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Home > Living Well > Health Library > Lecithin/Phosphatidyl Choline
When medical researchers use the term "lecithin," they are referring to a purified substance called phosphatidyl choline (PC) that belongs to a special category of fat-soluble substances called phospholipids.
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Betaine (trimethylglycine) (6 grams per day) and choline (2 grams per day) have each been shown to lower homocysteine levels. Choline in the amount of 2.6 grams per day (provided as 34 grams per day of soy lecithin) has also been shown to lower homocysteine levels in a double-blind trial. More recently, 1.5 grams of betaine per day, an amount similar to that in a typical diet, also has been found to lower homocysteine levels. Doctors usually consider supplementation with these nutrients only when supplementation with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 do not reduce homocysteine levels sufficiently. The results of this study, however, point to the potential benefit of increasing one's intake of foods rich in betaine (such as whole wheat, spinach, beets, and other plant foods).
Choline and lecithin have both been used for people with TD. While some studies have shown a beneficial effect, others have reported variable improvement or no improvement. In a small, two-week, double-blind trial, people with TD were given 25 grams of lecithin twice a day (providing 35 grams of phosphatidyl choline per day), or a matching placebo. All participants experienced significant improvement of symptoms.
A double-blind trial of 20 to 25 grams per day of lecithin failed to produce improvements in mental function in people with Alzheimer's disease. However, there were improvements in a subgroup of people who did not fully comply with the program, suggesting that lower amounts of lecithin may possibly be helpful. Lecithin supplementation has also been studied in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor drug called tacrine, with predominantly negative results.
Phosphatidylcholine (PC)—a purified extract from lecithin—is one of the components of bile that helps protect against gallstone formation. Some preliminary studies suggest that 300–2,000 mg per day of PC may help dissolve gallstones. Some doctors suggest PC supplements as part of gallstone treatment, though the supporting research is weak.
Taking 3 grams per day of phosphatidylcholine (found in lecithin) was found to be beneficial in one investigation of people with chronic hepatitis B. Signs of liver damage on biopsy were significantly reduced in this trial.
Small amounts of choline are present in many B-complex and multivitamin supplements.
Choline, the major constituent of PC, is found in soybeans, liver, oatmeal, cabbage, and cauliflower. Soybeans, egg yolks, meat, and some vegetables contain PC. Lecithin (containing 10–20% PC) is added to many processed foods in small amounts for the purpose of maintaining texture consistency.
Although choline deficiencies have been artificially induced in people, little is known about human deficiency in the real world.
Commercially available forms of choline include choline chloride and choline bitartrate. There is no clear evidence that choline chloride is more effective than choline bitartrate as a supplement, or vice versa.1
Phosphatidylcholine and lecithin (which contains phosphatidylcholine) are also sources of choline. Taking lecithin has been shown to produce relatively greater and more sustained levels of choline than choline itself. However, choline makes up only a certain percentage of both lecithin and phosphatidylcholine, so relatively large amounts of these substances are needed to deliver therapeutic amounts of choline.2
The body uses both PC and pantothenic acid to form acetylcholine.
With several grams of choline per day, some people will experience abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, or nausea. Supplementing choline in large amounts (over 1,000 mg per day) can lead to a fishy body odor. PC does not have this effect. Depression has been reported as a side effect in people taking large amounts of choline, such as 9 grams per day.
1. Gaby, AR. Nutritional Medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing, 2011.
2. Gaby, AR. Nutritional Medicine. Concord, NH: Fritz Perlberg Publishing, 2011.
Last Review: 03-24-2015
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