Lecithin

Nonessential Micronutrient

OVERVIEW

Summary

Every cell in our bodies contains lecithin, and inside each cell, lecithin performs vital functions: supporting the cardiovascular system and liver, helping us think more clearly even as we age, and even helping us resist fatigue.

Other names for Lecithin

phosphatidylcholine, choline

Where to find Lecithin

Lecithin is found in many foods, including eggs (one large egg can contain up to 2,000 mg of lecithin), organ meats, lean meat, brewer’s yeast, and legumes, such as soybeans, grains, and nuts, as well as in vegetables, such as cabbage and cauliflower. Straight lecithin can even be sprinkled on foods. It’s also used as an emulsifying agent to mix oil and water, so it’s found abundantly in ice cream, mayonnaise, and margarine. One of the most common sources of lecithin is soy. Before soy processing was developed, most lecithin came from egg yolks.

PERFORMANCE BENEFITS

Why athletes use Lecithin

Lecithin acts like motor oil for your nervous system, keeping everything firing away smoothly and efficiently, which may translate into faster reaction times and more powerful muscle contractions on the field. As an added bonus, it may even help you metabolize fat.

HEALTH BENEFITS

Signs of Lecithin deficiency

No deficiency conditions are known to exist.

Potential uses for Lecithin

Research indicates that Lecithin may be useful in the treatment of:

  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Bipolar disorder (manic depression)
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Cardiovascular risk
  • Heart palpitations
  • Herpes
  • High blood sugar
  • Gallstones

DISCUSSION

More about Lecithin

Lecithin is a type of lipid or fat found in every cell: it supplies the body with choline, a B-vitamin essential for liver and brain function. Lecithin is essential to every cell in the body and has a protective effect on cell membranes, which are largely composed of lecithin. Primarily, lecithin’s known for its potential as a powerful promoter of cognitive functioning because it plays such a key role in acetylcholine production. Acetylcholine is a vital brain chemical (neurotransmitter) needed for normal brain function. Lecithin is also often recommended for a wide variety of liver disorders because of its detoxification properties.

Brain booster

Lecithin contains phosphatidylcholine (PC), which is broken down into choline and then acetylcholine, a nerve chemical which is key for brain function. Lecithin is also uniquely suited for supporting the nervous system. In fact, after strenuous exercise, choline levels drop in the body, and this drop is linked to fatigue. The lower choline levels result in lower acetylcholine, which means nerve impulses (the messengers that tell your muscles when to work) travel slower, leading to slower reaction times and even more fatigue. Research has shown that when runners take choline (not lecithin), they may shave 5 minutes off their times in a 20-mile course compared to placebo, and swimmers may also dramatically improve their performance.

Mounting evidence for mental health

Lecithin appears to be so effective for reprogramming the brain and nervous system, it’s been used for a whole slew of psychological disorders, such as Tourette’s syndrome, Alzheimer’s disease, and bipolar disorder (a.k.a., manic depression). This is because phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid or fat-soluble substance that serves as a major structural (membrane) component of brain cells (the brain contains 25 percent phospholipids). Cell membranes are crucial for many key bodily processes, including moving nutrients and waste in and out of cells. Phosphatidylcholine is also vital for supplying adequate choline to the brain, which is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which drops with age. Low levels of acetylcholine are linked to memory loss and other cognitive problems.

Liver and metabolism support

Phospholipids are also concentrated in other vital organs, such as the liver, as well as in muscles. As a result, lecithin is helpful in many liver disorders, including hepatitis, cirrhosis, and drug toxicity, and it’s heavily used in Europe for these purposes. It works by speeding the flow of fats and cholesterol through the liver, preventing the buildup of fats, and helping it eliminate toxins. Without lecithin, fats would become trapped in the liver, where they would impair metabolism.

On a related note, lecithin is also an important part of fat-digesting bile. Thus, when people lack enough lecithin, they’re more prone to gallstones. Choline supports the movement of fats in and out of cells and is linked to phosphocreatine levels.

Heart function

Lecithin’s ability to shuttle fats in and out of cells has been shown to promote healthy cholesterol levels. What it does is emulsify cholesterol (make it mix with other fluids, in this case blood) before it can attach to cell walls and start clogging arteries. Strangely enough, the same emulsifying properties that make lecithin important in mayonnaise may make it helpful in preventing strokes, heart attacks, ateriosclerosis, and gallstones.

In conclusion

All the benefits associated with lecithin make it attractive for active people on a number of levels. Few other nutrients can claim the wide variety of benefits — reducing fatigue, promoting brain power, detoxifying the liver, to name a few — that lecithin has been shown to impart.

NOTES ON USAGE

Amount

The average daily dose is from 500 to 1,000 mg, although doses range from 300 mg to 3,000 mg daily.

To reduce cholesterol levels, up to 900 mg taken 3 times daily is common.

For psychological conditions, up to 10 grams 3 times daily are not uncommon. But these doses are not recommended unless you are working with a doctor.

Timing

It is recommended that you take lecithin 3 times a day with meals.

Tips

Look for lecithin that contains at least 10 to 20 percent phosphatidylcholine; clinical studies used products with a purity of 90 percent phosphatidylcholine.

Synergists of Lecithin

Lecithin aids the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as Vitamins A, D, E, and K.

Toxicity of Lecithin

Some people taking high dosages (over 30 grams) experience minor but annoying side effects, such as abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, a fishy body odor, and nausea.

Bans and restrictions

None reported.

RELATED RESEARCH

  • Brook, J.G., et al., “Dietary Soy Lecithin Decreases Plasma Triglyceride Levels and Inhibits Collagen- and ADP-Induced Platelet Aggregation,” Biochem Med Metab Biol 35.1 (1986) : 31- 9.
  • Buchman, A.L., et al., “Lecithin Increases Plasma Free Choline and Decreases Hepatic Steatosis in Long-Term Total Parenteral Nutrition Patients,” Gastroenterology 102.4.1 (1992) : 1363-70.
  • Cohen, B.M., et al., “Lecithin in the Treatment of Mania: Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trials,” Am J Psychiatry 139 (1982) : 1162-4.
  • Cohen, B.M., et al., “Lecithin in Mania: A Preliminary Report,” Am J Psychiatry 137 (1980) : 242-3.
  • Domino, E.F., et al., “Lack of Clinically Significant Improvement of Patients with Tardive Dyskinesia Following Phosphatidylcholine Therapy,” Biol Psychiatry 20.11 (1985) : 1189-96.
  • Gelenberg, A.J., et al., “A Crossover Study of Lecithin Treatment of Tardive Dyskinesia,” J Clin Psychiatry 51.4 (1990) : 149-53.
  • Guan, R., et al., “The Effect of Polyunsaturated Phosphatidylcholine in the Treatment of Acute Viral Hepatitis,” Ailment Pharmacol Ther 9 (1995) : 699-703.
  • Jenkins, P.J., et al., “Use of Polyunsaturated Phosphatidylcholine in HBsAg Negative Chronic Active Hepatitis: Results of Prospective Double-Blind Controlled Trial,” Liver 2 (1982) : 77-81.
  • Lieber, C.S., et al., “Attenuation of Alcohol-Induced Hepatic Fibrosis by Polyunsaturated Lecithin,” Hepatology 12 (1990) : 1390-8.
  • Lieber, C.S., and Rubin, E., “Alcoholic Fatty Liver,” N Engl J Med 280.13 (1969) : 705-8.
  • Niederau, C., et al., “Polyunsaturated Phosphatidyl-Choline and Interferon Alpha for Treatment of Chronic Hepatitis B and C: A Multi-Center, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial,” Hepatogastroenterology 45.21 (1998) : 797-804.
  • Oosthuizen, W., et al., “Lecithin Has No Effect on Serum Lipoprotein, Plasma Fibrinogen and Macro Molecular Protein Complex Levels in Hyperlipidaemic Men in a Double-Blind Controlled Study,” Eur J Clin Nutr 52.6 (1998) : 419-24.
  • Polinsky, R.J., et al., “Cholinergic Treatment in the Tourette Syndrome,” N Engl J Med 302 (1980) : 1310.
  • Stoll, A.L., et al., “Choline in the Treatment of Rapid-Cycling Bipolar Disorder: Clinical and Neurochemical Findings in Lithium-Treated Patients,” Biol Psychiatry 40 (1996) : 382-8.
  • Weintraub, S., et al., “Lecithin in the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease,” Arch Neurol 40 (1983) : 527.
  • Wojcicki, J., et al., “Clinical Evaluation of Lecithin as a Lipid-Lowering Agent,” Phytother Res 9 (1995) : 597-9.