Lecithin: Uses, Benefits, and More

Nutritional supplement may lower cholesterol & improve colitis

Lecithin capsules, softgel, granules, liquid, peanuts, brussel sprouts, eggs, and kidney beans

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Lecithin is a nutrient that occurs naturally in food and is also sold as a dietary supplement. Lecithin can be found in green vegetables, red meat, and eggs. Supplements are often made from soybeans, egg yolks, or animal products.

Lecithin supplements are used to lower cholesterol. Lecithin may also benefit some neurological and inflammatory conditions. However, lecithin supplements are not approved to prevent or treat any condition.

This article looks at lecithin uses, food sources, and evidence for lecithin's effectiveness. It also discusses possible side effects, dosage, and what to look for when buying lecithin supplements.

What Is Lecithin?

Lecithin is not a single substance. It is a group of chemicals that belongs to compounds called phospholipids.

Phospholipids are a type of fat that helps maintain the integrity of cells. They are vital to the normal functioning of the brain, nerves, liver, and other organs.

Also Known As

  • Alpha-phosphatidylcholine
  • Egg lecithin
  • Lecithinum ex soya
  • Ovolecithin
  • Sojalecithin
  • Soya lecithin
  • Soy lecithin
  • Soy phospholipid
  • Soybean lecithin
  • Vegilecithin
  • Vitellin
  • Vitelline

Lecithin is used in cooking is as an emulsifier. It helps to stabilize ingredients that do not easily mix, such as oil and water. 

In baking, lecithin is used as a dough condition to create a softer, more refined end product. Lecithin can also be used as an egg replacement. Lecithin is also used in cosmetics, eye drops, and skin moisturizers.

Food Sources of Lecithin

Foods that are good sources of lecithin include:

  • Organ meats like liver
  • Red meat
  • Seafood
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Wheat germ
  • Canola oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Green vegetables like broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
  • Legumes like black beans, kidney beans, and soybeans


Health Benefits of Lecithin

In your body, lecithin is broken down into a substance called choline. The body uses choline to:

  • Transport fat
  • Regulate metabolism
  • Maintain cells
  • Help nerves transmit information

Choline is not readily produced by the body. Most of it comes from the foods we eat.

Lecithin is used to treat many health conditions. It is said to:

  • Enhance athletic performance
  • Alleviate stress and anxiety
  • Lower cholesterol
  • Reduce inflammation
  • Improve liver function
  • Prevent the onset of dementia

Lecithin is used to treat a number of health conditions. To date, there is little evidence that it is effective. It is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to prevent or treat any conditions.

High Cholesterol

A 2010 study found that soy lecithin reduced cholesterol. The study found that 500 milligrams of lecithin taken daily for two months reduced total cholesterol levels by 42% and "bad" LDL cholesterol levels by 56.15%.

This suggests lecithin may work as a supplemental treatment for high cholesterol.

Other studies have been less promising. Lecithin also plays a role in atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Some studies suggest that too much lecithin may increase the risk of heart disease. More research is needed.

Ulcerative Colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Ulcerative colitis has been linked to low levels of phosphatidylcholine, a chemical found in lecithin. This chemical is a component of mucus in the digestive tract. It helps protect the colon from inflammation and bacteria.

A 2010 study found that lecithin supplements reduced bowel inflammation in people with ulcerative colitis. Participants who took lecithin had a 50% reduction in inflammation compared to those who took a placebo.

Unfortunately, the study included only 18 adults. Other studies have not found similar benefits.

Recap

A small study found that lecithin may be helpful for people with ulcerative colitis. Unfortunately, other studies haven't been able to confirm these results.

Mastitis

Mastitis is an inflammation of breast tissues. It is common in breastfeeding mothers. 

Clogged milk ducts can lead to mastitis. Some studies have found that lecithin can help prevent clogged milk ducts.

Lecithin appears to make breastmilk less thick. That said, lecithin is still not well studied in people with mastitis. It should not be used without first asking an obstetrician or other health professional.

Alzheimer's Disease

Choline derived from lecithin is thought to improve symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. It may also help people with other types of dementia, including Parkinson's dementia

Lecithin is thought to help increase nerve transmissions in the brain. This may ease the symptoms of progressive neurologic disorders, diseases that cause damage to the brain and nerves over time. To date, though, there isn't any evidence to support this.

There is currently no strong evidence that lecithin can treat Alzheimer's or any other neurologic disorder.

Some animal studies do suggest that lecithin may help protect nerve cells. It may reduce the risk of dementia by slowing the degeneration of glial cells. These are cells that protect and stabilize brain tissues. More research is needed.

Possible Side Effects

Lecithin supplements are generally thought to be safe. Like other supplements, though, they are not regulated in the same way as prescription drugs.

Ask a doctor before taking lecithin or any other supplement. This is especially important if you are taking medications of any kind or you have a health condition or allergies.

Common side effects of lecithin may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal bloating

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to lecithin. This is uncommon, though, even in people with soy allergies.

Experts from The University of Nebraska’s Food Allergy Research and Resource Program (FARRP) say lecithin made from soybeans does not contain enough soy protein to cause an allergy.

As a precaution, lecithin should only be used under the direction of an obstetrician-gynecologist in people who are:

  • Pregnant
  • Trying to become pregnant
  • Breastfeeding

There is limited research on the safety of lecithin. Because of this, children should not take it.

Lecithin granules
Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Dosage and Preparation

Lecithin is available in many forms, including:

  • Pills
  • Tablets
  • Capsules
  • Softgels
  • Granules
  • Powder
  • Liquid
  • Paste

There are no guidelines for the use of lecithin. Labels often suggest a daily dose of 2,400 mg for adults. As a general rule, never take more than the recommended dose.

What to Look For

The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements in the United State. This means their purity and safety aren't guaranteed.

Look for supplements that have been independently tested by a third party, like:

  • U.S. Pharmacopeia (USP)
  • NSF International
  • ConsumerLab

These organizations certify that the supplement actually contains the ingredients on the label and test supplements for purity.

Summary

Lecithin is a nutrient. It is found in food and can also be taken as a supplement. It is said to aid in the function of the brain, nerves, and other organs.

Lecithin is used to treat various health conditions. This includes high cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, mastitis, and Alzheimer's disease. Unfortunately, there isn't much evidence to support its use.

Lecithin is thought to be safe. Still, you should always ask a doctor before taking any kind of supplement. Never take more than the label suggests. Look for products that have been tested for purity by a third party.

A Word From Verywell

There isn't much research on the safety and effectiveness of supplements like lecithin. This doesn't necessarily mean these supplements don't work or are not safe. It just means consumers need to be careful. Ideally, you should ask a doctor before you take any supplement.

Remember there is no recommended daily intake of lecithin. A balanced diet high in green vegetables, legumes, and healthy fats can probably give you what you need.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is soy lecithin derived from genetically modified (GM) sources?

    In the United States, many large-scale commercial crops are derived from GM sources. This includes soybean plants. To avoid soy lecithin made from GM soybeans, choose products labeled "organic." 

  • How is soy lecithin made?

    Soy lecithin is often made with chemicals like hexane or acetone. These chemicals extract lecithin from the soybean. Hexane is a harsh compound used to make varnish and glue.

    To avoid hexane or acetate, look for lecithin that is steam-processed. This is usually advertised on the product label.

  • Are there alternatives to soy lecithin?

    Yes. Sunflower lecithin is made from the gum of dehydrated sunflower oil. Because sunflower oil is derived from cold-pressed or hot-pressed seeds, sunflower lecithin is less likely to be made with hexane or acetate.

  • What are the side effects of soy lecithin?

    Side effects of soy lecithin can include stomach ache, diarrhea, and loose stool. Currently, the risks of taking too much aren't known. If you decide to try soy lecithin, be sure to follow the instructions on the label.

  • Can soy lecithin be used to lower cholesterol?

    Soy lecithin is sometimes taken to lower cholesterol. On its own, it hasn't yet been proven effective. One study suggested that non-protein soy products might improve cardiovascular health. More research is needed to confirm this.

  • Does lecithin help lose weight?

    Despite marketing promoting lecithin supplements for weight loss, there is no research to support these claims.

  • What is the best form of lecithin to take?

    Sunflower lecithin is often recommended for use in cooking because it has a low risk of food allergies. Other sources of lecithin—soy and eggs—are common food allergies.

    As a supplement, lecithin can be taken as capsules or pellets that can be mixed into smoothies and other recipes.

  • Is lecithin good for hair growth?

    Lecithin is often included in shampoos and conditioners as an emulsifier. Despite marketing claims, there is no evidence to support the use of lecithin to improve hair health.

18 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Sherry Christiansen
Sherry Christiansen is a medical writer with a healthcare background. She has worked in the hospital setting and collaborated on Alzheimer's research.