Fascinating Facts About Lecithin: A Comprehensive Guide

18 Interesting Facts About Lecithin

Lecithin is an essential phospholipid compound found in both plants and animals that provides a wide range of nutritional and functional benefits. Comprised of choline and various fatty acids, lecithin plays a critical role in digestion, metabolism, liver and gallbladder function, cardiovascular health, and cognitive function.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore fascinating facts about this versatile natural substance – from what it is composed of to where it’s found in food and the body. We’ll also cover the health benefits of lecithin supplements, their safety and side effects, and the typical dosage.

What is Lecithin?

Soybean pods edamame soybeans with granulated soy lecithin and black and white soybeans

Lecithin refers to a group of yellowish-brown fatty phospholipids that are an integral part of cell membranes. The term “phospholipid” means that it contains phosphorus, a negatively charged particle that binds to lipids (fats).

The main components of lecithin are:

  • Choline: An essential nutrient needed for liver function, nerve function, brain development, muscle movement, and lipid (fat) metabolism.
  • Phosphatidylcholine: The most common phospholipid in lecithin. It’s important for heart health, brain function, and metabolism.
  • Phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine: Other phospholipids found in smaller amounts in lecithin that support cellular structure and signaling.

When present in cell membranes, phospholipids like lecithin arrange themselves into a double layer (known as a lipid bilayer) with their water-loving phosphorus heads facing outwards towards the water while their hydrophobic (water-fearing) tails face inward. This phospholipid bilayer forms a stable barrier between the inside and outside of cells and organelles within cells.

Where is Lecithin Found in Nature?

Lecithin is found naturally in:

  • Soybeans
  • Egg yolks
  • Organ meats such as liver
  • Wheat germ
  • Peanuts
  • Milk

It’s also present in smaller amounts in maize, barley, butter, fish, cabbage, lemons, and spinach.

Lecithin makes up approximately 10% of the dry weight of soybeans, making soybean lecithin a readily available commercial source. Sunflower lecithin is also popular for those avoiding soy-based products.

Key Functions and Health Benefits

Top view of fresh soybean pods edamame soybeans with granulated soy lecithin and soy milk

As a major component of cell membranes and organelles, lecithin is essential for basic cellular structure and function. It also provides many specific health and nutritional benefits:

1. Supports Healthy Brain Function

  • Provides choline needed to produce acetylcholine – a key neurotransmitter involved in memory, learning, mood, muscle control, and brain development
  • May help reduce the risk of dementia according to some studies
  • Improves symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease when combined with pharmaceutical treatments

2. Boosts Heart Health

  • Reduces LDL “bad” cholesterol levels to lower risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Prevent fatty deposits in arteries
  • Helps regulate blood pressure

3. Aids Digestion and Metabolism

  • Emulsifies fats to improve digestion and absorption
  • Facilitates transport and metabolism of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E and K
  • Prevents fatty buildup in the liver by transporting fat safely through the body for metabolism
  • Maintains healthy liver function and bile flow

4. Supports Reproductive Health

  • Alleviates symptoms of menopause
  • Used by breastfeeding mothers to relieve plugged milk ducts and mastitis

5. Benefits of Skin Health

  • Excellent moisturizer that hydrates skin and reduces flakiness
  • Accelerates wound healing when applied topically
  • Safe for use up to 15% in cosmetic moisturizing creams and lotions

Lecithin as an Emulsifier and Additive

Yellow sunflowers in a summer field closeup

The emulsifying action of lecithin1 is key to many of its biological functions and commercial uses. An emulsifier enables normally immiscible liquids like oil and water to mix together and form an emulsion.

In the human body, lecithin emulsifies fats, allowing them to dissolve in water and blood for transport, digestion, and absorption in the cells that require them.

Commercially, lecithin is utilized heavily by the food processing, cosmetic, paint, and pharmaceutical industries to create stable emulsified products. Specific applications include:

Food Production

  • Allows fats or oils to blend smoothly into foods and beverages
  • Improves texture and consistency of products like margarine, chocolate, and ice cream
  • Non-stick cooking spray
  • Food dye dispersant

Industrial Uses

  • Wetting and lubricating agent
  • Release or anti-stick agent in plastics, rubber, and textiles
  • Softener and conditioner in leather tanning
  • Protective coating for wood finishes

Paint Production

  • Pigment dispersant
  • Improves flow and leveling
  • Protects against bacteria and fungus

Pharmaceutical Industry

  • Emulsifying agent for drugs and nutritional supplements with poor solubility
  • Used in topical creams, lotions, ointments
  • Liposome and nanocarrier for targeted drug delivery

Genetically Modified and Non-GMO Sources

The most abundant source of commercially manufactured lecithin is soybean oil. Since over 90% of the soybean crop in the United States is genetically modified, the majority of soy lecithin does not come from non-GMO crops.

For consumers wishing to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), non-GMO sunflower lecithin or organic soy lecithin certified GMO-free are good alternatives.

Is Lecithin Safe? Side Effects and Precautions

Lecithin is generally safe and well-tolerated, even in larger doses. The most common side effect is minor gastrointestinal distress, including stomach pain, diarrhea or loose stools. Lecithin may also trigger allergic reactions in those with soy allergies.

Some precautions regarding lecithin supplements include:

  • Those with soy allergies should avoid soy lecithin and opt for sunflower lecithin instead
  • Lecithin can cause low blood pressure, so those taking medications for high blood pressure should talk to their doctor before taking lecithin supplements
  • Don’t take any product containing lecithin without consulting your doctor if pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Lecithin may interact with medications that affect the nervous system. Check with your pharmacist about potential interactions with any medications or supplements you take.

Overall lecithin is considered very safe. Mild side effects typically resolve when supplementation is stopped.

Lecithin Supplements and Dosage

Background of tablets. Mainly vitamins and dietary supplements.

Lecithin supplements provide higher therapeutic doses than what could reasonably be obtained from food sources alone. Available forms of lecithin supplements include:

  • Capsules: Typically 500-1200mg soy or sunflower lecithin per capsule
  • Powder: Pure lecithin powder to add to foods and smoothies
  • Liquid: Offers versatility to add drops of liquid lecithin to teas, juices, shakes, etc.

There is no standard recommended daily intake established for lecithin. However, therapeutic doses of 10-15 grams daily have been used effectively in studies. Consult your doctor or nutritionist to determine an optimal dose for your needs. Start low at approximately 1-2 grams daily and gradually increase over 2 weeks while monitoring for side effects.

Be sure to purchase lecithin supplements from reputable manufacturers to ensure quality and purity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does lecithin lower cholesterol?

Yes, lecithin derived from soybeans has been shown to significantly lower LDL cholesterol levels, reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease. The choline, fatty acids, and other phospholipids help regulate fat transport and prevent cholesterol plaque deposits in the arteries.

Is lecithin good for your brain?

Lecithin provides the choline needed by the brain to synthesize acetylcholine – an essential neurotransmitter involved in memory, cognition, and brain development. Some studies show lecithin may help slow age-related cognitive decline and improve dementia symptoms when used with Alzheimer’s medications.

Can lecithin help with weight loss?

Some evidence suggests lecithin may potentially aid weight loss due to its beneficial effects on fat breakdown, cholesterol transport, and liver function. However, more studies confirming this effect are still needed.

Are eggs a good source of lecithin?

Egg yolks contain approximately 300-500 milligrams of lecithin per yolk, making eggs one of the richest sources of naturally occurring lecithin.

Why was lecithin added to my medication?

In pharmaceuticals, lecithin is often added to poorly soluble drugs to enhance absorption. By emulsifying the active drug ingredients, lecithin enables them to dissolve more readily for faster and more complete absorption into the bloodstream after ingestion.

Is lecithin good for your liver?

Yes, lecithin has hepatoprotective effects, meaning it helps keep the liver healthy. It emulsifies fats, enabling safe transport through the body and preventing harmful fatty deposits in the liver. Lecithin also aids bile production, keeping liver enzymes functioning optimally.

Can lecithin cause diarrhea?

Sometimes. Lecithin softens the stools, so excessive doses could potentially cause loose stools or diarrhea in sensitive people. Those with inflammatory bowel conditions like ulcerative colitis may also need to avoid lecithin.

Is sunflower lecithin better than soy lecithin?

For those avoiding GMOs or soy products, sunflower lecithin is an suitable non-soy alternative. Some small studies suggest sunflower lecithin may provide better absorption. But both soy and sunflower varieties have proven health benefits.


With critical roles in cell membrane structure, fat transport, liver function, and even brain neurotransmitters – it’s clear lecithin is far more than a common food additive. From the phospholipid bilayers surrounding our cells to emulsifying fats for digestion to regulating cognition, lecithin proves indispensable to human health and biology. Supplementing with 10-15 grams of non-GMO lecithin granules, capsules or liquid can provide notable benefits, from lowering LDL cholesterol to improving dementia. Lecithin is generally extremely safe with very few side effects in recommended dosages. For optimal wellness and whole-body function at the cellular level, be sure to get sufficient lecithin from either enriched foods or daily supplements.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lecithin []

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