What is Lecithin?

Lecithin is a fat molecule that is composed of inositol and choline that are crucial for living cells, in scientific terms, it is a type of phosphatidylcholine. Simplistically, lecithin is a fat emulsifier (and surfactant), which means that it is a substance that aids in breaking down and dispersing fat within fluids.

It is well documented and explained that lecithin is converted into an important neurotransmitter known as acetylcholine, this molecule is crucial for our nervous system to function appropriately. Read more about the details below.

What is Lecithin used for?

Lecithin is commonly known to aid with reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, a common source of lecithin is from soy based products. It has been shown that a continuous four months of soy lecithin being administered was shown to reduce total blood lipids, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels in patients with high lipid levels. The suggested mechanism of lecithin is that it increases the metabolism of cholesterol within the digestive system. Ultimately, this translates into a lower risk for coronary heart disease with a lower level of lipids.

Another main use of lecithin is to help improve neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other memory disorders such as dementia. Phosphatidylcholine, serves as a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, the increase in the accumulation of acetylcholine found within the brain then leads to an improvement of a myriad of brain functions, such as improved memory function.

There are also some claims that lecithin may help relieve symptoms associated with arthritis,  and can also be used to treat gallbladder and even liver diseases.

Other than consuming it, there is a possibility of lecithin being used as a food additive to prevent cooking ingredients from separating out from each other (as a emulsifying and stabilizing surfactant). In addition, there are also some folks that will apply lecithin to their skin as a form of moisturizer (found in creams, lipsticks, and conditioners). Last but not least, you may find trace concentrations of lecithin in eye medications, the purpose is to ensure that the active ingredient within the medication stays in close contact with the cornea within the eye.

There are mixed evidence published on the effect of lecithin on weight loss. There is a study that indicated soy lecithin consumed as a beverage decreased the absorption of cholesterol in subjects consuming a fat-free meal, and may lead to weight loss. However, there has been no conclusive trials to date that truly shows a causal effect of consuming lecithin and weight loss. Regardless, this should not deter you from consuming food or supplements rich in lecithin as there are clearly benefits to the cardiovascular system and brain function!

Where can I naturally find lecithin?

The majority of individuals will consume an average of 40mg to 70 mg of lecithin each day, which may be sufficient to fulfil the body’s daily needs. However, if you are have a high level of activity or is someone that is going through a weight loss diet or exercise program, you may require a higher amount of lecithin supplement.

Lecithin can be easily found in food such as egg yolks, soy beans, or legumes. If you were to purchase supplements, do check to see how much of the contents are actually lecithin. Most lecithin supplement products are derived from soybean products.

 

Is there any side effects to taking too much lecithin?

While adverse effects are not typically linked to the consumption of lecithin; and the exact amount of consuming ‘too much’ may vary between individuals, studied doses of lecithin have ranged between one to 35 grams in the past. There are reports that show, daily doses of lecithin could cause some side effects such as stomach discomfort, dizziness, and nausea.

 

Sources:

  1. Murray M. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements . Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996.
  2. Saba P, et al. Current Therapeutic Research, Clinical & Experimental . 1978 Aug;24:299-306.
  3. Reynolds J, ed. Martindale, The Extra Pharmacopoeia , ed. 31. London, Eng.: Royal Pharm. Society, 1996.
  4. DerMarderosian A, et al. Natural Product Medicine , Philadelphia, PA: George F. Stickley Co., 1988;121-22,140,313-15.
  5. Mourad AM et al. Influence of soy lecithin administration on hypercholesterolemia. Cholesterol, 2010; 2010: 824813
  6. Spillburg CA et al. Fat-free foods supplemented with soy stanol-lecithin powder reduce cholesterol absorption and LDL cholesterol. J Am Diet Assoc. 2003 May; 103(5): 577-81.

4 Comments

  1. Cody@FreedomCompounded

    Reply

    Hello! Thank you for breaking down what this supplement is. I’ve heard it many many times before and people give me all sorts of answers around it haha, it’s interesting that it’s found in soy beans as that’s a staple in my diet!! Do you know if there’s any downsides to lecithin? Like what dictates “too much”?

    Stay well,
    Cody

    • MLim

      Reply

      Hi Cody, thanks for the query, lecithin is not directly related to side effects but may cause some nausea, dizziness and stomach discomfort even if taken in small quantities. Research had studied up to 35 grams per day of usage but ultimately, I would say, the amount varies with each individuals given the different body structure and function and different levels of activities.

  2. Carolyn

    Reply

    Thanks for providing this useful information about lecithin. You said that it is found in soybeans and legumes. Are there other good ways to get a daily portion of lecithin other than eating soy beans? Can I, for example, drink soy milk or is it too diluted? thanks for any suggestions!

    • MLim

      Reply

      Hi Carolyn, thanks for the query! You could drink soy milk since it is derived from soy beans, but of course, you may want to watch for the other added ingredients in soymilk such as the high sugar content. One quick alternative to getting more lecithin in your diet is via supplement products.

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