Lecithin was one of the first “health foods” endorsed by Adelle Davis and other pioneers of the health food movement of the 1960s. Lecithin has been promoted for preventing or treating Alzheimer’s disease, gallstones, high cholesterol, liver disease, and multiple sclerosis, and enhancing weight loss.
Background on Lecithin
Lecithin is found in the cell membranes of all animals and plants and in egg yolks. To medical researchers, lecithin indicates a specific phospholipid called phosphatidylcholine (which includes the B vitamin choline). Consumers, however, know lecithin as the pale yellow granular substance sold in health food stores, which contains phosphatidylcholine and other phospholipids.
In the body, the liver makes lecithin primarily from fat-containing foods. It’s used to create permeable cell membranes that allow for the transport of nutrients into the cell and the removal of wastes from the cell. In addition, lecithin helps to keep fats (including cholesterol) soluble in the bloodstream.
First isolated in egg yolks, the primary source of most lecithin sold at health food stores today comes from soybeans. To extract the lecithin, mechanical processing, steam, or chemical solvents are used.
Brewer’s yeast is an excellent source of choline and other B vitamins, and the trace mineral chromium. Lecithin is also found in brewer’s yeast in small amounts. We like Lewis Labs Brewer’s Yeast—sprinkle over popcorn or add to a smoothie.
Lecithin has been proposed to have numerous health benefits—from regulating cholesterol to supporting liver and gallbladder health to enhancing brain function.
Proponents maintain that because lecithin is such an excellent emulsifier, it has the ability to dissolve fats and cholesterol in the body—hence the theory that cholesterol won’t be deposited on artery walls, fats won’t settle into cells and accumulate as excess weight, and the liver won’t be burdened with harmful fatty deposits. In addition, choline helps decrease levels of homocysteine, an amino acid in the blood that has been strongly implicated in artery damage and Alzheimer’s disease.
Advocates also claim that lecithin can improve memory and brain function, based on the findings that choline in lecithin can be transformed in the body into acetylcholine, a compound that is essential for the transmission of nerve impulses in the brain and nervous system.
How much do you need? Lecithin occurs naturally in a variety of foods, including egg yolks, fish, meats, nuts, and soybeans. If dietary intake is insufficient, supplementing may be beneficial.
Lecithin is available in granule, capsule, powder, and liquid forms. Choose supplements with the highest concentration of pure phosphatidylcholine, which is broken down into choline in the body, because choline appears to be the mechanism behind the beneficial effects ascribed to lecithin. Lecithin supplements contain anywhere from 10 to 90 percent phosphatidylcholine.
Lecithin is generally safe to take, but in high doses (more than 25 grams per day) can cause nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
Boost your brain health by supplementing with a formula that contains phosphatidylcholine. “It supports brain functions: clinical trials have demonstrated small improvements in memory, cognition, and locomotion,” says Dallas Clouatre, PhD, who recommends Jarrow Formulas Neuro Optimizer with phosphatidylcholine.