Lecithin

While some complementary and alternative techniques have been studied scientifically, high-quality data regarding safety, effectiveness, and mechanism of action are limited or controversial for most therapies. Whenever possible, it is recommended that practitioners be licensed by a recognized professional organization that adheres to clearly published standards. In addition, before starting a new technique or engaging a practitioner, it is recommended that patients speak with their primary healthcare provider(s). Potential benefits, risks (including financial costs), and alternatives should be carefully considered. The below monograph is designed to provide historical background and an overview of clinically-oriented research, and neither advocates for or against the use of a particular therapy.

Related Terms

  • Acetylcholine, buerlecithin fluid, choline, dipalmitoylphosphatidylcholine, lecithin-bound iodine, lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase, lecithin-solubilized phytosterols, lecithin/sphingomyelin ratio, liposomal lecithin, lysophosphatidyl choline, phosphatidic acid, phosphatidyl, phosphatidyl esters, phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidylserine, phosphatidylserine complex, plant sterols, soy lecithin, stanol/lecithin.

Background

  • Lecithin is a lipid, or fat, found in egg yolks, organ meats (such as kidney, liver, and intestines), nuts, and spinach. It is used to treat illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, liver disease, acne, anxiety, and weight loss. Lecithin has positive effects on blood lipids, especially in combination with plant compounds known as sterols.

Scientific Evidence

Uses

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Cognitive disorders

Studies of the effect of lecithin on cognitive (memory and learning) disorders have been limited, and the results have been mixed. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Lipid lowering

Studies suggest that lecithin, when given together with plant compounds known as sterols, improves the sterols’ beneficial effect on cholesterol level. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Alzheimer’s disease

Preliminary evidence suggests that lecithin, when given in combination with other compounds, may improve mood and social skills in Alzheimer’s patients. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Athletic performance

Studies suggest that lecithin may stabilize or increase choline levels in the blood, which normally go down during intense exercise. However, no direct improvement of athletic performance has been described. Additional studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

Cardiovascular health

Limited research suggests that soy lecithin may have a beneficial effect on blood vessel health. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Dementia

Lecithin has been shown to be effective in increasing levels of choline in the blood in patients with a form of dementia (age-related loss of mental skills). Choline is a building block of the nerve-signaling chemical acetylcholine. Additional studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

Friedreich’s ataxia

Although not well studied in humans, some research suggests that lecithin may help improve the symptoms of Friedreich’s ataxia. Symptoms include difficulty walking and speaking, and heart disease. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Gallstones

Surgery is often used to treat gallstones, but it doesn’t prevent the formation of new stones. Preliminary studies suggest that lecithin may help dissolve gallstones. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Hepatitis (chronic)

Although not well studied in humans, lecithin has been shown to have liver-protecting effects. Positive results have been seen when lecithin was given to patients with chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation) who had also received drugs to reduce the activity of the immune system. Further studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

Mania

Limited research suggests that lecithin may have a beneficial effect on the symptoms of mania (abnormally elevated mood) in patients with bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness). Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Memory

Limited research suggests that lecithin may improve some forms of memory and learning in young adults. Further studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

Parkinson’s disease

Limited research suggests that lecithin may improve memory, mental processes, and movement in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

REM sleep behavior disorder

Limited research suggests that lecithin may not have an effect on the time it takes to get to the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. Additional research is needed.

Respiratory distress

Preliminary research suggests that a lecithin-containing compound placed in the lungs of premature babies may help prevent respiratory distress syndrome (a breathing disorder) in premature infants. Further studies are needed before a conclusion can be made.

Stress-related disorders

Limited research suggests that a compound prepared from soy lecithin may have positive effects on responses to stress. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Tardive dyskinesia

Preliminary research suggests that lecithin may help improve the symptoms of tardive dyskinesia (uncontrolled body movements), particularly in more serious cases. Further research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

Total parenteral nutrition

Limited research suggests that lecithin may have beneficial effects on fatty liver, a side effect of total parenteral nutrition (TPN). In TPN, patients receive all their nutrients in a solution that is injected into a vein. Additional research is needed before a conclusion can be made.

*Key to grades:

Tradition

The below uses are based on tradition or scientific theories. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious and should be evaluated by a qualified health care professional.

  • Anxiety, bronchial asthma, eczema, fertility (enhanced sperm binding), local anesthesia, skin toner, weight loss.

Dosing

The below doses are based on scientific research, publications, traditional use, or expert opinion. Many herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested, and safety and effectiveness may not be proven. Brands may be made differently, with variable ingredients, even within the same brand. The below doses may not apply to all products. You should read product labels, and discuss doses with a qualified healthcare provider before starting therapy.

Adults (18 years and older)

  • For Alzheimer’s disease, 10-25 grams of lecithin by mouth has been taken daily for up to six months.

  • For improvement of plasma choline levels during exercise, 2.2 grams of lecithin has been taken by mouth daily for two days, or 0.2 grams per kilogram of body mass has been taken by mouth one hour before exercise.

  • For cognitive disorders, 20 milliliters of Buerlecithin® flussig (100 milliliters contains nine grams of lecithin) has been taken by mouth twice daily for 84 days.

  • For dementia, daily doses of 1,000 milligrams and 1,600 milligrams of lecithin have been taken by mouth for three months.

  • For mania, 10 milligrams of lecithin has been taken by mouth three times daily.

  • For Parkinson’s disease, approximately 32 grams of lecithin has been taken by mouth daily for nine weeks.

  • For stress-related disorders, 400 milligrams of a complex of soy lecithin phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylserine has been taken by mouth three times daily for four weeks.

  • For tardive dyskinesia, 20-50 grams of lecithin has been taken by mouth daily for up to eight weeks. Lecithin (0.714 grams per kilogram of body mass) in a milkshake drink has been taken daily for two months.

  • For total parenteral nutrition, 40 grams of lecithin has been taken daily for six weeks.

Children (under 18 years old)

  • There is no proven safe or effective dose for lecithin in children.

Safety

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.

Allergies

  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to lecithin, egg, or soy.

Side Effects and Warnings

  • Lecithin is generally well tolerated. Mild-to-moderate side effects may include upset stomach and nausea. Other side effects may include central nervous system complaints and agitation.

  • Lecithin may increase the risk of bleeding. Caution is advised in patients with bleeding disorders or those taking drugs that may increase the risk of bleeding. Dosing adjustments may be necessary.

  • Use cautiously in patients with liver disease. Although human research is limited, lecithin may have toxic effects on the liver.

  • Avoid with known allergy or hypersensitivity to lecithin, egg, or soy.

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

  • There is currently a lack of available scientific evidence on the use of lecithin in pregnant or breastfeeding women.

Interactions

Most herbs and supplements have not been thoroughly tested for interactions with other herbs, supplements, drugs, or foods. The interactions listed below are based on reports in scientific publications, laboratory experiments, or traditional use. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy.

Interactions with Drugs

  • Lecithin may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that increase the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants (blood thinners) such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, antiplatelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).

  • Lecithin may also interact with agents that have an effect on acetylcholine levels, agents that remove heavy metals, agents that treat age-related loss of mental skills, agents that treat mania, anti-inflammatory agents, cholesterol-lowering agents, diclofenac, and memory enhancers.

Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements

  • Lecithin may increase the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to increase the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.

  • Lecithin may also interact with anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements, cholesterol-lowering herbs and supplements, herbs and supplements that have an effect on acetylcholine levels, herbs and supplements that treat dementia, herbs and supplements that treat mania, memory enhancers, phosphatidylserine, and sitostanol.

Author Information

  • This information is based on a systematic review of scientific literature edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).

References

Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Attia YA, Hussein AS, Tag El-Din AE, et al. Improving productive and reproductive performance of dual-purpose crossbred hens in the tropics by lecithin supplementation. Trop Anim Health Prod 2009;41(4):461-75.View Abstract
  2. Béliveau S, Gaudreault P, Goulet L, et al. Type I hypersensitivity in an asthmatic child allergic to peanuts: was soy lecithin to blame? J Cutan Med Surg 2008;12(1):27-30.View Abstract
  3. Hafner A, Lovrić J, Voinovich D, et al. Melatonin-loaded lecithin/chitosan nanoparticles: physicochemical characterisation and permeability through Caco-2 cell monolayers. Int J Pharm 2009;381(2):205-13.View Abstract
  4. Honda K, Enoshima T, Oshikata T, et al. Toxicity studies of Asahi Kasei PI, purified phosphatidylinositol from soy lecithin. J Toxicol Sci 2009;34(3):265-80.View Abstract
  5. Magalhães MS, Fechine FV, Macedo RN, et al. Effect of a combination of medium chain triglycerides, linoleic acid, soy lecithin and vitamins A and E on wound healing in rats. Acta Cir Bras 2008;23(3):262-9.View Abstract
  6. Mazaletskaia LI, Sheludchenko NI, Shishkina LN. Lecithin influence on the effectiveness of the antioxidant effect of flavonoids and alpha-tocopherol]. Prikl Biokhim Mikrobiol 2010;46(2):148-52.View Abstract
  7. Muehlmann LA, Zanatta AL, Farias CL, et al. Dietary supplementation with soybean lecithin increases pulmonary PAF bioactivity in asthmatic rats. J Nutr Biochem 2010;21(6):532-7.View Abstract
  8. Naghashpour M, Cualing H. Splenomegaly with sea-blue histiocytosis, dyslipidemia, and nephropathy in a patient with lecithin-cholesterol acyltransferase deficiency: a clinicopathologic correlation. Metabolism 2009;58(10):1459-64.View Abstract
  9. Reed ML, Ezeh PC, Hamic A, et al. Soy lecithin replaces egg yolk for cryopreservation of human sperm without adversely affecting postthaw motility, morphology, sperm DNA integrity, or sperm binding to hyaluronate. Fertil Steril 2009;92(5):1787-90.View Abstract
  10. Rousset X, Vaisman B, Amar M, et al. Lecithin: cholesterol acyltransferase–from biochemistry to role in cardiovascular disease. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes 2009;16(2):163-71.View Abstract
  11. Shi X, Wang Y, Ren L, et al. A novel hydrophilic poly(lactide-co-glycolide)/lecithin hybrid microspheres sintered scaffold for bone repair. J Biomed Mater Res A 2010;92(3):963-72.View Abstract
  12. St Clair C, Norwitz ER, Woensdregt K,et al. The probability of neonatal respiratory distress syndrome as a function of gestational age and lecithin/sphingomyelin ratio. Am J Perinatol 2008;25(8):473-80.View Abstract
  13. Stübiger G, Pittenauer E, Belgacem O, et al. Analysis of human plasma lipids and soybean lecithin by means of high-performance thin-layer chromatography and matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization mass spectrometry. Rapid Commun Mass Spectrom 2009;23(17):2711-23.View Abstract
  14. Tanigawa H, Billheimer JT, Tohyama J, et al. Lecithin: cholesterol acyltransferase expression has minimal effects on macrophage reverse cholesterol transport in vivo. Circulation 2009;120(2):160-9.View Abstract
  15. Zhang Y, Huang C, Sheng X, et al. Lecithin promotes adipocyte differentiation and hepatic lipid accumulation. Int J Mol Med 2009;23(4):449-54.View Abstract

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.