As a supplement, lecithin is used to protect the cardiovascular system, facilitate fat metabolism and improve reproductive function. It is also said to relieve the pain of arthritis, improve muscle endurance and enhance physical energy.
Lecithin is another name for phosphatidyl choline, a component of fat molecules found in our cell membranes and in the cell walls of plants. It is present in soybeans, sunflower seeds and grape seeds. It is also found in egg yolks and fish. In fact the name lecithin comes from the Greek word for egg yolk.
When lecithin is produced in supplement form, it is actually a combination of molecules that include phosphatidyl choline as well as other substances, such as triglycerides, sterols and glycolipids.
In commercial lecithin, quantities of phosphatidyl choline vary widely – from about 20 to 90% of the product.
Most of the health benefits of lecithin are due to the presence of choline in the molecule. Among other functions, choline prevents the buildup of cholesterol along the walls of veins and arteries.
Lecithin is available in capsule and powder form and is sometimes mixed into health drinks or sprinkled on salads. It is often touted as an aid to weight loss because of its ability to lower cholesterol levels and improve fat metabolism.
The choline in lecithin also supports the function of neurotransmitters in the brain. In fact, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is connected to memory, is partly comprised of choline. Because of this connection, it is believed that adequate lecithin intake can improve memory and mental function.
As a supplement, lecithin capsules can be taken in doses of 1200 to 3600 mg per day. This is usually divided into three separate doses taken over a 24 hour period. It is important to find out the concentration of choline in any lecithin product. The higher the percentage of choline, the lower the effective dose is likely to be.
There are no known side effects or drug interactions with lecithin, though some people do experience stomach upset when taking capsules. In very high doses, lecithin may cause depression. Since lecithin is a substance found in many foods, it is classified as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the Food and Drug Administration.