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Fats are largely misunderstood and avoided in many diets. However, lecithin is a naturally occurring, healthy fat that can help you reach your health goals. Whether you want to improve your liver function or balance your cholesterol, lecithin will get the job done. Read on to discover what foods have lecithin, and its other great health benefits.

What Is Lecithin?

lecithin

Lecithin is a naturally occurring fat found in many plant and animal sources [R, R].

Lecithin is a term for a group of yellow-pigmented fatty substances. Lecithins generally contain groups of phospholipids, which are key structural and functional components of cell membranes in all animals and plants [R].

Lecithin maintains and stabilizes fat in many food products. They also provide texture to many foods and increase their shelf life. Lecithin has the ability to bind water and fat sources, making it a great additive to many desserts, chocolates, salad dressings, meats, and cooking oils [R, R, R].

Popular lecithins include soy lecithin and sunflower lecithin.

Soy Lecithin

Soy lecithin is extracted from soybeans.

It is composed of free fatty acids and small amounts of proteins and carbohydrates. The main component in soy lecithin is phosphatidylcholine, which comprises between 20% to 80% of the total fat amount [R].

Components

Active components in lecithin include [R]:

  • Glycerophosphate
  • Sodium oleate
  • Choline
  • Phosphatidylinositol

Phosphatidylcholine, the main fat found in lecithin, is a source of choline, an important nutrient that is critical for 4 main purposes in the human body [R]:

  • Cell membrane structure and signaling
  • Synthesis of the important neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is required for brain and muscle function [R]
  • Helps the process that controls the activation and blockage of genes (uses methyl groups to mark DNA)
  • Fat transportation and keeping the fats circulating in your bloodstream in balance

Choline is also very important in breaking down homocysteine [R].

Phosphatidylcholine and Choline Pathway:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18204095

Mechanism of Action

Lecithin contains fatty acids that can activate gene controlling receptors (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors). Once activated, these receptors play a major role in energy balance and metabolic function [R, R].

Peroxisome proliferator-activated receptors exist in many types of tissues such as in the heart, liver, muscle, fat, and intestine. These tissues rely on the receptor activation for promotion of fatty acid, ketone bodies, and glucose metabolism. Ketone bodies are used by the body as a source of energy [R, R].

Health Benefits of Lecithin

1) Lecithin Improves Cholesterol Levels

Chronic high cholesterol leads to many heart related complications such as heart attack.

In one study (DB-PCT) of 30 patients, participants with high cholesterol levels took 500 mg of soy lecithin daily for 2 months. After 2 months, total cholesterol levels and bad (LDL) cholesterol levels were reduced by 42% and 56%, respectively [R].

Soy lecithin increased liver production of good (HDL) cholesterol in a 4-week study (RCT) of 65 patients. Good cholesterol removes other forms of cholesterol from the body, and higher levels protect against heart attack and stroke [R].

2) Lecithin May Protect the Brain

Phosphatidylserine (from soy lecithin) blended with phosphatidic acid improved memory, mood, and thinking ability in a 3-month study (DB-PCT) of 72 elderly patients [R].

This same mixture also showed improved daily function, mood, and general condition in a different 2-month (DB-PCT) study of 56 Alzheimer’s patients [R].

Long-term use of drugs that treat mental disorders may cause tardive dyskinesia, an involuntary movement disorder. In a pilot study of 5 men with tardive dyskinesia, lecithin improved abnormal movements with oral supplements [R].

Choline in lecithin can also be used to increase the amount of acetylcholine, restoring defective pathways in the brain[R].

However, in a study (DB-PCT) of 51 subjects, using high doses of lecithin did not improve symptoms in dementia patients [R].

A meta analysis also reported a moderate improvement on dementia after lecithin supplementation, but not enough to warrant further studies [R].

3) Lecithin May Treat Mental Disorders

Lecithin also contains another phospholipid called phosphatidylinositol, a natural compound that is effective in treating panic disorder [R].

In a study (DB-RCT) of 6 mania patients, 5 of them experienced better mental health with consumption of pure lecithin [R].

A 16-year-old Chinese boy with bipolar disorder, monthly insomnia, and a mild form of mania took phosphatidylcholine supplements for 14 months. His sleeping patterns returned to normal and his mania symptoms recovered [R].

A meta analysis of lecithin reported its effectiveness as a complementary and alternative medicine in treating bipolar disorder [R].

4) Lecithin May Reduce Cancer Risk

In another study, researchers compared 3,101 previous breast cancer cases to 3,471 healthy subjects. Use of lecithin supplements was associated with reduced breast cancer risk [R].

Lecithin supplementation was also strongly associated with reduced breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women, but not premenopausal women [R].

5) Lecithin May Protect the Liver

Cholestatic liver disease is the slowing of bile flow due to damaged or inflamed bile ducts. Mice experienced less liver damage when on a soybean lecithin supplemented diet [R].

Individuals with choline deficiency are more susceptible to liver damage and liver failure. Choline in lecithin is first broken down in the liver where it helps to absorb fats. Otherwise, the liver is at risk of becoming too fatty [R].

6) Lecithin May Boost Immunity

In one study, diabetic rats given a daily supplement of soy lecithin had a 29% increase in white blood cell activity [R].

Meanwhile, non-diabetic rats had a 92% increase of overall white blood cells (T and B cells) [R].

7) Lecithin Improves Stress Response

Lecithin can improve the body’s resilience to stress.

A study (RCT) of 80 men and women divided into 4 groups of 20 individuals. Before exposure to a stress test, participants were given either 400, 600, or 800 mg of soy lecithin plus phosphatidylserine (another phospholipid that is commonly present in lecithin) or placebo for 3 weeks [R].

Interestingly, only the 400 mg group showed a decreased stress response to the stress test compared to the placebo [R].

8) Lecithin May Treat Colitis

The lecithin derivative phosphatidylcholine makes up over 70% of the total fats found in the mucus layer covering the inner surface of the intestine. This layer serves as a protective barrier that helps maintain the digestive tract from bacteria [R].

Colitis is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that targets the inner lining of the colon with inflammation. In colitis, there is a significant reduction in phosphatidylcholine content in the protective mucus barrier allowing bacteria to easily cause inflammation [R].

Supplementation of phosphatidylcholine in a study (DB-PCT) of 60 colitis was able to fix the mucus barrier and decrease inflammation caused by colitis [R].

9) Lecithin May Protect Against Bile Salt Injury

The liver produces bile. The gallbladder stores it to digest dietary fats such as cholesterol.

When bile levels are too high, bile salts can damage cells by digesting their fatty cell membrane. Lecithin can bind to and reduce bile salt levels, protecting cells from harm [R, R].

10) Lecithin Improves Absorption of Drugs and Supplements

Improving drug absorption is a double-edged sword and a highly researched area.

Some drugs and supplements can have improved effects if more is absorbed into the body. However, it could become toxic if the body cannot properly distribute, break down, and eliminate this larger amount of the drug [R].

Lecithin can help transport fat-soluble drugs and nutrients across fat insoluble cell membranes. For example, supplements such as curcumin, Boswellia serrata, green tea, silymarin, and grape seed extract have all shown enhanced absorption when delivered with lecithin [R, R].

Lecithin Side Effects

1) Lecithin May Cause Allergies

Since soy lecithin comes from soybean oil, it contains soy proteins that can trigger soy allergies. However, blood from soybean sensitive patients showed no reaction to soy lecithin. Soy lecithin presents only a low risk for people with minor reactivity to soy [R].

Lecithin contains Immunoglobulin E (IgE) binding proteins. When these proteins bind to the immune system’s antibodies, the antibodies trigger an allergic response which can cause rapid inflammation and digestion discomfort. Those with a soy allergy should be cautious even with other lecithin based products [R, R].

2) Lecithin May Clot the Blood

A 15-day study (RCT) with 60 patients showed a daily dosage of soy lecithin increased blood cell clumping (platelet adhesion) in the blood. Blood platelets are responsible for sealing damaged blood vessels. However, increased activity of blood platelets are linked to heart disease [R, R].

3) Lecithin May Increase Infertility Risk in Men

Soy products, including soy lecithin, contain the plant hormone phytoestrogen, which acts like the human hormone, estrogen [R].

Researchers took pregnant rats with male fetuses and added phytoestrogens to their diet. Later in their development, the male rats had a lower sperm count and hormone imbalances [R, R].

4) Lecithin May Be Harmful During Pregnancy

After pregnant mice had a soy lecithin-supplemented diet, their offspring later showed behavioral and biological defects, causing laziness and poor balance [R].

The choline in lecithin can also be a minor cause for concern during pregnancy. When choline reaches the large intestine, gut bacteria and the liver converts it into trimethylamine oxide (TMAO). High levels of trimethylamine oxide are may increase the risk for heart disease [R, R].

5) Lecithin May Cause Fat Build-up

Lecithin promoted fat production and storage in mouse cells. Human liver cells started to build up fat storage when introduced to lecithin [R].

Limitations and Caveats

Many of the available lecithin studies only test animals, so some benefits may not be replicated in humans. More human trials should be performed before you use lecithin for its purported health benefits.

Drug Interactions

There are no well-documented side effects or adverse reactions when taking lecithin.

However, lecithin was shown to increase platelet adhesion, which could reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners such as aspirin. Aspirin thins the blood by decreasing the clotting effect of platelets in the blood [R].

Lecithin Sources

Natural Sources

Lecithin is a common food additive but is also found in many natural sources.

Some vegetarian sources include [R, R, R]:

  • Milk
  • Yogurt
  • Cheese
  • Egg (yolk)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Legumes
  • Soybeans
  • Vegetable oil
  • Cauliflower
  • Nuts

Most animal sources generally provide a larger source of lecithin and choline. Some animal sources include [R, R, R]:

  • Fish
  • Chicken liver
  • Chicken kidney
  • Pork
  • Beef liver

Lecithin Supplements

Lecithin is also available in supplement form:

Lecithin Dosage

There is no established recommended dosage of lecithin. The most common dosages used in studies range from 0.5 to 2 g/ day [R, R, R].

The largest dose of lecithin used in a study ranged from 20 to 25 g/day [R].

User Experiences

Lecithin can treat a variety of ailments as a natural supplement with some reported side effects. The reported side effects include nausea, stomach pain, diarrhea, and dizziness.

Users report a mild headache relief provided by a daily use of lecithin. However, even large doses did not seem to have any effect on severe headaches and migraines.

Users also report that lecithin improved memory, focus, and joint movement while also reducing shakiness of hands.

When combined with moderate diet and exercise, many found lecithin’s powerful weight loss effects to be the most notable. However, there is only anecdotal evidence available.

Lecithin can prevent blocked ducts when breastfeeding. Its powerful emulsifying capabilities assist with the flow of highly fatty breast milk without causing clumps to form. Lecithin emulsifies by binding to both fat and water, preventing them from separating in a mixture. There are no available studies to verify this claim.

Buy Lecithin here.

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At SelfHacked, it’s our goal to offer our readers all the tools possible to get optimally healthy. When I was struggling with chronic health issues I felt stuck because I didn’t have any tools to help me get better. I had to spend literally thousands of hours trying to read through studies on pubmed to figure out how the body worked and how to fix it.

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  • SelfHacked Elimination Diet course – a video course that will help you figure out which diet works best for you
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  • Biohacking insomnia – an ebook on how to get great sleep
  • Lectin Avoidance Cookbook – an e-cookbook for people with food sensitivities
  • BrainGauge – a device that detects subtle brain changes and allows you to test what’s working for you
  • SelfHacked VIP – an area where you can ask me (Joe) questions about health topics

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13 COMMENTS

  • Mark

    How much lecithin is in one egg yolk and can you cook it or does it have to be raw?

  • Kimberly

    Hi Dale
    I am in the same boat as you. what else have you been taking to help heal the mitochondrial damage?? I take restore4 life.com (gut), dr Caroline dean’s magnesium/ mineral products, nadh+, R lipoic acid, L carnitine. I have also been using bpc157 and TB500 peptides.

  • jm

    Unfortunately, there’s no one formula for everyone.
    You have to hack yourself !!
    If soy works for you then go for it.
    If sunflower is better then go for it.
    Just remember, anything too much could be dangerous.

  • Mary Saunders

    If I were going to use it to get C in the blood, for example, I would use sunflower, as these plants I have grown myself, and I know they can be and are grown without bad chems. some health consultanys counsel against anything with soy, for fear of contamination.

  • Anne Keenan

    Sunflower lecithin is a superior product particularly for men and women later in life menopause and beyond. So I lecithin is loaded with estrogen men don’t need that! Sunflower lecithin is very soothing. My nutritionist, A graduate of the Eck institute highly recommends it. I’ve been taking it for months. It helps me sleep

  • Srambo

    Look up Chris Shade’s explanation of P.C. and how it affects the cell’s membrane which is vital to the cell’s proper functioning. Soy lecithin if processed enough is devoid of the soy proteins and hormone’s that can make people sick. All that is left is the vital lipids and it is considered safe. The best source per Chris Shade is raw egg yolks. Raw egg whites are not good to consume. It also is considered to help the liver with bile production. Cheers!

  • Steve Weiss

    Hopefully, one day, organic, actual egg yolk lecithin will be priced within reach. Until then, I’m not excited about the faux, vegetable alternatives, especially soy, considering what unpopular, not complimentary “fringe” data is out there.

  • Rod Spake

    I don’t allow soy in my diet at all. Too many minus’s to even consider, as a male of the species.
    For several months I have been taking 1200 mg of sunflower lecithin daily with no known bad side effects.
    Surprised that you would be recommending a soy product.

    Also I am not vegan or a vegetarian. Human history just doesn’t support any of the current theories for these diets. Take the Eskimo for example……. I have known and worked with a few and they don’t seem to have suffered major issues. Humans are amazing.

  • Dale Almond

    If you have allergies to soy or sunflower, the very best source of phospatidylcholine is egg yolk. I was badly damaged by fluoroquinolone antibiotics, which caused mitochondrial damaged that left me with a severely deranged lipid profile, and dryness (eyes,mouth, everywhere) approaching scurvy. Phosphatidyalcholine addresses some of it. I take phosphatidylcholine from soy (NOW) and also Essentiale, which is essential phospholipids in a small capsule (Sanofi-Aventis, from Europe). I have trouble with eggs due to celiac disease, and the fact that if the chickens are fed gluten grains and/or cricket powder, i get sick from them However, I can attest to the fact that phosphatidylcholine obtained from eggs is far superior to any supplement. If you can eat eggs, go for it! Four egg yolks a day. Your brain will be much sharper as well.

  • lee w beville

    Cardiologists don’t recommend lecithin because it raises TMAO.

  • CL

    I take (4) 1200mg capsules daily of Sunflower lecithin. The brand I use is NOW which is purchased through Amazon. Been taking it now for 3 months and noticed improvements in overall health within 2-3 weeks.

  • Eli Al

    You begin with mentioning soy lecithin then sunflower lecithin. But then go on for the entire article solely about soy, soy, soy.

    Considering the side effects/risk you mention….which are related to soy, would sunflower be a better alternative?

  • Anna Burns

    I can’t consume soy due to allergy to it. I was wondering about soy alternatives, such as sunflower lecithin or egg lecithin or possibly other options.

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