Lecithin, (in sunflower and soy based supplements) has many benefits especially if you have a menopause related, or other, health issues. In fact, lecithin can help to regulate many bodily systems, from regulating your heart rate to synthesize good cholesterol.
Lecithin improves brain health. It improves memory and cognition, and battles or reverses cognitive decline. Psychologically, it helps to treat or avoid depression, anxiety, and stress. And, it helps fight disorders of the nervous system (6). These benefits are based in lecithin’s many brain healthy components, including choline and good fats, called phospholipids (DHA).
Lecithin helps treat diseases of inflammation like cancer (including breast), arthritis, and heart disease. Lecithin can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, lower bad, (LDL), cholesterol, improve overall cellular health, and speed up wound healing. Lecithin even helps with weight loss.
Regarding cellular health: lecithin is necessary for cells to work properly. lecithin has a substance in it called phosphatidylcholine. This substance helps keep cells healthy by properly maintaining cell function and structure. It keeps cell membranes (which enclose the cell body and are made from lipids or fats) permeable and soft, so that nutrients can be absorbed easily. Because it is a fat or lipid, lecithin can both stabilize and anchor membrane components, as well as be a component of other lipids, which help carry molecules across membranes to help cells function (4). So, it follows that lecithin deficiency leads to hardening of the cell membranes, making it hard for nutrients to pass into the cell, which impacts health in general as the body is made of cells.
This positive effect on cellular health is probably why it has been found that menopausal women, taking 1200 mg of lecithin a day, have lower diastolic blood pressure, less arterial stiffness (associated with heart attack risk), and more energy (1).
Amino acids: The amino acid homocysteine is associated with higher risk of heart disease (8) and depression (10). When it is metabolized with choline, found in sunflower lecithin, it is converted in to the semi-essential amino acid cysteine, which is good for hair, skin, and nails. This is important as high homocysteine levels are known to cause heart disease and depression, and it is put forward by some researchers that high homocysteine levels can also cause cerebral vascular disease and neurotransmitter deficiency (10).
Fats (lipids) & fatty acids:
Fats: The brain is nearly 60 percent fat. Fatty acids are necessary to maintain the brain’s soundness or health, and its ability to properly function. A lack of essential fatty acids, EFAs, found in foods, is associated with brain diseased and impaired brain performance. EFAs are used as messengers in the brain, and are involved in the synthesis and function of brain neurotransmitters. Lecithin has many good fats in it which help build these.
Phospholipids: (PLs) and choline, are both found in lecithin (and marine sources), and provide many healthy fatty acids, which positively effect health. For instance, phospholipids are in both the cell wall’s inner and outer layers. PLs make up the nuclear envelope, the envelope surrounding a cell’s nucleus. It has a double membrane with many pores that control the movement of nutrients (macromolecules like proteins and RNA water and ions, ATP and other small molecules) in the nucleus. So, phospholipids are very important for cellular health.
The cell can break down PLs and use them for energy as PLs makes up part of the area of the cell which produces energy, the mitochondria (33). PLs help maintain cell structure, function, and overall health. For instance, they are found in lung and joint tissue, where they provide lubrication.
Dietary phospholipids, or PLs, may be deficient in a modern western diet. These have been proven (mostly in animal studies) to be beneficial regarding illnesses like heart disease, inflammation, and cancer. Specifically, the fat category known as glycerophospholipids or GPLs, rich in n-3 FAs or fatty acids, are needed to fight disease. They also reduce the side effects of some drugs. PLs are a type of glycerophospholipids or GPLs, made from fatty acids or FAs.
Nervous system health is impacted by lecithin. Phospholipids help with neuronal stimulation and neuroprotection. They may help avoid, or treat, some psychiatric problems (9). Theses fats are also needed to make immune system molecules, and to maintain optic, or eye, health (specifically, the visual cortex and retina).
Phospholipids and choline, both found in lecithin (and marine sources), provide many healthy fatty acids and positively effect health. While animal proteins (meat and eggs) do provide fatty acids, they can be problematic, causing inflammation. Plant based fatty acids, including sea vegetables (chlorella or spirulina), are usually anti-inflammatory (8). Marine sources like fish or krill are also anti-inflammatory.
Antioxidant: lecithin is rich in antioxidants, and the good fats phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine. Antioxidants help people avoid oxidative stress related to cellular damage. Cellular damage can result in premature aging and illnesses, like cancer and heart disease (17).
Phosphatidylserine:, or PS, is found in sunflower and soy lecithin (23). As we age our natural levels decline (23). This is important as PS is a major acidic phospholipid class, making up 13 to 15% of the phospholipids in the cerebral cortex. In fact, half of the PS in the human body (30g) is found in the brain (24). It plays a pivotal role in many metabolic processes, like the activation of membrane bound enzymes that are necessary to maintain cognitive health. It is also involved in neuronal signaling. For instance, PS, in the plasma membrane, is localized in the cytoplasmic leaflet where it forms part of the protein docking sites necessary for the activation of several key neural pathways (24).
In human and animal studies, PS supplements are shown to improve thought related functions, mood, and stress-management. It has been known to improve psychiatric symptoms is those with bipolar and major depressive disorders, and it can prevent inflammatory neurodegenerative events (24).
In the US the average daily intake of PS is between 75 and 184 mg per day, as a supplement it is suggested that a person take 100mg three times a day. Phosphatidylserine (PS) is found in lecithin (soy, sunflower), krill, fish and bovine, or cow, brains. Regardless of the source, it seems to follow the same metabolic pathways, so using soy or sunflower lecithin is fine (24).
Regarding age related cognitive deterioration, PS supplementation can help slow,or reverse this (22). This is as aging of the brain is related to alterations in the biochemistry and structure, leading to deterioration, which impairs neurotransmission. Taking supplements of PS, at 300 to 800 mg per day is safe, and can slow, or stop, or in the case of damage even reverse, biochemical changes and structural deterioration in nerve cells. PS supports cognitive (or brain) functions like memory (retrieval of old ones, making of new ones, helping to form short term memory’s and to consolidate long-term ones); PS helps in problem solving and reasoning tasks; retrieving and recalling information; attention (focus and concentration); and with communication and language skills (24). In a small group of subjects, it helped reduce symptoms of Alzheimer type dementia (39). Keep in mind that it can take several weeks for the supplements to take affect, and in order to maintain the results, the supplements must continue to be taken (40).
Physically, PS helps with motor skills like reaction time and reflexes.
Psychologically, phosphatidylserine combats the cognitive, affective or emotional, and behavioral symptoms of depression (21). If it is combined with another lipid found in lecithin, phosphatidic acid or PA, and PS is shown to lower stress hormone cortisol levels and improve well-being under intense social stress.
Phosphatidic acid:, or PA, has an effect on cellular health. It acts as a building block, or precursor, for the body to construct other fats (lipids), like Phosphatidylserine or phosphatidylcholine, via its conversion of PA to diacylglycerol. PA also effects the shape of cells by influencing their membrane curvature, and it helps a sub cellular system, call of the Endocannabinoid system, to work better (24). The Endocannabinoid system is implicit in pain, depression, and weight management.
While animal proteins (meat and eggs) do provide fatty acids, they can be problematic, causing inflammation. Plant based fatty acids, and those found in marine sources (fish & sea vegetables), are usually anti-inflammatory (8).
Phosphatidylcholine: regarding lecithin and brain health, phosphatidylcholine is a precursor to, or building block off, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (8), which is needed for memory and cognitive (thought related) functions. Lecithin has been shown to have a positive effect on memory functions and the brain (4). In human studies, 2 tbsp. per day of lecithin has been found to be beneficial in memory problems (2/3). Acetylcholine is not only used by the body in memory and learning, but for sleep, circulation, muscle function, and hormone secretion. It also helps the nervous system by helping nerve cells to send impulses properly (3) so the nervous system is communicating properly (6). And, phosphatidylcholine fights damage from free radicals (6).
Choline: found in lecithin (soy and sunflower), is a collective term for a group of compounds which include fat soluble (sphingomyelin, phosphatidylcholine) and water soluble (glycerophosphocholine, phosphocholine, and free or un-esterified choline) substances (27). In animal studies lecithin supplements have resulted in an increase in both brain and blood choline levels. Brain choline levels control rates of production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (30), associated with emotional well being and healthy brain functioning. This neurotransmitter is essential for learning and memory, heart rate regulation, bladder function, and digestion (4).
Choline is important for brain tissue as it helps build cell membranes (8).
Choline in animal models has been shown to influence “cellular proliferation, apoptosis and epigenetic DNA properties, affecting brain development and lifelong memory characteristics “(8, Pg. 10). This means it prolongs it increases cell production, prolongs cell life, and lessens the likelihood of harmfull cellular changes in response to environmental factors.
In a study on collage students, choline improved explicit memory function (8). In older adults tested for short-term memory (face and name acquisition and phone numbers) problems, after 3 weeks of supplementation with choline derived phosphatidylserine, the subjects showed a statistically significant improvement (12 years younger) in these areas (8). In early onset Alzheimer’s disease PS (phosphatidylserine) supplements help improve cognitive and memory functions significantly compared to the placebo (sham treatment) group (8).
Breast cancer and all-cause mortality risk can be lowered by consuming lecithin as it contains free choline, phosphocholine, and betaine, which the body makes from choline it ingests.
In animal studies there is an association between a choline deficiency and breast cancer risk. And, in human studies choline is found to be inversely associated with breast cancer risk (26). Taking lecithin may help to both prevent, and lessen, the likelihood of death from breast cancer (27).
Liver disease outcomes are improved by lecithin. This is especially true for chlorosis of the liver, fatty liver, and hyperlipidemia. A 20-year human trial showed that if Phosphatidylcholine (dilauroyl phosphatidylcholine or DLPC) is taken when drinking alcohol there is less liver related injury (chlorosis, fatty liver, & hyperlipidemia) and if there is existing damage, the supplements help repair it (8). Alcohol related cognitive impairment is helped by phospholipids as alcohol can damage brain cells. In animal models, PC or phosphatidylcholine (ideally DLPC) consumption has helped protect brain cells from alcohol related damage (8).
Diabetes related liver problems: Regarding pre-diabetes, 2.6% of those with this condition will develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This is as both deposits of fat in the liver, and insulin resistance, contribute to the development of this condition.
In animal models dilauroyl phosphatidylcholine (DLPC) increases insulin sensitivity and reduces fatty liver, making it a potential treatment for prediabetics (14). DLPC, found in lecithin, stimulates the production of a liver receptor homolog-1, LRH-1. Small non-toxic increases in bile acid levels can improve metabolic disorders and DLPC increases the production of bile acid levels and so regulates fat in the liver and glucose (sugar) within the blood stream. Regarding insulin resistance, DLPC increased insulin sensitivity, so it helps keep glucose (sugar) levels balanced, which lessens fatty liver (14).
DLPC, or dilauroyl phosphatidylcholine, lessons the likelihood of fat being deposited into tissues as it decreases the levels of proteins associated with the formation of triglycerides (including SREBP-1c, a key regulator of fat) and fatty acids (14). Taking these supplements may help lower the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This is important as the only known strategy for NAFLD management is lifestyle modification (18).
Leptin, the obesity hormone: Regarding weight loss and human trials, phosphatidylcholine is shown to help women loose weigh (25) with no side effects, while improving fat metabolism. It helps to lower the production of a hormone called leptin. For those of us who are aging, this may be important as age usually brings about weight gain and increased adipose fat deposits (34).
Leptin effects several areas of the brain besides appetite. It can impact neuroprotection, memory, motivation, learning, and general cognitive functions, as well as growth, reproduction, metabolism, and energy expenditure (54). If leptin production becomes disrupted, either by being overweight/obese or underweight/lacking proper nutrition, it effects how neurons function and cognition or thought processes (54). So, bringing leptin back into balance by making the brain more sensitive to it may helps improve cognitive, and other, functions.
Leptin dysregulation is associated with insulin resistance, type two diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), problems with blood clotting (atherothrombotic), and inflammation. It is connected with metabolic effects, oxidative stress, and shortens the life cycle of cells, called endoplasmic reticulum stress (55), it increases apoptosis or cell death, and increases unhealthy changes in cells and body tissue (56) called remodeling (associated with type 2 diabetes). Regarding the last, increased leptin levels may lead to inflammation in organs and tissues, and increase the likelihood of inflammatory diseases like: heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease (38) as well as depression. It also contributes to injury of the liver, pancreas, blood vessels, and heart muscle (myocardium); and problems with the immune system, and blood platelets needed for clotting (38), and heart/vascular disease, diabetes, and insulin resistance (37).
Leptin is the hormone that fat cells produce to help bring on a feeling of fullness or satiety, to signal the brain that the body has the ability to produce the energy it needs (36). You would think that the more leptin produced the better, the less a person would eat. But, the opposite is true. People who are overweight or obese tend to be leptin resistance or insensitive, which is associated with reward eating, or eating beyond caloric energy requirements. Conversely, emotional eating may lead to leptin insensitivity as people stop recognising a feeling of fullness (35).
Leptin production goes up with body fat or adiposity. As people gain body fat, that fat produces more leptin and as more leptin is produced, the brain fails to respond to it, creating a vicious circle. So, the reduction in leptin production indicates a renewed sensitivity to leptin, which means the individual will feel fuller sooner, and be less inclined to over eat (34).
High fructose sugar consumption is associated with leptin resistance in animal studies (34). High fructose intake can lead to high levels of fats in the blood (triglycerides). This is very bad as high triglycerides can lead to diabetes, heart disease, and fatty liver disease (47). These fats in the blood seem to block the leptin in the blood from getting into the brain to signal the brain that the body should stop eating (34). Further, high fat diets are associated with weight gain in test subjects who had high leptin levels (leptin resistance or insensitivity), but were not terrible overweight until they switched to a high fat diet (34).
Leptin insensitivity is associated with metabolic syndrome (45), and increased risk of type two diabetes, and cognitive problems (54). Leptin can modulate insulin action, or change the way it acts in the body, and can participate in the development of insulin resistance.
A bit about why this is important: insulin makes it possible for cells to absorb the blood glucose, or sugar, the body makes from food. This happens mostly in the small intestine. Insulin helps the liver and muscles to store excess glucose, and it lowers blood glucose levels by slowing the production of glucose in the liver (48). If a person is healthy, both insulin levels and blood glucose sit in a healthy range. But, if the person experiences the following insulin resistance may occur: overweight or sedentary, has problems with hormones, uses steroids, is older, experiences sleep disruptions or apnea, smokes, takes certain medications, or is of an ethnicity prone to this problem (48).
Insulin resistance is the inability of the body (muscle, fat, liver cells) to properly respond to insulin, making it hard for blood sugar (glucose) to be absorbed by cells. The pancreas, via beta cells, tries to produce more insulin to keep up with the greater demand. This keeps blood sugar in normal ranges. But, if the pancreas can’t keep up, excess blood sugar occurs and leads to the development of prediabetes, and eventually type two diabetes (48). Prediabetes means blood glucose and the rating of it, A1C levels, are higher than normal, but not so high that diabetes will be diagnosed. But, it is a risk factor for type two diabetes and cardio vascular disease (48). Keep in mind that untreated insulin resistance usually results in type two diabetes within ten years. Lifestyle changes are the best treatment. They are: Losing body weight, five to seven percent, exercise, and dietary changes, as well as smoking cessation. Type two diabetes, if untreated, results in damage to nerves and blood vessels, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation of lower limbs.
The leptin/insulin relationship is complicated as (46) insulin stimulates the secretion of leptin in both animal and human studies. Insulin resistance may trigger leptin resistance by disrupting the brains ability to fully be affected by leptin signals. Eating a diet high in simple carbohydrates, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup, and not getting enough fiber and lean protein, may be part of the problem. Sleep depravation may also play a part, as people eat more when tired or stressed (44).
Thyroid problems: are connected to elevated leptin levels. The leptin/thyroid axis has a multifaceted and twofold relationship. Leptin regulates the production of something called thyroid releasing hormone or TRH. If there is a resistance to leptin, and your brain thinks you are not getting enough energy or calories, your brain (hypothalamus) slows production of thyroid release hormone (TRH) to force your body to slow its metabolism and store fat. It does this as it thinks the body is starving. In reaction to this situation, the thyroid gland produces more TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) to tell the brain to produce more active thyroid hormone. The TSH may also be signalling the fat tissue to produce more leptin, to tell the brain that there is enough energy for it to produce more thyroid hormone (41;42). TSH is a measure of how well the thyroid is functioning. In short, it becomes a vicious circle. Some data indicate that treatment hypothyroidism with thyroxin lowers leptin levels and TSH levels in individuals with hypothyroidism (43).
The thyroid gland and insulin: influence one another. Poorly regulated blood sugar, called dysglycemia, lowers or slows thyroid function, but poor thyroid functioning can cause dysglycemia and insulin resistance, and even metabolic syndrome (52).
Hyperthyroidism, when it works too fast, can cause poor blood sugar control and an increase in the body’s demand for insulin. Too much thyroid hormone leads to glucose being produced by the liver, a quicker absorption of glucose, or sugar, in the intestines, and insulin resistance, or the body’s inability to use insulin efficiently (51;53).
Hypothyroidism, when the thyroid is too slow, is associated with a slower rate of glucose uptake by cells, and a slower rate of glucose absorption in the gut. Also, there is a slower clearance of insulin from the blood, and insulin is slower to react to elevated blood sugar (52). Hypothyroidism can result in abnormal blood lipid or fat levels. As well as having too much fat in the blood (triglyceride level) overall, there is too much total cholesterol, and too high a rating of low-density-lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol. These factors are associated in diabetics with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. Hypothyroidism can slow the elimination of insulin from the bloodstream, so insulin doses may be reduced (51).
Thyroid problems and sugar. Eating sugar and simple carbohydrates (which turn to sugar in the body) drive blood sugar up too high, too fast. The body releases insulin to try to drive it down, which can result in low blood sugar or reactive hypoglycemia (also an adrenal stressor). This then causes anxiety, fatigue, nervousness and feelings of light-headedness (49).
When a diet is too rich in sugar or simple carbs, the pancreas produces insulin to move the extra sugar out of the blood into cells, to be used to make energy. Over time, these cells, perhaps overworked, lose the ability to deal with the insulin. The pancreas then makes extra insulin to try to get the cells to respond. This become insulin resistance. Surges in insulin negatively effect the thyroid gland, destroying it, and lessoning thyroid hormone production (52).
Ironically, when a diet is too low in sugar, or the supply is inconsistent, blood sugar levels can also negatively affect the thyroid. Here, the adrenal glands produce cortisol to tell the liver to make more glucose or sugar, to bring blood sugar levels back to normal. But if cortisol is released to often, the result is a suppression of the pituitary gland, the gland in the brain which tells your thyroid to function (52).
Fructose, from high fructose corn syrup, is a problem for the thyroid as mercury may be used in the manufacturing process. This mercury can then be found in trace amounts in the foods the fructose is used to make. The mercury may be stored for a short time in the thyroid gland. This can damage it, mercury can break down the enzymes needed for the thyroid to properly function (496).
Regarding sugar substitutes, aspartame has phenylalanine in it. In a more natural form this is helpful to the thyroid. It helps make thyroid hormones, but too much can disrupt tyrosine, an amino acid, from accessing the thyroid, disrupting thyroid functioning (496).
It is important to keep blood sugar in a healthy range. Healthy blood sugar ranges are determined two ways, fasting glucose and post-prandial blood glucose. Fasting glucose is the reading taken first thing in the morning, before eating or drinking and it should be between 75 and 95 mg/dL. Post-prandial blood glucose is taken 1 to 2 hours after eating. A normal reading is 120 mg/dL or lower (52).
Buy a blood glucose meter. In cases of hypoglycemia, keep blood sugar levels above 75 all day long. Consume a diet consisting of low-to-medium amounts of carbohydrate. Eat small meals every 2-3 hours. This will lesson fluctuations in blood sugar (52). Alternately, if you are hyperglycemic you need to keep your blood sugar below 120 two hours after eating, so lower your intake of carbohydrates and sugar (52).
As both lecithin and choline assist in many areas of brain health, and there are several areas in the brain associated with regulating calorie intake, it may be that choline helps the brain become more leptin sensitive. This is possible in the face of the belief that even a slight injury to the leptin receptor pathway could cause obesity over time (34). Lecithin helps in cholesterol metabolism, by inhibiting its absorption and flushing it out of the system. As lowering cholesterol is associated with lower leptin levels, this may be the reason lecithin helps control and reset leptin levels.
Phosphatidylserine: a lipid or fat found in lecithin, is a substance that coats red blood cells and protects against viruses and bacteria that can invade blood cells, especially diseased or weakened ones (4). Regarding brain and nervous system health, it helps to maintain something called myelin. Myelin is a type of fat that coats the brain, spinal cord, and nervous system (7). Myelin is an electrical insulator that helps axons function by facilitating electrical impulses between them. Nerves and brain cells are strengthened and repaired in part by the fatty acids and phospholipids in lecithin (8/9).
Further, lecithin is needed for the liver to work properly. It mixes with protein to make lipoproteins. These encase lipid’s, or fats, and enclose them so they can be carried in the bloodstream to places they are needed. If the body is deficient in lecithin these fats may build up in the liver (4).
Lecithin is used to make good cholesterol, which helps remove bad cholesterol from the body (4).
Oleic acid: found in lecithin, is an omega-9 fatty acid. It helps reduce the risk of heart disease by raising good cholesterol levels. It lowers bad cholesterol levels (29). And, it helps the body release small proteins called cytokines at cites of injury, to promote healing (5).
Oleic acid is also found in almond, canola and sunflower oil as well as beef, cheese and dairy foods, eggs and chicken, pasta, nuts, seeds, potato chips, salad dressings (29).
Linoleic acid: or LA is an Omega-6 essential fatty acid or EFA, also called vitamin F. The term essential fatty acid means that humans can’t make it, they must eat it. Sunflower and soy lecithin are great sources of this substance which helps with weigh loss and blood pressure regulation, as well as with brain health, metabolic function (the way all cells function), bone health, and the regeneration of skin and hair (474).
Concerning weight loss, linoleic acid lowers LDL or bad cholesterol in the body (461) and specifically reduces the absorption of cholesterol from foods, while it increases the excretion of neutral sterols, or cholesterol, after it is broken down in the body. In Human trials, linoleic acid is shown to lower LDL cholesterol, even when, as in one study, the linoleic acid was added to a diet relatively high fat diet. While the linoleic acid technically raised total fat intake, and gave subjects 23 percent energy from polyunsaturated fats, the linoleic acid significantly lowered total plasma, or blood cholesterol, as well as lowering(bad) low-density lipoprotein or LDL cholesterol (-8 in men and -14 in women). At the same time, it increased (good) high density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, the good one, by 8 percent. (15). In animal studies it has been found that cows that were fed soybean phospholipids developed significantly smaller fat streaks (8).
Linoleic acid effects blood pressure as it breaks down the excess fats that can damage arteries and lead to high blood pressure and heart attack or stroke (17).
Regarding tissue health, it is vital to the synthesis, or make up, of tissue lipids (fats) that effect the life and death of cells, including cardiac or heart cells. The same mechanism helps to maintain hair. Regarding skin’s appearance, it moisturizes, makes the skin supple, helps support healing and is anti-inflammatory, so you have less redness, it can fight acne, and soften skin. Overall, linoleic acid helps promote a youthful appearance. A deficiency in linoleic acid, or other omega-6 EFA’s lead to hair loss, dry hair, dry skin, poor wound healing, and a decrease in cell regeneration or renal (28).
Vitamin F is found in oils like grape seed, poppy seed, safflower, hemp, and sunflower. It can be obtained by eating egg yolks, almonds, and cocoa butter (447). It can also be fund in potato chips, popcorn, Mexican food, oil based salad dressings, grain products made with yeast, and white potatoes cooked in oil (29).
Regarding omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) like DHA or docosahexaenoic acid, Lecithin has only a small amount of Omega-3 fatty acids (31). But, as shown in animal studies, lecithin can, when taken with DHA supplements, help the body absorb this substance and move it into the brain. This is important as DHA is necessary for neuronal functioning, or how the neurons in the brain work (30).
As mentioned before, Lecithin does not itself have a lot of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids in it. These can be found in vegetable algae oil or fish oil supplements (30). According to Tufts School of Medicine (32) the best source is cold-water fish like tuna, cod, sardines, salmon, crab, mackerel, bluefish, lobster, smelt, or scallops, as well as fish oil (sardine, cod). Vegetarian sources include nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans); seeds (flax, sesame, pumpkin, and poppy) and oil (olive, canola, soybean, walnut, or flax); and grains and beans, including tofu, and soybeans; and green leafy vegetables like lettuce (green leaf, red leaf, Bibb, Boston), spinach, and greens (mustard, collard, dandelion, turnip and beet) as well as kale and chard.
Phospholipids, PSs, have been shown to prevent and treat diseases of inflammation including pain, joint stiffness, and the functional impairment associated with arthritis (rheumatoid or other). Fish oil and borage also have this ability (8).
Phospholipids help a condition called Cachexia, which is the wasting and weakness associated with diseases like cancer, aids, and heart failure (8).
In human trials, phospholipids (including that from Krill oil) help treat premenstrual syndrome (PMS) induced inflammation (swelling, abdominal pain, joint pain, and breast tenderness) and psychological symptoms like disrupted thought processes and heightened emotionality (8).
Regarding the side effects of pharmaceuticals and over the counter drugs, phospholipids help lesson the likelihood of stomach upset and gastrointestinal problems like stomach pain, bleeding, and ulceration when taking NSAIDs like aspirin, indomethacin, diclofenac, phenylbutazone, pirozicam, and sudoxicam. A soybean phospholipid based product (Phospholipon 90G) can, when mixed with NSAIDS or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, increase the anti-inflammatory and analgesic, or pain relieving, activity of the drugs when used in arthritis (8).
Phospholipids also help treat ulcers and other GI problems, (8) and soybean based phospholipids have been shown to help treat ulcerative colitis.
Phospholipids can help cancer by slowing tumor cell growth and inhibiting metastasis or cancer spreading, by up to 50%. This is true especially in cases of breast, colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer. In animal models,’ supplementation with soy and egg yolk based lipids mixed with vitamin K2 help protect against liver cancer (8).
People with Parkinson’s disease who supplement with PLs from soybean (25% PC) have shown improvements in memory, cognition, and motility, or a lessening of involuntary movement (8).
Regarding stroke, Lecithin supplementation aids recovery after cerebral infarction, or the death of brain cells, due to stroke related compromised blood supply (8).
Vascular disease/heart disease: is impacted by phospholipids. In human studies, phospholipids help with cardiovascular problems and cholesterol related problems. Soy (and Krill) based phospholipids lowered bad (LDL) cholesterol by up to 50% and increase good (HDL) cholesterol, while lowering triglycerides. It is also shown to lessen platelet aggregation. This is when blood cells, called platelets, clump together or clot. While blood clotting is necessary to stop wounds and slow bleeding, it can also cause heart disease. Regarding heart health, soy (and krill) phospholipids proved a better option than fish oil, as this only lowers triglycerides. Soybean phospholipids help reduce the risk of arteriosclerosis, the buildup of plaques (fats, cholesterol, and other things) in, and on, artery walls. This can lead to heart attach and stroke. Phospholipids found in soybeans have been shown in human trials to reduce hypertension (8).
The immune system in older individuals may benefits from lecithin or soybean PC supplementation as PC helps maintain normal cellular functions, keeping cells working properly (8).
Psychologically: PS (Phospholipids) helps improve working memory, lowers the acute response to stress, and lowers the allostatic load, which is the wear and tear on the body due to exposure to repeated or long-term stress/chronic stress (11). Physiologically, these are the consequences of chronic exposure to fluctuating or heightened neural or neuroendocrine response that results from repeated or chronic stress (8/12).
Phospholipids can help with neurological development and neurological disorders. As people age the amount of the lipid or fat composition of brain cells change. There is a lessening of the polyunsaturated fatty acid n-3 FAs. This leads to membrane fluidity decreasing and cholinergic activities being reduced (8). As the neurotransmitter acetylcholine is very important for cognitive functioning, this can lead to memory decline and diminished learning in older adults.
It has been shown that phospholipids from soy and egg yolk are rich in the omega-3 fatty acid Docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. DHA is a primarily structural component of the human brain, cerebral cortex, skin, and retina. The cerebral cortex is where thinking, perceiving, producing, and understanding language occurs (13). The cerebral cortex is important regarding the development of the following: intelligence and personality; motor function, touch sensation, and processing sensory information (sight, touch, sound, taste and smell); and language processing, planning and organization. In short, most information is processed here (13).
Regarding age related cognitive decline (ARCD), in human studies, DHA, from marine sources, was shown to help improve learning and visual function and so, is important in helping prevent this decline (8). Animal studies on phospholipids show improvements in learning and memory, as well as cognitive (though related) disorders (8). In human trials, PS (phosphatidylserine) helps raise the glucose levels in the brain (glucose is the main fuel of the brain). Here Alzheimer’s patients had a three-fold increase in brain glucose after supplementation (8). In early onset Alzheimer’s disease PS (phosphatidylserine) supplementation helped improve cognitive and memory functions significantly when compared to a placebo (no active ingredient) group (8). This may be as PS (phosphatidylserine) stimulates acetylcholine synthesis, triggering a release of neurotransmitters involved in memory and thought/cognition.
Regarding depression and stress: in a test of young, healthy, males who exercised strenuously, those taking a PS (phosphatidylserine) supplement showed a reduced stress related mood symptom compared to the control group, and a lower production of stress hormones (8). In another human study, PS supplements in healthy youth helped lower stress and improve concentration. Those with an introverted personality type showed a greater affect (8).
High fat milk, rich in GPLs (glyceropospholipids), has a similar affect (8).
The liver: benefits from both lipids or fats and choline, especially phospholipids or PLs and glyceropospholipids or GPLs. Liver damage due to toxins, alcoholism (chlorosis and fatty liver), and viruses like viral hepatitis C, along with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, can all be helped by supplementation (8).
A 20-year human trial showed that if PPC (ideally DLPC or dilauroyl phosphatidylcholine) is taken while drinking alcohol, there is less injury (chlorosis, fatty liver, & hyperlipidemia) to the liver and if there is existing damage, the supplements help repair it (8). Furthermore, alcohol related cognitive impairment is helped by phospholipids, this is as alcohol can damage brain cells. In animal models, PC or phosphatidylcholine (ideally dilauroyl phosphatidylcholine) consumption has helped protect brain cells from alcohol related damage (8).
Diabetes related liver problems: in animal models, dilauroyl phosphatidylcholine has increased insulin sensitivity and reduced fatty liver, making it a potential treatment for pre-diabetics (14) and those suffering from metabolic syndrome. DLPC or dilauroyl phospholipids, found in lecithin, also helps to treat diabetes mellitus (8). In animal studies, phosphatidylcholine or DLPC increases the production of bile acid enzymes in the liver, increases bile acid levels, and lowers the level of fat in the liver (hepatic or liver triglycerides). Having some fat in the liver is normal, but too much may lead to fatty liver disease. PLPC also lowers blood sugar or serum glucose, creating a better balance of sugar and decreasing the likelihood of insulin resistance (17), which can lead to diabetes.
Regarding metabolic disorder, small, non-toxic, increases in bile acid levels can improve metabolic disorders and DLPC increases the production of bile acid levels and so regulates fat in the liver and glucose (sugar) within the blood stream. Regarding insulin resistance, DLPC increased insulin sensitivity so helped keep glucose or sugar levels balanced, which lowers the risk of developing fatty liver (14).
DLPC lowers the likelihood of fat being deposited into tissues, as it decreases the levels of proteins associated with the formation of triglycerides (including SREBP-1c, a key regulator of fat) and fatty acids (14). Regarding the dangers of high fat (unhealthy kind) diets, when PLs were administered less cholesterol was absorbed, leading to less liver damage (8).
Hepatitis C sufferers’ response rate to medication is improved when the medication was mixed with PPC, over medication alone and the cure lasted longer (8).
Sources of lecithin:
Beef liver & beef, eggs, milk, cod, salmon, shrimp, wheat germ, peanut butter, soy beans or soy products, and broccoli and brussels sprouts (4).
Sunflower lecithin is high in omega 6 fatty acids, which are needed (in balance with omega 3s) for healing, to lower both the risk of heart disease and lower cholesterol, and to improve nervous system problems, stress related issues, and thought related, or cognitive, problems (6).
Sunflower lecithin has phosphatidylcholine (PC) in it. This helps cells process fats, supports membrane health, minimizes age-related brain degeneration and helps prevent gallstones (6).
Phosphatidylinositol (PI) is needed to make and maintain brain tissue, and is in all cell types (6).
Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) is used to build the lipid layers or foundation of cells. It is used in the nervous system in the spinal cord, nerves, brain and neural tissue (6).
Sunflower lecithin is usually made from organic, non-GMO, seeds, is extracted when sunflower seeds are dehydrated (separated into gum, oil and solids). As this is a cold-pressed lecithin no chemicals are needed to extract it. In the US the FDA approved sunflower lecithin as a raw form of lecithin in 2009 (5).
Soy lecithin is often contaminated with pesticides and genetically modified (5), so if you choose this type of lecithin, make sure it is a purified form.
SHORT TERM SIDE EFFECTS OF TAKING LECITHIN: Fullness, nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea (6).
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