For decades, lecithin has been a popular treatment for high cholesterol (although there is surprisingly little evidence that it works). More recently, lecithin has been proposed as a remedy for various psychological and neurological diseases, such as Tourette's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, and bipolar disorder (also known as manic depression).
Lecithin contains a substance called
(PC) that is presumed to be responsible for its medicinal effects. Phosphatidylcholine is a major part of the membranes surrounding our cells. However, when you consume this substance it is broken down into the nutrient
rather than being carried directly to cell membranes. Choline acts like folate, TMG (trimethylglycine), and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine) to promote methylation. (See the article on
for further discussion of this subject.) It is also used to make
acetylcholine, a nerve chemical essential for proper brain function.
This article discusses lecithin and phosphatidylcholine. For more information on the effects and possible benefits of
alone, see the full article on that subject.
Neither lecithin nor its ingredient phosphatidylcholine is an essential nutrient; however,
has recently been recognized as essential. For use as a supplement or a food additive, lecithin is often manufactured from soy.
Ordinary lecithin contains about 10% to 20% phosphatidylcholine. However, European research has tended to use products concentrated to contain 90% phosphatidylcholine in lecithin, and the following dosages are based on that type of product. For psychological and neurological conditions, doses as high as 5 to 10 g taken three times daily have been used in studies. For liver disease, a typical dose is 350 to 500 mg taken three times daily; for high cholesterol, 500 to 900 mg taken three times daily has been tried.
For a while, lecithin/phosphatidylcholine was one of the most commonly recommended natural treatments for
high cholesterol. However, this idea appears to rest entirely on studies of unacceptably low quality.2,25 The best designed studies have failed to find any evidence of benefit.3,25-28
In Europe, phosphatidylcholine is also used to treat
liver diseases, such as alcoholic fatty liver,
liver cirrhosis, and
viral hepatitis. However, research into these potential uses remains preliminary and has yielded contradictory results.4-14
Lecithin may help to prevent the development of
Researchers have recently become interested in the use of phosphadylcholine as a supportive treatment in severe
ulcerative colitis. There may be an insufficient quantity of phosphatidylcholine in the mucus lining the colon in patients with ulcerative colitis. Taking phosphatidylcholine may correct this deficiency. A small double-blind, placebo controlled study of 60 patients whose ulcerative colitis was poorly responsive to corticosteroids were randomized to receive either phosphadylcholine (2 g per day) or placebo for 12 weeks.31 Half of the participants taking phosphadylcholine showed a significant improvement in symptoms versus only 10% taking placebo. Moreover, 80% taking phosphadylcholine were able to completely discontinue their corticosteroids without disease flare-up compared to 10% taking placebo. Along the same line, a study involving 60 people with ulcerative colitis found phosphadylcholine to be effective in reducing the need for corticosteroids.35 Doses of 3 to 4 g seems to be the most helpful for achieving remission.33
Some evidence hints that phosphatidylcholine may reduce
homocysteine levels, which in turn was for a time thought likely to reduce heart disease risk.29
Because phosphatidylcholine plays a role in nerve function, it has also been suggested as a treatment for various psychological and neurological disorders, such as
Parkinson's disease, Tourette's syndrome, and
tardive dyskinesia (a late-developing side effect of drugs used for psychosis). However, the evidence that it works is limited to small studies with conflicting results.15-24,30
Lipolysis involves the removal of unwanted fat cells by injecting phosphatidylcholine and another substance (sodium deoxycholate) into the fat. Phosphatidylcholine appears to be effective for this purpose.34
Lecithin is believed to be generally safe. However, some people taking high dosages (several grams daily) experience minor but annoying side effects, such as abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and nausea. Maximum safe dosages for young children, pregnant or nursing women, or those with severe liver or kidney disease have not been determined.
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Jenkins PJ, Portmann BP, Eddleston AL, et al. Use of polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine in HBsAg negative chronic active hepatitis: results of prospective double-blind controlled trial.
Niederau C, Strohmeyer G, Heintges T, et al. Polyunsaturated phosphatidyl-choline and interferon alpha for treatment of chronic hepatitis B and C: a multi-center, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.
Singh NK, Prasad RC. A pilot study of polyunsaturated phosphatidyl choline in fulminant and subacute hepatic failure.
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Gelenberg AJ, Dorer DJ, Wojcik JD, et al. A crossover study of lecithin treatment of tardive dyskinesia.
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Domino EF, May WW, Demetriou S, et al. Lack of clinically significant improvement of patients with tardive dyskinesia following phosphatidylcholine therapy.
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Greten H, et al. The effect of polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine on plasma lipids and fecal sterol excretion.
Childs MT, et al. The contrasting effects of a dietary soya lecithin product and corn oil on lipoprotein lipids in normolipidemic and familial hypercholesterolemic subjects.
Kesaniemi YA, et al. Effects of dietary polyenylphosphatidylcholine on metabolism of cholesterol and triglycerides in hypertriglyceridemic patients.
Am J Clin Nutr.
Olthof MR, Brink EJ, Katan MB, et al. Choline supplemented as phosphatidylcholine decreases fasting and postmethionine-loading plasma homocysteine concentrations in healthy men.
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Stremmel W, Ehehalt R, Autschbach F, et al. Phosphatidylcholine for steroid-refractory chronic ulcerative colitis: a randomized trial.
Ann Intern Med.
Gaby AR. Nutritional approaches to prevention and treatment of gallstones.
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Stremmel W, Braun A, Hanemann A, Ehehalt R, Autschbach F, Karner M. Delayed release phosphatidylcholine in chronic-active ulcerative colitis: a randomized, double-blinded, dose finding study.
J Clin Gastroenterol.
Salti G, Ghersetich I, Tantussi F, Bovani B, Lotti T. Phosphatidylcholine and sodium deoxycholate in the treatment of localized fat: a double-blind, randomized study.
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Last reviewed August 2013 by EBSCO CAM Review Board
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