April 15, 2024

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Nutrition and Benefits of Lecithin

Lecithin is a mixture of fats that have important functions in human cells. It is found in a variety of different foods, including egg yolks, sunflower seeds, soybeans, and fish.

Lecithin has been studied for its effectiveness in treating and preventing certain health conditions, including dementia, high cholesterol, and ulcerative colitis. Although it has shown promise in some studies, more research is needed.

This article explores the purported health benefits of lecithin. It also discusses dosing information, potential interactions, and how to shop for lecithin supplements.

What Is Lecithin?

Lecithin is a type of fat found in foods like the following:

  • Soybeans
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Canola seeds
  • Egg yolks
  • Other animal products like fish

Lecithin is considered safe at recommended doses for short-term use. It is also sometimes added to the following products:

  • Skincare products
  • Supplements
  • Medications
  • Placebos (a treatment with no therapeutic value as part of a control group) in randomized controlled trials

Lecithin contains phospholipids like phosphatidylcholine. Phospholipids are a type of fat combined with phosphate. Your body converts phosphatidylcholine into choline. Choline supports cell structure in the following areas of your body:

Lecithin has been studied to treat various conditions, including but not limited to the following:

This article examines lecithin uses, sources, and evidence for its effectiveness. It also discusses possible side effects, dosage, and what to look for when buying lecithin supplements.

Lecithin Supplement Facts

  • Active Ingredient(s): Fatty acids, phosphatidylcholine
  • Alternate Names(s): Alpha-phosphatidylcholine, E322, egg lecithin, Lecithinum ex soya, ovolecithin, sojalecithin, soya lecithin, soy lecithin, soybean phospholipid, soybean lecithin, vegilecithin, vitellin, vitelline
  • Legal Status: Over-the-counter (OTC) dietary supplement in the United States; some lecithin products have achieved generally recognized as safe (GRAS) status
  • Suggested Dose: Varies by condition
  • Safety Considerations: Children; possible interactions with prescription medications, herbs, and supplements

Nutrition

Lecithin is used in cooking as an emulsifier; it helps stabilize ingredients that aren’t easily mixed, like oil and water.

Two level tablespoons (15 g) of soya lecithin granules contained approximately the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 80
  • Fat: 8 g
  • Choline, from phosphatidylcholine: 3,260 mg
  • Phosphorous: 230 mg (23% Daily Value, DV)
  • Potassium: 180 mg (5% DV)

The fats are primarily linoleic acid n-6 (LA), polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), and monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs).

Other lecithin products, like soybean lecithin oil, have a different nutrition profile. One tablespoon (13.6 g) of soybean lecithin oil contains the following:

  • Calories: 104
  • Fat: 13.6 g
  • Choline, from phosphatidylcholine: 47.6 mg
  • Phosphorous: 0 mg
  • Potassium: 0 mg
  • Vitamin K: 25 micrograms (mcg) (20 to 28% DV)

Growing conditions can affect the amounts of a plant-derived product’s fatty acids and phospholipids.

Uses of Lecithin

Supplement use should be individualized and vetted by a healthcare professional, such as a registered dietitian nutritionist (RD or RDN), pharmacist, or healthcare provider. No supplement is intended to treat, cure, or prevent disease.

Lecithin is not a single substance. It’s a group of chemicals, including phospholipids (fat plus phosphate).

The following highlights research conducted using lecithin for specific conditions.

Dementia or Cognitive Impairment

Researchers have looked into lecithin’s effects on the following:

The results of the meta-analysis (collection of studies) suggested lecithin positively impacted self-reported memory issues. However, results for dementia treatment were unclear.

Another review suggested that choline may be somewhat helpful for cognitive impairment from a head injury. The phosphatidylcholine in lecithin, in part, breaks down to choline. However, further research is warranted regarding lecithin’s specific effects.

High Cholesterol

Lecithin has been suggested to have anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular protective effects.

A small study found that 430 mg of soy lecithin daily significantly decreased total cholesterol and triglycerides in adult male rats. Larger, well-designed studies are needed to confirm these results.

Can I Replace My Cholesterol Medicine With Lecithin?

Do not discontinue your prescribed medication without first discussing it with your healthcare provider. Before you add lecithin to your daily regimen, review the pros and cons with your healthcare provider.

Mastitis

Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissue. It can occur in breastfeeding people. Clogged milk ducts can lead to mastitis.

Some studies have found that lecithin may treat or prevent clogged milk ducts. One source recommended taking 5 to 10 g of soy or sunflower lecithin a day to reduce inflammation in the milk ducts. However, further study is needed.

Before using lecithin or other supplements during breastfeeding, please speak with your obstetrician, child’s pediatrician, or another healthcare provider.

Menopausal Symptoms

Researchers used a high (1,200 mg per day) or low dose (600 mg per day) of soy lecithin or placebo for eight weeks in people undergoing menopause.

The group taking the higher dosage reportedly experienced the following:

  • Increased energy levels
  • Lower diastolic blood pressure
  • Lower cardio-ankle vascular index (a measure of atherosclerosis, the hardening of the arteries)

More research is needed to confirm these results.

Medication-Induced Tardive Dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is characterized by uncontrolled body movements and can be due to certain medications used to treat neurological (brain) conditions.

A number of older studies have examined the effects of lecithin on TD. The authors of a 14-study review, however, concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to warrant further study of lecithin’s effectiveness against TD.

Digestion

Lecithin is believed to stimulate mucus production in the intestine. This may aid digestion and help protect the lining of your gastrointestinal system.

Lecithin is sometimes suggested for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, some limited research suggests that soy lecithin may increase the abundance of undesirable gut bacteria.

Larger, more well-designed studies are needed before lecithin can be recommended for digestion and IBS.

Ulcerative Colitis

Some individuals with ulcerative colitis have low levels of phosphatidylcholine (also found in lecithin). Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) affecting the large intestine. Scientists have suggested phosphatidylcholine supplementation may protect the colon from “bad” bacteria and inflammation.

A meta-analysis (collection of studies) suggested 30% phosphatidylcholine-containing lecithin improved outcomes in people with ulcerative colitis.

A study gave participants either 0.8 g, 1.6 g, or 3.2 g of a supplement containing over 94% phosphatidylcholine-concentrated soy lecithin for 12 weeks. It suggested improvements in the Simple Clinical Colitis Activity Index, particularly in the group taking the 3.2 g supplement.

Further studies are needed to confirm these results.

Gallbladder Disease

Lecithin supplements are sometimes recommended for preventing and reducing gallstones.

However, the research supporting this use is limited to older studies and/or those with few participants.

More research must be done to understand if lecithin can help manage gallbladder disease.

Liver Disease

Research suggested phosphatidylcholine could help prevent or reduce metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD, formerly known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD). In MASLD, fat builds up in the liver.

Over time, MASLD can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver failure. 

However, phosphatidylcholine is one part of lecithin. The research for phosphatidylcholine or lecithin in liver disease is very preliminary. More research is needed to confirm these results.

Other

Lecithin may help wounds heal faster. In one study, One animal study found that the free radical scavenging activities of soy and egg lecithin could help speed wound healing. However, that evidence is insufficient as effects in animal studies don’t necessarily translate into effects in humans. Further research with humans would be needed.

What Are the Side Effects of Lecithin?

In most cases, lecithin supplements are safe, but side effects and possibly an allergic reaction can occur.

Ask your healthcare provider before taking lecithin or any other supplement. This is especially important if you:

  • Are taking medications of any kind
  • Have a health condition
  • Have allergies

Common Side Effects

Common side effects of lecithin include the following:

  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Headache 
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Severe Side Effects

Vomiting has been a severe side effect of lecithin.

Seek immediate medical attention if you believe you have a side effect from lecithin.

Is Lecithin Safe For You?

Lecithin is generally considered safe at suggested doses. However, since it is possible to experience side effects, consult your healthcare provider before taking lecithin supplements.

Precautions

Keep the following precautions in mind when using lecithin:

  • Severe allergic reaction: Avoid using lecithin if you have a known allergy to it, its ingredients, or products it may be derived from (e.g., egg, soy, fish, sunflower). Ask your pharmacist or healthcare provider for a complete list of the ingredients if you’re unsure.
  • Pregnancy: Lecithin breaks down into choline. Adequate intake of choline during pregnancy is 450 mg per day.
  • Breastfeeding: The adequate intake of choline during breastfeeding is 550 mg per day. While some studies have found lecithin may treat or prevent clogged milk ducts, speak with your obstetrician, your child’s pediatrician, or another healthcare provider before using lecithin or other supplements.
  • Children: There is limited research on the safety of lecithin in children. Because of this, children may need to avoid taking it. Consult your child’s pediatrician or other healthcare provider before using lecithin or other supplements.
  • Kidney disease: Lecithin products may contain phosphorous. Phosphorus-containing foods may pose a risk for people with chronic kidney disease (CKD). People with CKD may need to avoid lecithin.

Dosage: How Much Lecithin Should I Take?

Always speak with a healthcare provider before taking a supplement to ensure that the supplement and dosage are appropriate for your individual needs.

In studies, the following dosages were used for the following conditions:

  • Dementia or cognitive Impairment: 300 mg phosphatidylserine plus 240 mg phosphatidic acid from soy lecithin daily for two months
  • High cholesterol: 500 mg of soy lecithin daily for two months
  • Mastitis: 5 to 10 grams of lecithin daily (consult your healthcare provider before using)
  • Menopause symptoms: 600 to 1,200 mg daily
  • Ulcerative colitis: 0.8 g, 1.6 g, and 3.2 g of a supplement containing over 94% phosphatidylcholine-concentrated soy lecithin for 12 weeks

Generally, never take more than the dose suggested on the label. Please consult with your healthcare provider or pharmacist if you have any questions.

What Happens If I Take Too Much Lecithin?

In one study, a daily dosage of up to 54 g of lecithin appeared to have no adverse effects.

However, seek immediate medical attention if you’ve ingested too much lecithin.

Interactions

The following interactions may occur with lecithin:

  • Bacteria: Gut bacteria type may impact how the body breaks down phosphatidylcholine from lecithin.
  • Blood pressure medications: High doses of lecithin have lowered diastolic blood pressure in clinical studies. Theoretically, it may interact with blood pressure-lowering medications. These medications include beta-blockers such as Coreg (carvedilol), Inderal (propranolol), Lopressor or Toprol XL (metoprolol), Sorine (sotalol), Tenormin (atenolol), Timolol, and Trandate (labetalol). They may also include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors such as Accupril (quinapril), Altace (ramipril), lisinopril, Lotensin (benazepril), and Lotrel (amlodipine and benazepril).
  • Diuretics may also be used to lower blood pressure, and include but aren’t limited to Bumex (bumetanide), Diuril (chlorothiazide), Dyrenium (triamterene), indapamide, Inspra (eplerenone), Lasix (furosemide), Maxzide (triamterene and hydrochlorothiazide), Microzide (hydrochlorothiazide), Midamor (amiloride), and Zaroxolyn (metolazone).
  • Cholesterol medications: In an older clinical study, lecithin lowered cholesterol levels. Theoretically, lecithin may interact with cholesterol-lowering medications. Cholesterol medications include but aren’t limited to the following: Juxtapid (lomitapide), Lovaza (omega-3-acid ethyl esters), Lipitor (atorvastatin), Niacor (niacin), Prevalite (cholestyramine), Repatha (evolocumab), Tricor (fenofibrate), Zetia (ezetimibe), and Zocor (simvastatin).

It is essential to carefully read a supplement’s ingredients list and nutrition facts panel to know which ingredients are in the product and how much of each ingredient is included. Please review this supplement label with your healthcare provider to discuss potential interactions with foods, other supplements, and medications.

Similar Supplements

Supplements similar in action to lecithin include the following:

Sources of Lecithin and What to Look For

Lecithin comes in powder, oil, granule, capsule, and other forms.

Unlike prescription medications, dietary supplements are not regulated in the United States. This means the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not approve them for safety and effectiveness before products are marketed.

Choose a supplement tested by a trusted third party, such as the following:

  • U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)
  • ConsumerLab
  • NSF.org

You can also look for products from manufacturers with current good manufacturing practices (CGMPs).

Note that even if supplements are third-party tested, it doesn’t mean they are necessarily safe for all or effective in general. These organizations certify that the supplement contains the ingredients on the label and test supplements for purity.

Talking to your healthcare provider about any supplements you plan to take and checking in about potential interactions with other supplements or medications is essential.

Summary

Lecithin contains phospholipids. It may be found in specific foods or taken as a supplement. It is said to aid in the function of the brain, nerves, and other organs.

Lecithin has been studied for its use in preventing or treating various health conditions. However, the evidence supporting its use for these conditions is weak; more studies are needed.

Lecithin is thought to be safe. Still, check with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements. You may need to avoid it if you have chronic kidney disease due to potential phosphorous content.

Take the amount your healthcare provider or the label suggests. And look for products that have been tested for purity by a third party.