What Is Lecithin?

Nutritional Supplement May Lower Cholesterol & Improve Colitis

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

Verywell / Anastasia Tretiak

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Lecithin is also known as alpha-phosphatidylcholine. It is a nutrient that naturally occurs in food. It is also sold as a dietary supplement.

Lecithin is not a single substance. It is a group of chemicals that belongs to compounds called phospholipids. These are a kind of fat that helps maintain the integrity of cells. They are vital to the normal functioning of the brain, nerves, liver, and other organs.

Lecithin can be found in green vegetables, red meat, and eggs. Supplements are most often made from soybeans, egg yolks, or animal products. 

Lecithin is also used in eye drops, skin moisturizers, and food emulsifiers. These are agents that keep ingredients from separating.

As a supplement, lecithin is thought to lower cholesterol. It is also used to treat certain neurological and inflammatory conditions. It is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any of these purposes.

This article looks at the uses of lecithin and the evidence for its effectiveness. It also discusses possible side effects, dosage, and what to look for when buying this supplement.

Also Known As

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

What Is Lecithin Used For?

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:

  • Improve sleep patterns
  • 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.

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, or hardening of the arteries. Some studies suggest that too much lecithin may increase the risk of heart disease. More research is needed.

Recap

Some studies have found that lecithin may help reduce cholesterol. More research is needed to confirm this.

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.

Recap

Lecithin may be helpful for treating mastitis in people who are breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor before using this remedy.

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:

  • Increased salivation
  • 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.

Recap

Lecithin may cause side effects, including diarrhea and abdominal pain. Talk to your doctor before taking this or any other supplement.

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.

Recap

There are no dosage guidelines for lecithin. Don't take more than the label recommends.

What to Look For

The FDA does not regulate supplements in the United States. This means their purity and safety isn't guaranteed.

Look for supplements that have been ind 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. It also tests the ingredients for purity.

There are also food sources of lecithin.

Food Sources of Lecithin

  • 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

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.

Was this page helpful?
10 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.
  1. 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

  2. Lecithin. In: Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine; 2021. 

  3. Wang Z, Klipfell E, Bennett BJ, et al. Gut flora metabolism of phosphatidylcholine promotes cardiovascular diseaseNature. 2011;472(7341):57. doi:10.1038/nature09922

  4. Stremmel W, Hanemann A, Ehehalt R, Karner M, Braun A. Phosphatidylcholine (lecithin) and the mucus layer: evidence of therapeutic efficacy in ulcerative colitis? Dig Dis. 2010;28(3):490-6. doi:10.1159/000320407

  5. Velazquez R, Ferreira E, Knowles S, et al. Lifelong choline supplementation ameliorates Alzheimer's disease pathology and associated cognitive deficits by attenuating microglia activation. Aging Cell. 2019;18(6):e13037. doi:10.1111/acel.13037

  6. Blusztajn JK, Slack BE, Mellott TJ. Neuroprotective actions of dietary choline. Nutrients. 2017;9(8):815. doi:10.3390/nu9080815

  7. University of Nebraska Food Allergy Research and Resource Program. Soybeans and soy lecithin.

  8. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Hexane.

  9. University of Rochester Medical Center. Lecithin.

  10. Ramdath DD, Padhi EMT, Sarfaraz S, Renwick S, Duncan AM. Beyond the cholesterol-lowering effect of soy protein: a review of the effects of dietary soy and its constituents on risk factors for cardiovascular diseaseNutrients. 2017; 9(4):324. doi:10.3390/nu9040324