March 12, 2011

094 Lecithin and Phosphatidylcholine [20 December 2010]

Lecithin is a nutrient first isolated from egg yoke in 1850. Other food sources are soy, liver, fish, brewer’s yeast, grains and legumes. In the late 1950s lecithin was found to effectively lower cholesterol and prevent or reverse atherosclerosis. It works as an emulsifier, breaking down fats and cholesterol into tiny particles during the digestion process to make them less “sticky”.

Lecithin is composed of several phospholipids (a fatty acid–phosphate compound) of which phosphatidylcholine (PC) is the most important. PC is an essential component of cellular membranes and is synthesized in every cell of the body. The synthesis of PC and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (AC) requires an adequate level of choline in the blood and PC is the best and safest dietary source of choline. Food sources such as egg yolks and soy do not contain enough and would require large amounts of these foods in the diet. Researchers at MIT recently found PC to be more effective at raising serum choline levels than the previously used choline chloride. Lecithin may contain as little as 10-20% PC so would require a much higher dosage than a concentrated PC supplement.

PC is an important nutrient for liver support. Decades of clinical trials show that PC protects the liver from damage from viruses, alcoholism, pharmaceuticals and other toxins. Even more significant are the effects of PC on the nervous system. Bipolar disorder is associated with low levels of choline in the brain and may benefit from PC supplementation (but large doses can exacerbate unipolar depression). Acetylcholine (synthesized from PC) is a very important neurotransmitter in both the peripheral and central nervous systems. AC deficiencies are associated with several neurological disorders including tardive dyskinesia, Huntington’s chorea, myasthenia gravis, and Alzheimer’s disease. While studies of PC supplementation on humans are limited, one study on mice bred for dementia, showed that acetylcholine levels and memory improved when given PC.

This article is intended for educational purposes only; for medical advice consult your licensed health practitioner.

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