Last Updated June 13th, 2021
Lecithin is a fatty acid based compound. It mainly contains phosphatidylcholine and two chains of fatty acids. The permeability of cell membranes is made possible of this compound as at provides a fluid edge to the cell membrane enabling transport of molecules in and out of the cell.
On the whole, lecithin is vital for the formation of the cell membrane and also the outer coat (myelin sheath) in the nerve cells. It is also important for the transmission of signals. Industrially, lecithin is used as an emulsifier (to enable blending of 2 fluids) and also used in food, medicine, and cosmetic products to raise the shelf life. Food sources containing lecithin:
- Soy milk
- Sunflower seeds
- Brussel’s sprouts
- Egg yolks
- Beef Liver
- Chicken liver
- Vegetable oil
In addition to these foods, lecithin can also be obtained from animal fats, cotton seeds, and canola.
Lecithin and cholesterol reduction
Lecithin plays a major role in minimizing the bad cholesterol levels (the low-density lipoproteins, LDL). There is an enzyme called Lecithin: cholesterol acyltransferase (LCAT). LCAT converts the cholesterol to and this enables the production of good cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins, HDL).
Lecithin aids in metabolism and also protects the liver from lipid-related oxidation. There are reports the quote that lecithin increases the enzyme activity for cholesterol biosynthesis to further use them for HDL production. This HDL coats over the LDL and directs it to cells that transport to the liver for excretion.
Low cholesterol levels are also needed for good heart health. There are some soy products which contain lecithin as an additive. This helps in making you feel full as it gets digested slowly. This minimizes your need for any binge eating.
There is a report from 2008 which focuses on lecithin supplements (500 mg) on human samples for 2 months. The study showed a reduction in LDL levels by about 56%.
Better sugar control with lecithin
Diabetes was the 7th leading cause of death in the year 2014. It is a condition of an impaired insulin secretion amount or impaired insulin functioning. Insulin is a hormone majorly playing a role in reducing the blood glucose levels in the blood. There are reports suggesting that soy lecithin can help in diabetes treatment as it enhances the insulin functioning.
Usually, in diabetes, there will be an abnormality in the activity of the enzymes and functioning of the immune cells. The enzyme functioning increased the factors that are involved in cell division. This involved DNA synthesis and increased metabolism in such immune cells. Reports also show that lecithin alone increased the movement of these immune cells. This indicates that lecithin supplement acts on the metabolism but the proliferation is independent of the influence of lecithin.
Lecithin: A natural stress buster
Soy lecithin is a stress reliever. It discourages the activity of the stress hormones (adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol). A study was done on implementation of lecithin phospholipid on human volunteers. A lecithin complex of 400 mg was given to the volunteers and it was found that this dosage helped in a significant decrease in the stress levels and stress-related components. Because of the stress defeating-effect of soy lecithin, it is often used in natural stress treatments.
Lecithin and improved cognition
Phosphatidylcholine in lecithin helps in better memory, attentiveness, and motivation. It is involved in the production of the hormone acetylcholine which is involved in the cognitive functioning of the brain. Acetylcholine is important for the nerve to nerve signaling, functioning of the motor nerves (nerves involved in motor function), voluntary, and involuntary functions.
Eggs were administered to mice having dementia (egg phosphatidylcholine -100 mg) for 45 days. There was a marked improvement in the acetylcholine levels and memory in these mice and this was similar to the normal ones used in the study for comparison.
A soy lecithin-based component was also administered in another study. These were given to those who had Alzheimer’s. The analysis showed a 90% improvement in daily functioning with an improvement in the mental state. This suggests that lecithin or lecithin-based products could help in improving cognitive functioning even in the elderly.
Lecithin protects your liver
Fat metabolism is also monitored by lecithin. Lecithin binds to proteins that are involved in lowering fatty acids. It binds to proteins that also help in the synthesis of good cholesterol. The liver also uses phosphatidylcholine to synthesize very low-density lipoproteins as they carry fats from the liver.
How can lecithin improve your digestion
Lecithin is known for its blending or coating properties. It basically upgrades the mucus layer in the intestines and protects the gastrointestinal tract. The same has been proven in subjects with digestive disorders such as ulcerative colitis (chronic inflammation in the digestive tract), irritable bowel syndrome, etc. Reports mention that those with a digestive disorder showed lower levels of phosphatidylcholine. So supplementation of lecithin will be beneficial with people with these specific disorders.
Why do skin care products include lecithin?
Some commercial skin products or face masks contain lecithin. The emulsifying nature helps in replenishing the moisture in the skin and keeps it soft and supple. Lecithin in skin products is usually in the form of hydrogenated lecithin. There are reports showing that upon using only lecithin, skin conditions such as acne (pimples) and eczema can be treated. Overall, lecithin helps in bringing an even toned skin. You can use lecithin for dry skin conditions.
Lecithin for new moms
There are conditions where breastfeeding women experience clogged milk ducts. This makes it hard and painful for the new mom owing to obstruction in the milk flow in the duct. The clogged milk ducts can also give room for bacteria to infect leading to a condition called mastitis where there is breast pain, swelling, and fever. The Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation advises in a 1200 mg lecithin supplementation for 4 times a day in women to prevent clogged milk.
Note: Clogged milk ducts are not treated by lecithin but can be prevented by lecithin.
Other therapeutic uses of lecithin
- Gallbladder disease: Lecithin is useful in preventing cholesterol from solidifying in the gallbladder.
- Bipolar disorder: This is a condition of extreme mood swings .The anti-stress activity of lecithin helps in minimizing the nerve related activities thereby, suppressing the condition.
- Eye infections: It is also used in eye drops to enable the medicinal contents to stick to the eye rather than getting washed away into tears.
Lecithin supplements are in the form of capsules, gels, powder, and even in liquid form. Varied dosage levels are recommended for different purposes. The dosage must not increase more than 5000 mg for a day.
Safety and risks involved with lecithin supplements
The FDA has considered lecithin under the “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) list so it will mostly not result severe and adverse complications. Ideally, the natural way is the best way. If you still decide to consume these supplements, you must discuss with the doctor on this keeping the existing health condition in the picture. Research the product before consuming it.
The following side effects may occur:
- Stomach pain
- Appetite changes
- Saliva secretion increases
Even though the Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation has advised lecithin for breastfeeding women, more investigations need to be done for using lecithin supplements in such cases or even for pregnant women. So it is better to avoid.
There are researches alerting on the use of lecithin or phosphatidylcholine as it can be utilized to produce trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO). In due course of time, this TMAO may result in arterial hardening or atherosclerosis and even a heart attack.
Who all must avoid lecithin supplements?
- Those who have soy allergies – Lecithin may cause allergies if it is soy lecithin. Soy protein is a well-known food allergen. Those with soy allergies must stay away. The binding factors present in lecithin aggravate the allergic response and rapidly results in inflammation and other discomforts like breathlessness, digestion related discrepancies, etc.
- Those who have a heart condition – Soy lecithin also contains vitamin K. This assists in blood clotting. Blood clots are a natural response to cut down excessive bleeding, but excessive tendencies of clotting can result in clogging the arteries which could result in cardiac illness.
- Soy lecithin may lower testosterone levels – Soy-based products contain phytoestrogen (which functions similar to the estrogen hormone). Increased levels of phytoestrogens can decrease male reproductive hormones and even lower the sperm count.
- Epilepsy patients – They must avoid lecithin supplements as it can interfere with nerve signalling in the brain.
The bottom line
Lecithin is a phospholipid that is present in nuts, chicken, liver, vegetable oils, etc. It is present in every cell and helps the cells retain the cell form and metabolism. It is vital for brain development or functioning because it helps in the production of an important chemical called acetylcholine that is needed for nerve impulse conduction.
That is why it is currently used in treating Alzheimer’s as it shows promising prospects to improve brain functioning. It also has a soothing effect on the digestive lining and also on the skin. There are different forms of lecithin supplements but it is safe to consult a doctor first. Above all this, try relying on foods containing lecithin as foods are always the healthier option when compared to supplements.
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