Lecithin is a naturally occurring substance in our liver and is needed for every cell in our body. We get lecithin from the food we eat or by taking a lecithin supplement. It is necessary for strengthening cellular structures in the body and intracellular messaging and contributes to the normal functioning of our brain, nerves, and other organs. It reduces cholesterol levels, supports brain health, and can prevent and resolve plugged ducts and mastitis, making it a valuable supplement for lactating mothers.
Lecithin was first discovered while studying the brain's chemistry in the late 1700s and early 1800s. A man by the name of Antoine-Francois Fourcroy concluded that the brain was made of proteins and fatty substances that were later realized to be phospholipids. (1) In 1946, T.N. Gobley discovered a phosphorus-containing substance in egg yolks, and the word Lecithin was born. It is from the Greek word “lekithos'' which means egg yolk. (3)
Lecithin in our body: (2)
The brain contains 4-6%
Our spinal cord contains 6-10%
Also found in our nerves, liver, and kidneys
Lecithin is found in sperm
Lecithin breaks down in the body into choline, which is necessary by the body to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a messenger for the autonomic nervous system. It communicates with the brain to contract smooth muscles, dilate blood vessels, increase bodily secretions, and slow heart rate.
Sunflower lecithin production and uses
Sunflower lecithin is made by dehydrating sunflowers and separating the gum, oil, and solids. The method used is cold pressing rather than chemicals often used in the process of soy lecithin production. This is one reason sunflower lecithin is a safer and healthier option than soy lecithin. Soybeans are a common GMO crop that can damage your gut health. Sunflower crops are not typically GMO. Soy is a top allergen and, therefore, must be avoided by many people.
Sunflower lecithin is widely used in cooking because it is an emulsifier. It is high in protein, and when added to a combination of fats and liquids, those molecules make it tough for the fat and liquid to separate. In the kitchen, we can use sunflower lecithin to keep the oil and vinegar parts of salad dressing from separating. It is added when making chocolate for that nice smooth and silky texture. In bread making, it makes the dough more elastic, so when your bread or pizza dough is cooked, it will have a nice chew and be lighter rather than dense.
Body care products use lecithin in products like eye creams, lipsticks, and moisturizers. It is recognized for its antioxidant properties and ability to emulsify other ingredients, creating a smooth product that feels good on your skin. It keeps skin soft by being able to retain moisture.
Sunflower lecithin contains: (4)
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-6 fatty acids
Can help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K when taken with food.
Sunflower lecithin health benefits:
1. Reduces cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that travels through the bloodstream. There is LDL and HDL cholesterol. Too much LDL cholesterol can clog blood vessels and lead to strokes or heart attacks. The HDL takes excess LDL and helps the body get rid of it. Lecithin can quickly lower LDL cholesterol levels by 42%. (5)
2. Prevent and resolve plugged ducts and mastitis
Fat molecules in breast milk clump together and sometimes make it harder for milk to flow through the ducts. These clogs create a backup further into the ductal system, which can cause more inflammation and pain in the breast tissue. Lecithin can decrease the viscosity of breastmilk, so the fatty molecules of the milk are not able to stick to the walls of milk ducts as easily. The strain L. fermentum found in Lact-Biotic has been found to help reduce breast pain, resolve plugged ducts, and reduce their occurrence. Sunflower Lecithin, as a lactation supplement, can be taken along with probiotics. Sunflower lecithin should be taken for a short period of time since it may have a pro-inflammatory effect. (10)
3. Brain health
Your brain is made up of 60% fat. (6) Sunflower lecithin contains fatty acids that are important for your brain to function well. The early years of life are when the brain is growing the most. Later in life, lecithin has been found to be helpful with patients who have Alzheimer's disease and may delay the onset of Dementia. (8) Choline in sunflower lecithin is linked to improved memory and cognitive function. (7)
4. Improve bone & joint health
Sunflower lecithin acts as a lubricant to keep joints moving smoothly. Choline in lecithin may help rebuild bone tissue.
5. And more….
The list of benefits is long. People have also reported improved quality of sleep, reduced stress, effective for improving eczema and acne, slowed aging, may help balance hormones, lower blood pressure, and boost the immune system.
Foods that contain lecithin:
Liver and other organ meats
Soybeans (choose non-gmo)
It is best to discuss any new supplements with your healthcare provider, who knows your complete health history. It is not recommended for people who are allergic to sunflowers. Some people do experience some side effects, including:
Redness or itching
*Lowering your dose may resolve stomach upset.
There is some evidence that long-term use of lecithin can be damaging to the gut. It may thin the mucous lining of the intestines, causing an inflammatory response and leaky gut. (9) For short-term use, lecithin has been shown to be well tolerated by most people and considered safe.
Incorporating lecithin into your diet or as a supplement while breastfeeding can provide numerous benefits for both you and your baby. Not only does lecithin contribute to the normal functioning of your brain, nerves, and organs, but it can also reduce cholesterol levels and prevent and resolve plugged ducts and mastitis, easing discomfort and supporting a healthy breastfeeding journey. Additionally, lecithin supports brain health and may improve bone and joint health, among other benefits. Remember to consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new supplement to decide if lecithin is the right choice for you and may positively impact your breastfeeding journey.