What is Lecithin?
Lecithin was first isolated from egg yolk in 1945, by a french chemist named Theodore Gobley. The name ‘Lecithin’ comes from the Greek word ‘Lekythos’, which means ‘egg yolk’.
Lecithins are a group of yellow-pigmented fats containing phospholipids. They can be found naturally in the body, and obtained from the diet. Phospholipids are the coating, or the cell membranes of our individual cells. Other components of lecithin include glyceophosphate, choline, sodium oleate, phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylinositol.
Lecithin is an emulsifier, suspending fats to keep them mixing with other substances, but it can also bind water and fat sources and is therefore commonly found in food products. It is very diverse in how it can be processed and used in myriad products including cosmetics.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Choline?
Choline is important for the body because it synthesises neurotransmitters for brain and muscle function, is a methyl doner (and so supports DNA) and helps the balance and circulation of fats in bloodstream. Most importantly though, choline reduces homocysteine which, if left too high can cause heart disease.
The fatty acids in lecithin activates gene-regulation which leads to the balance of metabolic function and therefore energy in the body.
What Are The Health Benefits Of Lecithin?
Although not likely the first thing you think of, lecithin is often used in skin products as an emollient which improves hydration and thus resulting in smoother skin.
Lecithin is most renowned for being able to lower cholesterol. If the lecithin is derived from soy, this may produce added benefit due to other components within it such as isoflavones and fibre.
Some studies suggests that soy lecithin can help to reduce total and LDL cholesterol by as much as 42%. Lecithin can also raise good cholesterol (HDL) which is useful in the protection of the cardiovascular system against bad LDL cholesterol.
Cholesterol is often viewed as bad for the body but is still needed for hormone production, so a good maintenance and a higher ratio of HDL is optimal.
A side benefit from a soy derived product towards supporting the cardiovascular system is the time it takes to digest,
Choline deficiency can result in a higher incidence of liver damage. Choline from lecithin is able to absorb fats in the liver. Animal studies suggest that lecithin may reduce liver damage due to slow bile flow and damage to inflamed bile ducts.
A secondary protective effect of lecithin on the liver acts by binding to, and reducing bile salt levels which if otherwise too high, will damage cells by digesting their cell membranes.
One study showed that lecithin was able to reduce the stress response in individuals taking 400mg compared to a placebo with no effect.
Not only does the phosphotidylserine within lecithin improve mood, but it can also blunt the rise in cortisol both before and after physical stress.
The lining of the gut is comprised of a large amount of fatty tissue within the mucus layer and 70% of which is phosphatidylcholine. This layer is protective against bacteria and if kept strong can reduce the risk of inflammation.
This makes lecithin ideal for people who suffer from colitis and IBS. Improving inflammatory conditions will help overall digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Soy Lecithin vs Sunflower Lecithin
Lecithins can be found in food products such as fish, animal liver, nuts, dairy, eggs, cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower and brussel sprouts.
Supplements of lecithin are can be derived from sunflower seeds, eggs or soybeans, the latter being the most popular.
Lecithin from soy is mainly composed of phosphatidylcholine which is made up of 20-80% fat.
Often people prefer sunflower over soy in order to avoid GMO consumption, however non-GMO soy lecithin can be found by trustworthy companies.