile Reflux

Each section of the digestive system contains a valve that opens and closes to regulate digestive acids and food intake. When these muscles weaken or become damaged, bile directed to the small intestines can discharge into the esophagus, notes the Mayo Clinic Health Information website. This unfiltered acid can burn the stomach and cause pain in the upper abdomen and frequent heartburn or chest pain that can simulate the sensation of a heart attack. Bile is a combination of volatile acids. This reflux can result from gastric bypass surgery, gallbladder removal and excess body fat weighing on the abdomen. Peptic ulcers result from bacterial infections of the digestive tract, wearing away of the mucosa lining from medications. Stomach acids can bore through the lining of the small intestine and stomach, resulting in bleeding. Peptic ulcer symptoms include vomiting bile materials and food; however, bile reflux is not the cause of peptic ulcers but a symptom.


Gallstones are yellow-green salts hardened by repeated calcification of liver enzymes. Bile from the liver is absorbed in the small intestines, returned to the liver repeatedly to recycle cellular debris, according to the Mayo Clinic Health Information website. This constant recycling process, as well as the chemical actions required to break down excess fatty acid, lipids and triglycerides in the small intestines, can cause bile to accumulate, causing gallstones. Unless these stones move into the bile duct opening or become numerous, gallstones are a symptom-less condition. When stones irritate the bile duct or block bile flow, they can become painful. Gallstones can be broken up by an instrument that emits vibrations. They also can be dissolved by medication or removed in a cholecystectomy -- the removal of the gallbladder and stones.

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