Bile salts are salts of four different types of bile acids: cholic, deoxycholic, chenodeoxycholic, and lithocholic. These bile acids combine with glycine or taurine to form complex salts or acids. Bile salts enter the small intestine through the bile and act as detergents to emulsify fat and reduce the surface tension on fat droplets so that enzymes (lipases) can breakdown the fat. In the terminal ileum, bile salts are absorbed and enter in the blood stream from where they are taken up by the liver and re-excreted in bile (enterohepatic circulation).
Bile salts along with bilirubin can be detected in urine in cases of obstructive jaundice. In obstructive jaundice, bile salts and conjugated bilirubin regurgitate into blood from biliary canaliculi (due to increased intrabiliary pressure) and are excreted in urine. The test used for their detection is Hay’s surface tension test. The property of bile salts to lower the surface tension is utilized in this test.
Take some fresh urine in a conical glass tube. Urine should be at the room temperature. Sprinkle on the surface particles of sulphur. If bile salts are present, sulphur particles sink to the bottom because of lowering of surface tension by bile salts. If sulphur particles remain on the surface of urine, bile salts are absent.
Thymol (used as a preservative) gives false positive test.