When medical researchers use the term "lecithin", they are referring to a purified substance called phosphatidylcholine (PC). Supplements labeled as "lecithin" usually contain 10-20% PC. Relatively pure PC supplements are generally labeled as "phosphatidylcholine". PC best duplicates supplements used in medical research.
Most commercial lecithins contain various amounts of other phospholipids such as phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethanolamine.
Choline, a lipotropic molecule and the major constituent of phosphatidylcholine, is also available by itself (without the "phosphatidyl" group) in foods and supplements. It is found in soybeans, liver and other animal organs, bile, oatmeal, cabbage, and cauliflower. Egg yolks, meat, and some vegetables contain PC. Lecithin (containing 10-20% PC) is added to many processed foods in small amounts, for the purpose of maintaining texture consistency.
Most commercial lecithin is derived from soybeans. Choline is added as an ingredient in some multivitamin products as well as those specifically designed for the liver or gastrointestinal conditions. Choline is also a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and is often added to products designed to improve memory or depression.
Choline can also be found in stable salt forms such as choline bitartrate.
PC acts as a supplier of choline. Choline is now considered an essential nutrient, needed for cell membrane integrity and to facilitate the movement of fats in and out of cells. It is also a component of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and is needed for normal brain functioning, particularly in infants. For this reason, PC has been used in a number of preliminary studies for a wide variety of neurological and psychiatric disorders [Benjamin J, Levine J, Fux M, et al. Double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial of inositol treatment for panic disorder. Am J Psychiatry 1995;152: pp.1084-6.], though not every study suggests that supplemental choline is capable of reaching the brain [Dechent P, Pouwels PJW, Frahm J. Neither short-term nor long-term administration of oral choline alters metabolite concentrations in human brain. Biol Psychiatry 1999;46: pp.406-11]. Choline participates in many functions involving cellular components called phospholipids.
Choline is a vitamin that is lipotropic (has an affinity for lipids – fats). Lipotropics are fat metabolism assisting agents. As a lipotropic agent it is helpful in moving fat out of the liver into the bile.
As a precursor to betaine, choline is also involved in methylation of homocysteine as well as DNA.
Lecithin, with other phospholipids, is essential for every cellular and sub-cellular membrane in the body, especially the brain and central nervous system. Lecithin helps to regulate fat and cholesterol metabolism and is beneficial in atherosclerosis, hypertension and diabetes.
Phosphatidylcholine has been used in connection with the following conditions:
In high amounts, pure choline can make people smell like fish, so it's rarely used, except in the small amounts found in multivitamin supplements.
A number of studies suggest that lecithin has significant effects on the manic-depressive, with some claiming that it stabilizes moods or serves as a mood depressant. Although lecithin may be useful in helping to stabilize moods, it should be used cautiously since there may be a predominantly depressing action in certain individuals.
Taking 3gm per day of phosphatidylcholine (found in lecithin) was found to be beneficial in one investigation of people with chronic hepatitis B. Signs of liver damage on biopsy were significantly reduced in this study. [Jenkins PJ, Portmann BP, Eddleston AL, Williams R. Use of polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine in HBsAg negative chronic active hepatitis: Results of prospective double-blind controlled trial. Liver 1982;2: pp.77-81]
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