One of the healthy fats
Melina Roberts, ND
Lecithin is essential for the normal function of every cell in our bodies, among other systematic processes. Learn about the health benefits of this healthy fat.
Your mother may never have admonished you to take your lecithin, but this healthy fat is essential for the normal function of every cell in our bodies.
Lecithin directly affects nerve and brain function, fat transportation, and metabolism, and protects cells from oxidation. Lecithin contains a phospholipid called phosphatidylcholine, which is absorbed by the intestinal mucosa and metabolized to choline in the liver.
Small amounts of choline are carried to the brain, where it is converted to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is required for adequate nerve function as well as for memory storage and retrieval.
In healthy individuals, lecithin can increase acetylcholine levels in the brain. Because a decrease in acetylcholine is associated with Alzheimer’s disease, it has been suggested that increased lecithin levels may increase this important neurotransmitter.
As a 2002 study reported in the Clinical Therapeutics journal,while patients with mild to moderate dementia experienced improved memory with increased dietary choline, it was not beneficial to patients with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
Studies have shown that choline is also needed for the normal development of the brain during fetal growth. In an interesting animal study, when pregnant female rodents were supplemented with choline, their offspring’s brain function changed, resulting in lifelong memory enhancement. Thus, memory function in the aged offspring was partially determined by what the mother ate during pregnancy.
Lecithin has been shown to help with cardiovascular disease by lowering cholesterol and preventing atherosclerosis. Lecithin is an emulsifying agent, meaning that it is able to suspend the fat and cholesterol that is travelling through the bloodstream and stop it from attaching to the artery walls, thus preventing atherosclerosis.
Some studies demonstrate that soy-derived lecithin has significant effects on lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while increasing HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol, in the blood.
There is evidence that bipolar disorder is associated with reduced choline in the central nervous system. Supplementing with lecithin has been shown to result in significant improvement and stabilization of mood during hypermanic phases; however it has also been reported to depress mood, so its use for mood disorders should be monitored by a qualified health practitioner.
Lecithin may play a role in preventing gallstones from forming. Studies have shown that taking lecithin orally will increase the amount of lecithin in the bile, and this can increase the ability to dissolve cholesterol.
Since gallstones are mostly composed of cholesterol, reducing excess cholesterol may help to reduce the formation of gallstones. Unfortunately, lecithin has not been shown to aid in dissolving gallstones after they have formed.
Since lecithin is able to package fat in the bloodstream and eliminate it from the body, it is often suggested that lecithin can help with weight loss, but this does not mean that lecithin is able to flush out fat from our subcutaneous tissues. To date, there is no clear evidence that lecithin aids in weight loss.
Lecithin is found naturally in such foods as egg yolk, soybeans, grains, wheat germ, fish, and legumes. When the diet is not adequate, lecithin can safely be consumed as a supplement; since it can be completely metabolized, it is virtually nontoxic to humans. A standard dose of lecithin is one to three grams per day.
It is important to note that lecithin does have potential side effects and interactions with medications; therefore it is recommended that you consult with a licensed health care practitioner before taking lecithin.
Men’s health across the life course
Theodore D. Cosco, PhD (Cantab) CPsychol