Lecithin is a rich source of choline -- for brain, memory, colon and heart health*
by Newsletter Editor
Support heart health and boost memory with lecithin
Lecithin is a special type of fat called a phospholipid. About 13% by weight of the lecithin molecule is choline. Most choline in the diet is derived from lecithin. Some foods contain it in the free form or as a component of other phospholipids. One tablespoon of lecithin granules provides about 1,725 mg of phosphatidylcholine and 250 mg choline, a little less than the content in an egg.
In many of the studies that convinced nutritionists that choline is an important nutrient, lecithin appears to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease several ways: by contributing cholesterol-lowering polyunsaturated fats, inhibiting intestinal absorption of cholesterol, increasing the excretion of cholesterol and bile acids, and favorably affecting lipoprotein profiles.
In one study, people with high blood lipids were given 10.5 grams of lecithin for 30 days. Their average total cholesterol and triglycerides decreased by an impressive one-third, the bad LDLs decreased by 38% and the good HDLs increased by 46%. The researchers concluded that "lecithin...should be administered for the prevention and treatment of atherosclerosis."
Human studies suggest lecithin and choline may benefit memory. In one study, investigators gave healthy adults either 2 tablespoons of lecithin or a placebo for five weeks. By the end of the study, memory test scores of the lecithin group improved significantly, exceeding those of the placebo group.
1. Wojcicki, J., Pawlik, A., et al. "Clinical evaluation of lecithin as a lipid-lowering agent." Phytotherapy Research, 9:597-79, 1995.
2. Meck, W.H. "Choline and development of brain memory functions across the life span." Seventh International Congress of Phospholipids, Brussels, Belgium, September 1996.
Adequate choline intake is not high enough
Government recommendations for choline, a fat-soluble essential nutrient, are too low, according to a new study. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recruited 57 adults, including 26 men, 16 premenopausal women and 15 postmenopausal women to take 550 mg of choline—the current U.S. government Adequate Intake (AI)—for 10 days, then less than 50 mg of choline per day with or without a random dose of 400 mcg of folic acid per day for up to 42 days. While on the low choline dose, 39 of the participants developed fatty liver or leaky-muscle damage. Doctors also noted that six men developed these signs while on the 550 mg AI dose.
Overall, the AI recommended dose was not sufficent to prevent fatty liver or leaky-muscle damage in 19 participants or 33%. Folic acid did not alter the results. Doctors suspect a defective gene that is prevalent in the population and are continuing studies. Rich sources of choline include egg yolks, organ meats and the supplement lecithin.
Reference: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: May 20, 2007; Vol. 85, No. 5, 1275-85.
Phosphatidylcholine reduces drug treatment in bowel disease
Phosphatidylcholine, a form of the B vitamin choline, helped those with inflammatory bowel disease stop taking steroid drugs and reduced symptoms, in a new study. Doctors explained that those with this chronic disease—ulcerative colitis—often do not respond to drugs, which may help treat acute symptoms short-term, but have serious long-term side effects. In creating the study, scientists noted that low levels of phosphatidylcholine in colon mucus may contribute to or cause the disease.
Researchers from the University Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, which specializes in inflammatory bowel disease, recruited 60 participants with ulcerative colitis who were taking, but not responding to, steroid drugs and who had severe symptoms of the disease. Participants took 2 grams of phosphatidylcholine or a placebo for 12 weeks. At the end of the study, 50% of those who had taken phosphatidylcholine—15 of 30 participants—had stopped taking steroid drugs completely and saw symptoms decrease by at least 40%. Nine more of these participants—another 30%—had stopped taking steroid drugs completely and had stable symptoms. Some participants reported mild bloating.
All together, a total of 80% of those who had taken phosphatidylcholine were able to stop taking steroids completely while maintaining or easing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease. Only 10% of the placebo group had similar results. Study authors concluded that phosphatidylcholine helped those with ulcerative colitis become independent of steroid drugs while stabilizing or improving the disease. Lecithin is a rich source of phosphatidylcholine, providing about 1.6 grams per tablespoon.
Reference: Annals of Internal Medicine: 2007, Vol. 147, No. 9, 603-10.