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Where does the digestion of fats occur?

Where does the digestion of fats occur?

It is worth noting that the digestion of fats begins before food enters the stomach, as chemical digestion begins in the mouth, and the body continues to digest fats while the food moves through the digestive system.

Unlike carbohydrates and proteins, triglycerides are insoluble in water. Therefore, they usually gather in large droplets when they are in an aqueous environment such as the digestive system, and during the digestion process. These large droplets of fat are broken down into smaller droplets; Then the fat molecules are digested by an enzyme known as the lipase enzyme, after which the products of fat digestion are absorbed into the blood circulation and transported to all parts of the body.

The process of digesting fats includes a series of steps, each of which occurs at a specific location in the digestive system. We shall mention in detail the following:

the mouth

As mentioned earlier; The process of digestion begins when chewing food, where the teeth cut the food into small pieces, and saliva moisturizes the food; So that it is easy to move through the esophagus to the stomach, and saliva also contains enzymes that help break down the fats in the food.

The first step begins with the digestion of triglycerides and phospholipids in the mouth. Where fats face saliva, and chewing food helps to facilitate the digestion of fats, so the lipase enzyme combines with a small amount of it in the form of an emulsion; It is the first step in digesting fats, and this procedure helps facilitate the access of fats to digestive enzymes. They become small droplets and separate from the aqueous components.


The lining of the stomach produces acids and enzymes that help break down food better. so that foods can move into the small intestine. Among them is the lipase enzyme, which begins to break down triglycerides into fats and fatty acids, and about 30% of the triglycerides are converted into fats and fatty acids within two to four hours after eating a meal. The lipids derived in this process act as other emulsifiers, however; The digestion of fat is very little in the stomach.

Small intestine

The bulk of the fat digestion process occurs once the food reaches the small intestine. Most nutrients are absorbed in the small intestine. When the contents of the stomach enter the small intestine; Most of the dietary fats are undigested and accumulated in large droplets, after which the bile that is produced in the liver and stored in the gallbladder is released; in the duodenum (in English: Duodenum); It is the first section of the small intestine, and bile salts contain a hydrophobic side and a water-loving side, and therefore they are attracted to both fats and water; Which makes them effective emulsifiers in breaking large fat globules into smaller droplets, and the emulsifiers facilitate the work of digestive enzymes.

The pancreas also produces enzymes that contribute to the breakdown of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins, and among these enzymes; Pancreatic lipase enzyme, which helps enzymatically digest triglycerides. Triglycerides are divided into fatty acids, monounsaturated fats, and some free glycerol. It should be noted that cholesterol and fat-soluble vitamins do not need to be digested enzymatically.

The time required to digest fats

Digesting fat is a complex process that takes time, and requires a well-functioning liver, pancreas, stomach, and small intestine, as well as many digestive enzymes, andPeople who are concerned about not properly digesting or absorbing fat should consult a doctor, as there is no home remedy that can reliably improve fat digestion., It is worth noting that the amount of time it takes for fats to digest varies from one person to another, and between men and women, but in general it can be said that The average transit time for food from the mouth to the time it leaves the body is about 33 hours for men and 47 hours for women.

What happens to fat when it gets into the blood

In reality; Fats cannot move in the bloodstream freely, like carbohydrates and proteins, because they are insoluble in water, and therefore they unite with what is known as a protein carrier to form lipoproteins, which carry both triglycerides, cholesterol, and phospholipids. Lipoproteins contain an inner core consisting mainly of triglycerides and cholesterol esters; It is cholesterol linked to a fatty acid, and the outer shell consists of phospholipids, interspersed with proteins and cholesterol. Together, they form a chylomicron (in English: Chylomicron); It is a large-sized lipoprotein that enters the lymphatic system, after which it is released into the bloodstream, and the chylomicron transports dietary fats through the body’s watery environment to specific destinations; Such as: liver and other body tissues.

And in the event that fats are not absorbed properly, as happens in some health conditions; The person’s stool will contain large amounts of fat. The condition is known as steatorrhea, and steatorrhea can result from diseases that affect absorption. Such as: Crohn’s disease and cystic fibrosis.

Where are fats stored and broken down?

Once fat is broken down during digestion, some of it is used immediately to obtain energy, and the rest is stored, as the body transfers it to fat stores in the event that it is not used for energy production, and chylomicrons are responsible for transporting triglycerides to different locations; Such as muscles, breasts, and the outer layers under the skin, and the inner layers of fat in the abdomen, thighs, and buttocks, and they are stored by the body in the adipose tissue, and once they enter the fat cells; Fatty acids and glycerol are recombined to produce triglycerides and stored for later use, and when an individual’s energy requirements exceed the amount of energy available from a meal or if physical activity has depleted glycogen stores, fat reserves are recovered for use as energy.

And when the body needs additional energy; As is the case when exercising or not eating enough food; Adipose tissue responds by breaking down triglycerides and discharging glycerol and fatty acids directly into the blood. Cells that need energy break it down into very small parts, and these parts go through a series of chemical reactions that produce energy, carbon dioxide, and water.

As mentioned previously, fats take longer to digest compared to other foods, and the amount of time varies depending on the type of fat, as dietary fats consist of:

  • Saturated fat.
  • trans fats
  • Monounsaturated fatty acids.
  • polyunsaturated fatty acids; Including omega-3 fatty acids.

Tips to facilitate the digestion of fats

Here are some tips that can help facilitate the digestion of fats:

  • Reducing fat intake: A study published in the journal Cell Host & Microbe in 2018 indicated that a diet high in fat may promote the growth of bacteria in the gut; Which leads to increased absorption of fats, and thus weight gain.
  • Eat healthy fats: Where it is recommended to include healthy fats in the diet; Include: avocados, nuts, coconut oil, and fish in the diet. It is also advised to reduce the intake of processed fats, red meat, and fried foods.
  • Treating health conditions that cause digestion problems: It is necessary to get treatment for any chronic or long-term medical condition. Especially those that affect the liver and the digestive system, where the problems of these organs can lead to difficulty in digesting nutrients; Including fat.
  • Maintaining a healthy liver: As mentioned earlier; The liver manufactures bile salts, which play a major role in the digestion of fats, and liver health can be maintained by abstaining from alcohol consumption.

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