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
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
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
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://
“Lecithin: Research” Handout on MEDWEB (http://www.vhs/cp,/
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
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,
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.
11 Don Lepore, The Ultimate Healing System (Provo, UT: Woodland
Books 1988), p. 12.