Health Benefits of Lecithin

Lecithin is a type of fat found naturally in many foods that's essential to human health. Some manufacturers add it to food products to improve taste or texture. You can also take it as a supplement or use it to moisturize your skin. Lecithin is also known as soy lecithin, egg lecithin, and sunflower lecithin, among others

Lecithin is also used to treat memory disorders and gallbladder disease, though its effects on these problems aren't fully substantiated.

Lecithin is primarily found in soybeans and eggs. It is also present in wheat germ, peanuts, and liver. 

The food additive lecithin is made in an industrial process. For example, soy lecithin is created from the combination of soybean oil and hot water. Spinning the mixture rapidly then separates the lecithin.

Health Benefits

Lower Cholesterol and Reduced Risk of Heart Disease

Lecithin made from soy reduces "bad" LDL cholesterol and may also raise "good" HDL cholesterol. Less LDL cholesterol can mean less fatty plaque buildup in your arteries and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, while HDL cholesterol helps to carry away LDL cholesterol and plaque to the liver for processing, reducing the risk of blockages.

Clear Ducts for Breastfeeding

Lecithin may help breastfeeding mothers avoid clogged ducts. This condition can be painful and uncomfortable, and it can cause swelling or redness in the area of the blockage. A blocked breast duct can lead to an infection or mastitis, a condition caused by a backup of milk that makes breastfeeding mothers feel achy and feverish.

Taking 1 tablespoon, or about 1,200 milligrams, of lecithin per day can help reduce the thickness of the breast milk, making a clog less likely. 

Healthy Brain Function

Researchers have been studying whether lecithin — which contains choline, an important nutrient for brain function — can help symptoms of dementia and other memory problems. One study did show significant results. However, the results of other studies and research are inconclusive and show that there is not any benefit to taking lecithin for dementia. Experts have not ruled it out, but more research is needed to determine whether lecithin can help with memory problems. 

Healthy Skin

Many skin care and cosmetic products contain lecithin. It works well as a moisturizer, reducing flakiness when applied. Studies show that it is safe to use on the skin in concentrations of up to 15%.

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Health Risks

Allergic Reactions

Most people with a soy allergy are allergic to soy proteins. Experts say there are no soy proteins in soy lecithin, but those with an allergy to soy may still want to avoid it. If the source of lecithin is not labeled on a food product, you may need to contact the manufacturer or avoid the product altogether to avoid an allergic reaction. 

Digestive Problems

Lecithin may cause some minor digestive side effects, including stomach aches and diarrhea. Additionally, as with any supplement, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should contact a medical professional before taking any supplements that contain lecithin.

Amounts and Dosage

There is no officially recommended dosage for lecithin. Some sources say to take 1,200 milligrams or 1 tablespoon per day for a clogged milk duct. Others say to take 300 milligrams two or three times a day for general health benefits. Each lecithin supplement — whether it's in the form of a capsule, powder, or liquid — should have instructions for dosage, so you should follow the manufacturer's directions found on the packaging.

Make sure to talk to your doctor before adding lecithin to your diet. Agree upon a daily dosage that is right for you and your unique needs.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 17, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

Canadian Breastfeeding Foundation: "Treatments for Problems."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "LDL and HDL Cholesterol: "Bad" and "Good" Cholesterol."

Cochrane: "Doubtful effect of lecithin as a treatment for dementia."

Cosmetics Info: "Lecithin."

European Lecithin Manufacturers Association: "What is Lecithin."

International Food Additives Council: "Sources of Food Ingredients: Soy lecithin."

International Journal of Toxicology: "Final report on the safety assessment of Lecithin and Hydrogenated Lecithin."

La Leche League International: "Mastitis."

National Council for Biotechnology Information: "Beyond the Cholesterol-Lowering Effect of Soy Protein: A Review of the Effects of Dietary Soy and Its Constituents on Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease."

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Allergy Research and Resource Program: "Soybeans and Soy Lecithin"

University of Rochester Medical Center: "Lecithin."

Winchester Hospital: "Lecithin."

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