Lecithin is a fatty substance found in many types of food of plant and animal origin, including liver, eggs, soy, peanuts and wheat germ. It is often added to foods during production so that, for example, ice cream, chocolate, butter or salad dressings are easier to mix and their fatty and aqueous ingredients emulsify. Lecithin is also created in the human body.
Lecithin is an excellent source of choline, one of the vitamin B groups, which mainly comes in the form of phosphatidylcholine. It breaks down in the body, so when a person eats or takes lecithin, the body is supplied with choline. However, only 10% to 20% of plant origin lecithin contains phosphatidylcholine.
The main source of choline is lecithin in food, but choline is also found in liver, soy, egg yolk, grapefruit juice, peanut butter, cabbage and cauliflower. Food supplements with choline can be purchased in healthy food stores and are often the constituent of vitamin B complex and similar combinations.
How do they work?
Lecithin and choline are required for many functions of the organism. They help create cell membranes and facilitate the transfer of fat and other nutrients to and from the cells. They help in reproduction and growth (of fetuses and newborns); they are essential for liver and gallbladder health, and can also have a beneficial effect on the heart. Choline is also an integral part of acetylcholine, a substance that plays an important role in memory and muscle activity. Because of these effects, lecithin and choline are used for countless purposes – from treating cancer and AIDS, to lowering cholesterol levels. Although there are no solid evidence for many effects, these substances should not be neglected.
MAIN USEFUL EFFECTS: lecithin and choline may especially help with gallbladder and liver disease. Lecithin is one of the major constituents of the bile, and it is known that its lowered level stimulate the formation of gallstones. Thus, the formation of gallstones can be prevented by taking dietary supplements with lecithin or phosphatidylcholine, its purified extract. Lecithin can also be beneficial to the liver: a study that lasted for 10 years has shown that lecithin prevents the formation of severe scarring and liver cirrhosis in baboons who have consumed alcohol. Other research shows that this substance can help alleviate liver problems, related to hepatitis.
Choline is often found in combined preparations for liver strenghtening, along with amino acid methionine, vitamin B, inositol and herbal preparations such as silybum and dandelion. These so-called lipotropic preparations or formulas protect against fat build up in the liver, improve fat and cholesterol passage through the liver and bile duct and help remove toxins. They appear to be particularly effective in the treatment of liver and gallbladder diseases, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and gallstones. They can also help in some conditions where normal liver function is more than desirable; examples are endometriosis (the main cause of infertility in women) and the side effects of chemotherapy. Choline, along with vitamin B groups – pantothenic acid and thiamine – can help with poor digestion.
ADDITIONAL USEFUL EFFECTS: lecithin and choline are important for neuronal cells, so they can help with Alzheimer’s disease and prevent the development of neural tube development disorders (e.g. spina bifida). They can improve the endurance, but also help in treating tick and chorea (dyskinesia) that appear in people who take antipsychotics for a long time. Apparently, lecithin and choline can help in lowering cholesterol levels and in treating some forms of cancer, but to further determine the role of these substances in those conditions further research is needed.
How to take it?
DOSAGE: usually, two capsules of 1200 mg lecithin are taken per day. Lecithin grains may also be taken: a spoon contains 1200 mg of this substance. Choline can be obtained from lecithin, although a better choice is phosphatidylcholine (500 mg, three times a day) or choline alone (also 500 mg, three times a day). Choline can be taken as part of the lipotropic preparations. In the United Kingdom, no recommended values for daily intake of lecithin and choline are defined, but the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has defined choline as an essential nutrient and recommends its daily intake of 550 mg for men and 450 mg for women.
USE GUIDELINES: the absorption of these substances is better when taken with food. Lecithin in grain has a taste similar to nuts, so you can sprinkle on food or drink.
Possible side effects
In large doses, lecithin and choline may cause sweating, nausea, vomiting, inflammation and diarrhea. Very high doses of choline (10 grams per day) can cause body odor or disturbance in heartbeat rhythm.
IMPORTANT: if you have any illness, consult your doctor before taking any supplements.