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Lecithin: Fabulous Fat
by W. Jean Rohrer
Considering our current preoccupation with dieting, cholesterol levels and fat consumption, it is astonishing to discover one of the best supplements for reducing cholesterol is itself a lipid. Lecithin falls into the category of phospholipid. Like the dreaded cholesterol, lecithin is produced within the liver when adequate nutritional substances are available. Initially discovered in egg yolks, the primary source of lecithin is now soybeans, however this essential dietary nutrient is found abundantly in plant and animal life.1
Although the actual functions of lecithin can be divided into such categories as preventive maintenance, communications, security, digestion and waste management, its effects can be seen in all systems of the body. The relative importance of lecithin becomes obvious when one realizes this fatlike substance comprises part of every cell of the body, where, among many other functions, it acts like moisturizer to the skin; keeping the cell walls soft and supple, preventing oxidation (the intracellular version of rust) and thus assuring the cell can perform its functions of reproduction, food intake and waste excretion. Because it is a necessary nutrient for all cells, a lack or depletion of lecithin may cause decreased ability to reproduce new cells, thereby diminishing the body's ability to regenerate.2 (That's what happens with aging.)
Lecithin plays a crucial role in the health and structure of the nervous system. Approximately 30% of your brain is composed of lecithin, and this vital nutrient comprises about two thirds of the fatty myelin sheath which surrounds the brain, spinal cord and untold miles of nerves. Additionally, lecithin is broken down by the body into choline, (which is the precursor of acetylcholine, a nerve transmitter) and other useful products. Small wonder improving the level of lecithin in the blood is associated with improved mental functioning!3
Multiple sclerosis patients, who suffer the neurological disease characterized by progressive muscle weakness and spastic, uncoordinated movements due to neurotransmitter deficiency, have been shown to have significantly decreased levels of lecithin in both brain and myelin sheaths than those without the disease.4
While the role lecithin plays in nerve and mental function at all ages is of great importance, our need for adequate bloods levels of this nutrient becomes even more critical in our older years. As is true of all hormones, enzymes and other chemicals, aging brings a decrease in the production of neurotransmitters. The results can be slowed thinking and reactions, memory loss and degeneration of brain and nerve tissue. Because of the useful byproducts into which lecithin is split in the body, this nutrient is helpful in improving short-term memory and lessening of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease in some patients.5
WASTE MANAGEMENT (aka recycling)
Lowering of cholesterol is the function for which lecithin has become famous. Able to emulsify (break up) fats in the bloodstream, lecithin keeps
these lipids soluble and capable of passing through the cell walls to be
utilized for energy. By dissolving fats and helping them be absorbed for use
by the body, lecithin helps reduce the cholesterol level in the blood, a major
risk indicator for heart attack and heart disease. Low blood levels of lecithin
correlate with high cholesterol levels, as floating fat molecules clump, then
stick onto the wall of your arteries and tunnel between the muscle layers of
the blood vessels. Voila! you've got atherosclerosis.
But this vital nutrient also has the ability to break down fat plaques already present, effectively reversing atherosclerosis, and reducing the risks of heart attacks and stroke.6 One nutritional authority went so far as to state atherosclerosis does not occur regardless of fat intake when adequate amounts of lecithin are present in the body.
Although the exact figures vary from one source to another, all agree between 66% and 75% of the fat within the liver contains lecithin. The liver acts as a storage facility for fats, which are the most concentrated form of energy. Without adequate amounts of lecithin, the liver is unable to break down the fats so they can be absorbed from the blood for use as energy.
Likewise, lecithin is necessary in sufficient quantities to emulsify the fat soluble vitamins A,D,E and K.7 Evidence of the necessity of lecithin in the overall health and self-healing of the liver comes from many fields. Even the allopathic medical community (at least in other countries of the world) joins those of research and nutrition in citing the ability of this nutrient to protect against and/or heal damage of hepatitis and alcohol-related cirrhosis. 8
Somewhat related to the liver is the gallbladder, which is basically part of the digestive system. The function of the gall bladder is to secrete bile, which helps digest fats in the small intestine. Lecithin, by adding to bile's emulsifying effects, prevents gallstones (calcified, petrified fat!), and has been reported to decrease the size of those stones already present.9
FIT OR FAT?
It is a thoroughly documented fact: Americans are overweight. A vast proportion of those above healthy weight are dieting with varying degrees of success. Here again, lecithin shines. Since the primary function of lecithin is the emulsification and burning of fats, and since the most efficient means of dropping weight is to increase nutrients that burn fats, supplementation with lecithin would seem a very real help in the endeavor of weight loss and maintenance.10
ARE YOU LECITHIN DEFICIENT?
Symptoms of lecithin deficiency can vary widely, from subtle changes like forgetfulness to more distressing symptoms of nausea, fat intolerance, and musculoskeletal problems such as soreness, cramps and bursitis. Hypertension, one of the most dangerous effects of lecithin deficiency,11 is frequently asymptomatic until very advanced.
There are many nutritional supplements available claiming everything from eternal youth and vigor to improved sex life and better brain power. Lecithin appears to be one for which most of the many claims are validated by reliable research. Since this nutrient is a required part of every cell of the body, daily supplementation with lecithin seems a good way to maintain and improve overall health.
Degenerative Disease, 2nd edition by Mervin B. Davis and Michael Bryan (San Francisco,CA: Health Publishing Co., 1972).
Dr. Julian Whitaker's Health & Healing Vol. 5, No. 9 by Dr. Julian Whitaker (Potomac, MD: Phillips Publishing Inc., September 1995).
Lecithin: Health Benefits Handout on MEDWEB (http:// www.vhs.com/nuspirit/lecithin/lec_bene.html).
Lecithin: Research Handout on MEDWEB (http://www.vhs/cp,/ nuspirit/lecithin/lec_res.html). Co., 1992).
Let's Get Well by Adelle Davis (New York, NY: Signet, 1965).
Life Extenders and Memory Boosters! edited by David Steinman (Reno, NV: Health Quest Publications, 1994).
Nutrition: Lecithin by Neva Jensen in The Herbalist, (April 1979).
The Doctors Vitamin and Mineral Encyclopedia by Shelton Saul Hendler, MD, Ph.D. (New York, NY: Fireside, 1990).
The Ultimate Healing System by Don Lepore (Prova, UT: Woodland Books, 1988).
1 Neva Jensen, Nutrition: Lecithin, in The Herbalist, April 1979, p. 27.
2 Mervin B. Davis and Micheal Bryan, Degenerative Disease, 2nd edition (SanFrancisco, CA: Health Publishing Co., 1972), pps. 26-28.
3 Lecithin: Research handout on MEDWEB (http://www.vhs.com/ nuspirit/lecithin/lec_res.html), updated April 1005.
4 Lecithin: Health Benefits Handout on MEDWEB (http:// www.vhs.com/nuspirit/lecithin/lec_bene.html) updated March, 1995
5 David Steinman, editor, Life Extenders and Memory Boosters! Reno, NV: Health Quest Publications 1993), pps. 211-212.
6 Dick Quinn, Left For Dead (Minneapolis, MN: R.F. Quinn Publishing Co., 1992), pps. 133-134.
7 Adelle Davis, Let's Get Well (New York, NY: Signet, 1965)pps. 50, 170-178.
8 Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD, Ph.D., The Doctors Vitamin and Mineral Encyclopedia (New York, NY: Fireside 1990), pps. 264-265.
9 Lecithin: Health Benefits Handout on MEDWEB (http:// www.vhs.com/nuspirit/lec_bene.html), updated March, 1995.
10 Adelle Davis, Let's Get Well (New York, NY: Signet 1965), pps. 173-176.
11 Don Lepore, The Ultimate Healing System (Provo, UT: Woodland Books 1988), p. 12.