Lecithin describes a substance that’s naturally found in the tissues of your body. It’s made up of fatty acids, and it has a variety of commercial and medical uses.
Lecithin works as an emulsifier, meaning it suspends fats and oils and keeps them from mixing with other substances.
Lecithin supplements can be purchased to help treat high cholesterol, as a breastfeeding aid, and to treat ulcerative colitis, among other things.
Types of lecithin
Lecithin supplements are usually derived from sunflower seeds, eggs, or soybeans. Soy is by far the ingredient most commonly used to create lecithin supplements. Animal fats, fish, and corn are also sometimes used.
While soybean lecithin tends to come in granulated capsule form, you can buy sunflower lecithin in both powder and liquid form, too. Sunflower lecithin isn’t as common, but some people prefer it, especially if they’re trying to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in their food.
While soybeans are sometimes genetically modified in mass production, sunflower seeds aren’t. The process of extraction is also gentler for sunflower lecithin. Extracting lecithin from the sunflower seeds doesn’t require harsh chemicals.
The most well-known benefit of lecithin is its ability to lower cholesterol. Researchers have discovered that soybean lecithin can contribute to raising HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering LDL (bad) cholesterol in blood profiles.
Soy protein provides an extra boost for people using it to treat cholesterol because of other components that soy offers.
Improves heart health
Lecithin that comes from soy can improve cardiovascular health, especially if you’re already at risk of developing high blood pressure or heart disease. This is according to a small study in which participants were given soy products including lecithin additives.
Since soy is complicated to digest, it takes your body longer to break soy products down. For some people, this works to make them feel more full after consuming it.
Aids breastfeeding mothers
Some breastfeeding experts recommend lecithin as a solution for preventing recurrent plugged ducts. The Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation recommends a dose of 1,200 milligrams, four times per day, to experience this benefit.
They speculate that lecithin may decrease the viscosity of your breast milk, making it less likely to clog milk ducts in your breast.
This isn’t meant to be a treatment for plugged ducts, however. Treat ducts with:
- application of warm compresses
- extra pumping, if needed
- draining the breast well
- asking a lactation consultant for more suggestions
Report any fever or flu-like feelings to your doctor.
Helps improve digestion
Lecithin has been tested in people with ulcerative colitis to improve their digestion. Lecithin’s emulsifying qualities contribute to a chain reaction that improves the mucus in your intestine, making the digestive process easier and protecting the delicate lining of your digestive system.
May fight dementia symptoms
Lipid substances that contain choline, like lecithin, may improve the brain’s functional pathways. There’s some conflicting evidence on if lecithin can be used to treat people that have neurological and nervous system conditions, but research into this benefit of lecithin is promising and moving forward.
Soothes and moisturizes skin
Lecithin is in the ingredients of some skin care products. It’s used as an emollient, making skin feel smooth by restoring hydration. In most of these products, the kind of lecithin used is called hydrogenated lecithin.
There’s not a lot of evidence that lecithin, when used alone, can cure acne and eczema — although some people use it for that. Taking lecithin capsules could theoretically improve your skin, since it tones and stimulates other parts of your body, but we don’t know for sure.
Risks and complications
People with egg and soy allergies need to be especially careful to find out where the lecithin in their supplements comes from, to avoid allergic reactions.
Lecithin can be found in a lot of the products that you may already eat, like eggs and animal products. There’s no risk from the lecithin that occurs naturally in your food.
Supplements, however, are not monitored for quality by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. There may be effects that aren’t yet understood. People taking lecithin need to be aware of dosing recommendations, and shouldn’t exceed more than 5,000 milligrams per day.
Lecithin is considered a low-risk addition to the supplements you may already use to maintain your health. But all nutrients are best taken in their whole form in food.
With some benefits and very few risks, lecithin may be an option for people who are looking to improve their cholesterol and organ functions. Be sure to discuss the use of any new supplements with your doctor before beginning treatment.