It’s not uncommon to see lecithin listed on an ingredient list for everything from food to cosmetics. Lecithin belongs to a group of compounds called phospholipids, a type of fat. Phospholipids help maintain the integrity of cell walls and are important to the healthy functioning of the brain, nervous system, liver, and other vital organs.
Green vegetables, red meat and eggs are the primary sources of lecithin. In commercial use, lecithin is derived from soybeans, sunflower, egg yolk, or animal by-products. These forms of lecithin are typically used in the production of eye drops, skin creams, and emulsifiers used in food to “hold” ingredients together (mayonnaise, ice cream, sauces, dressings).
Although more clinical research is needed, as a nutritional supplement, lecithin has been used to:
- Improve sleep
- Alleviate stress
- Reduce inflammation
- Lower cholesterol
- Support liver function
- Prevent cognitive decline
Lecithin supplements are safe for most people, but may cause changes in digestion and gastrointestinal activity such as abdominal pain, bloating, nausea, or diarrhea. Supplements are available in tablet, capsule, and softgel form as well as granules, powder, liquid, and paste. Most lecithin that is widely available is derived from soy, which is common to be sensitive to. You can also get soy from sunflowers however, so if you think you might have a soy sensitivity, look for sunflower derived lecithin. To determine the best form and dosage of lecithin for your health needs, consult with a holistic physician.
Küllenberg D, Taylor LA, Schneider M, Massing U. Health effects of dietary phospholipids. Lipids Health Dis. 2012;11:3. doi:10.1186/1476-511X-11-3
Blusztajn JK, Slack BE, Mellott TJ. Neuroprotective actions of dietary choline. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):815. doi:10.3390/nu9080815 National Library of Medicine. Lecithin. In: Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Update October 23, 2019.
University of Rochester Medical Center Health Encyclopedia online: “Lecithin.”