Phosphatidylcholine (lecithin) – an early health food
Lecithin is technically known as phosphatidylcholine or PC.
Phospholipid mixtures, such as lecithin, were amongst the first health foods, and lately more sophisticated preparations have emerged as versatile nutraceuticals and ingredients for functional foods. Lecithin is Greek for “egg yolk,” and it enjoys wide use in foods, though in industrial food production it comes from soybeans. Its uses include as an emulsifier to stabilize otherwise unblendable beverages, wetting agent for food instantizing, flow agent for chocolate manufacture, baking stabilizer and pan-release slip agent, flour improver and animal feed additive.
Lecithin is a fat that is produced by the body and used by all cells. Its fat content makes it slippery, which on a cellular level means that cholesterol cannot make it into cells – presto, lower cholesterol levels,1 It also has been shown to reverse hardening of the arteries, ie better cardiovasculer health. Its choline content makes it effective for brain health, specifically with memory. The most popular phosphatidyl supplement is krill oil. The popularity of krill oil is driven by the fact that the krill PC is bonded to omega 3 fatty acids. The best krill oils contain at least 40% phospholipids, of which typically 3/4 is phosphatidylcholine. Before krill oil was introduced in the US supplement market in 2004, soy lecithin was the prevalent PC supplement. However, soy lecithin disappeared because it does not contain omega 3. The presence of omega 3 as a bonded part of the phospholipid molecule is a major benefit, because omega 6 phospholipids from soy are more pro-inflammatory. Omega 3 phospholipids from krill are anti-inflammatory.
Harvard doctor Margarita Woodbury noted that of “347 patients with neuropsychiatric disorders treated with choline or lecithin, 106 showed significant improvement, 61 demonstrated partial improvement, and 80 showed no changes. Thus, almost half exhibit some response.”2
PC has also been shown to support liver recovery from acute or chronic viral damage, such as from deathcap mushroom poisoning, alcoholic liver damage and the hepatitis B virus. In one double-blind human experiment, 176 patients with chronic viral hepatitis (B or C) were begun on the anti-hep drug interferon alpha for 24 weeks, then took either 1.8 grams per day PC or placebo for 24 weeks. Significantly more patients with hepatitis C responded to PC, though not those with hep B.3
1. Wojcicki J, et al. Clinical evaluation of lecithin as lipid-lowering agent. Phytother Res 1995, 9(8): 597-9.
2. Woodbury MM, Woodbury MA. Neuropsychiatric development: two case reports about the use of dietary fish oils and/or choline supplementation in children. J Am Coll Nutr 1993 Jun;12(3):239-45.
3. 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. Leich Study Group. Hepatogastroenterology 1998 May-Jun;45(21):797-804.
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