Lecithin is a substance made of fatty acids and naturally found in the body in sunflowers. It works as an emulsifier that suspends fats and oils, preventing them from mixing with other substances.
While most commonly known to treat high cholesterol, sunflower lecithin has also been found to prevent certain medical conditions, and it supports the overall function of several body systems.
Lecithin is made of fatty substances known as glycerophospholipids and can be found in your tissues as well as several food items such as egg yolk, meats, and corn.
Up until recently, lecithin from soy was most commonly used for supplements. Because of concerns over GMOs in soy, sunflowers have become the more popular source for this beneficial compound. Unlike soybeans, sunflowers are not genetically modified, and extraction of lecithin from sunflowers does not involve harsh chemicals.
Once inside the body, a component of lecithin is broken down in the liver into choline, which plays an important role in health. Choline is required for many steps of metabolism and energy production and also makes up two of the phospholipids that construct cell membranes. Choline also produces the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for memory, mood, muscle control, liver function, and nervous system function.
Research has found that lecithin from sunflowers can provide benefits throughout the body.
The ability to lower cholesterol is one of the most well-studied benefits of lecithin. Sunflower lecithin both lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol and increases HDL (good) cholesterol.
High levels of LDL can cause plaque to form in the arteries, restricting blood flow. As a result, the risk for atherosclerosis, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke are all increased. By increasing the HDL cholesterol levels, lecithin also helps to remove other more harmful forms of cholesterol.
Cholesteric liver disease is caused when bile ducts become inflamed, and the flow of bile is slowed. Individuals that have a choline deficiency are more susceptible to liver damage and failure, and lecithin can benefit. Studies have found that when taking lecithin supplements, there is less liver damage seen.
Lecithin is also broken down in the liver to make choline.
Lecithin has been found to play an important role in cell signaling. Cells communicate by releasing chemicals that alter the membrane of another cell, and a domino effect occurs as a message is transferred. Low levels of lecithin in the body have been associated with disruptions to this communication process, and poor cell signaling can cause serious illness and disease, including cancer.
Improved Mental Health
Choline, a product produced by the breakdown of lecithin, is essential for brain health and function. Choline is used by the body to make acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter involved in memory processing, mood control, and muscle regulation. Memory tests and cognitive abilities have been shown to improve under high choline levels in the blood.
Lecithin also reduces fatty buildup in the brain, which can cause neurodegeneration and Alzheimer’s disease.
Gallstones are largely formed by the buildup of cholesterol in the gallbladder. Lecithin prevents the accumulation of cholesterol in the blood and body, which can prevent the formation of gallstones.
Choline is also known to provide symptom relief for individuals who have had gallbladder surgery or other gallbladder conditions.
The emulsifying properties play a role in a chain reaction that improves the mucus in your intestine. As a result, the digestive processes are easier, and there is more mucus to protect the lining of your digestive tract. This has been especially beneficial for individuals with inflammatory digestive conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
One of the most dangerous features of cancer is its ability to move through the body. Proteases are enzymes that have been identified as vital to tumor spreading, and sunflower lecithin contains a protease inhibitor. By blocking the activity of these enzymes, tumors are unable to spread.
There is currently no established safe and recommended dose for sunflower lecithin. The most common dosages used in studies to date range from 0.5 to 2 grams per day.
You can find sunflower lecithin in supplement form in most health food stores, and the compound is available as a powder, granules, soft gels, and liquid. Although natural, there are potential side effects, so it is important to speak with your doctor before starting any lecithin supplement.
♦ Allergies: Allergic reactions are more common when lecithin comes from soy as there are known allergies to soy products. With lecithin from sunflower, there is less risk of allergy, but because it contains immunoglobulin E-binding proteins, it can trigger an allergic response, causing inflammation and digestive discomfort.
♦ Blood clotting: Lecithin supplements have been found to increase blood clumping or platelet adhesions, which can increase the risk of heart disease. Individuals with blood clotting problems or heart conditions should avoid sunflower lecithin unless otherwise advised by their doctor. Lecithin can interfere with the effectiveness of blood thinners such as aspirin.
♦ Reduced sperm count: Studies have found that daily use of lecithin supplements over an extended period of time can result in a lower sperm count and hormone imbalances.
♦ Fat accumulation: Lecithin from any source is known to trigger fat storage and accumulation in both animal and human studies. When lecithin is introduced to liver cells, they begin to build up fat storage, which can increase your risk for fatty liver disease.
Lecithin is a beneficial compound found naturally in the body. When extracted from sunflowers, this compound can deliver several health benefits, with numerous studies confirming its legitimacy.
As a fat-based compound, care must be taken with supplementation so as not to encourage fat storage in cells. Lecithin is a helpful supplement for several systems in the body, but it is important to consult with your doctor before adding it to your regimen.