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, intracellular messenging and contributes to normal functioning of our brain, nerves and other organs.
Lecithin was first discovered while studying the chemistry of the brain in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. 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 contain 4-6%
- Our spinal cord contains 6-10%
- Also found in our nerves, liver and kidneys
- Lecithin is found in sperm
Sunflower lecithin is made by first dehydrating sunflowers and separating the gum, oil and solids out. The method used is by 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 which can be damaging to your gut health. Sunflower crops are not typically GMO. Soy is a top allergen and therefore must be avoided by a lot of people.
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 down the heart rate.
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 done being cooked, it will have a nice chew to it as well as be more light rather than dense.
Body care products use lecithin in products like eye creams, lipsticks and moisturizers. It is recognized for its antioxidant properties and its ability to emulsify the other ingredients creating a product that is smooth and 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:
- 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 attack. The HDL takes excess LDL and helps the body get rid of it. Lecithin can quickly lower LDL cholesterol levels by 42%.(5)
- Prevent and resolve plugged ducts and mastitis
Sometimes the fat molecules in breast milk clump together and make it harder for milk to flow. These clogs create a backup further into the ductal system which can cause 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.
- 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. In the early years of life is when the brain is growing the most. Later in life, lecithin has been found to be helpful with patients who have Alzheimer disease and may delay the onset of Dementia.(8) Choline in sunflower lecithin is linked to improved memory and cognitive function.(7)
- Improve bone & joint health
Sunflower lecithin acts as a lubricant to keep joints moving smoothly. Choline in lecithin may help rebuild bone tissue.
- And more….
The list of benefits is long. People have also reported improved quality of sleep, reduced stress, effective for improving eczema and acne, slows aging, may help balance hormones, can lower blood pressure and boosts the immune system.
Foods that contain lecithin:
- Egg yolks
- Brussel sprouts
- Kidney beans
- Liver and other organ meats
- Soy beans (choose non-gmo)
- Wheat germ
It is best to discuss any supplement 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.