Lecithin, found in sunflower seeds and other healthy food sources, provides the brain and brain chemistry, protection and support; a ‘must have’ mental health support.
Lecithin is a phospholipid, a compound made of fats and water-soluble chemicals, produced in the human liver and are significant constituents of the central nervous system (CNS), and brain. “The phospholipids, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are the most abundant1. DHA and omega-3 are necessary for normal brain development and cognitive function2,3,4,5. A strong link exists between an adequate supply of dietary PUFAs and the sustenance of cognitive health, learning, neural plasticity, synaptogenesis and synaptic transmission” 8,9,10,11
Lecithin is source of choline, an essential nutrient the body needs to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical messenger that communicate between the neurons (nerve cells) throughout your body.
Lecithin helps break down cholesterol in the blood. In a research study, Influence of Soy Lecithin Administration on Hypercholesterolemia; “The results showed significant reduction in the concentration of total cholesterol and LDL-cholesterol during the first month, suggesting that the daily administration of lecithin capsules could be used as an adjuvant treatment in hypercholesterolemia, possibly by reducing the intestinal absorption or by the increased secretion of bile acids with high levels of cholesterol and phospholipids.” 13
A healthy, properly functioning liver is a prerequisite to healthy lecithin production and brain function. There are many factors that can interfere with the natural production and utilization of lecithin in the body and brain. It is the liver’s job to make toxic substances in the body harmless. These toxic and excess substances may be breakdown products made by the body (ammonia), hormones (including cortisol) or substances that you take in through diet, medications, air pollution, alcohol and personal care products (cosmetics). Toxins can harm any part of the body or brain including the blood brain barrier, your brain’s protection. Loss of or compromised brain function can occur when the liver is unable to remove toxins from the blood. This is called hepatic encephalopathy (HE). This problem may occur suddenly or it may develop slowly over time. 15
In a holistic approach to improving mental health, the liver and detoxification pathways are a necessary starting point for review. Ongoing detoxification through healthy lifestyle and detoxification supports can improve overall liver and detoxification function, which in turn can improve the body’s natural lecithin production, distribution and usage. Anything that challenges the liver and detoxification pathways can compromise the body’s lecithin availability, brain function and mental health. Holistic detoxification requires a two step process; stop adding to your body pollution of potential liver challengers, and detoxify the existing body pollution of toxins. Learn more about body pollution and whole body detoxification methods in my blog posts Body Pollution: Who is Responsible? and MAINTAINING HEALTHY LONGEVITY: Keep Your Liver Happy in the Midst of Toxins, Distress and Happy Hour.
Lecithin occurs naturally in many foods,
- whole grains
- wheat germ
- sunflower seeds
- cooked green vegetables, such as Brussel sprouts and broccoli
- legumes, such as soybeans, kidney beans and black beans
- organ meats
- red meat
Lecithin supplements are derived from eggs, soy, sunflower seeds, canola, cottonseed, or animal fats. For improved health, efforts should be made to avoid genetically modified foods and supplements. Soy crops in the US are reported to be 94% genetically modified. Buy organic, Non GMO lecithin supplements when possible, to avoid adding unwanted toxins like pesticides to your body and brain.
Lecithin: Impact on the brain
The research studies to date (some listed below and in the sources section), indicate a positive mental health benefit from ensuring an adequate supply and distribution of lecithin to the brain.
“A positive influence of phosphatidylserine (PS) and phosphatidic acid (PA) supplementation, phospholipids found in soy and sunflower seed lecithin, on memory, mood, and cognition was demonstrated among elderly test subjects.” 14
Research studies show that salmon-derived lecithins, a good source of choline, facilitated the formation and enhanced the complexity of neuronal networks. 12
Omega-3 fatty acids: one 4-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled study (Bipolar) found marked therapeutic efficacy and no side effects. Dose: 9.6 g of omega-3 fatty acids per day. Benefits: longer period of remission and may inhibit neuronal signal transduction pathways in a manner similar to that of lithium carbonate and valproate. 17
Phosphatidylcholine (PC): large amounts of PC (15 to 30 g q.d. in both pure form and lecithin)—better results for mania than monoamine precursors. 16
Consult with your regular healthcare provider before adding lecithin supplementation. Do not stop taking your prescribed medication.
Elisabeth Hines, C.B.P., C.N.C., Holistic Wellness Practitioner, Health by Design, http://www.mybodycanhealitself.ca/
- Wurtman R. J. Synapse formation and cognitive brain development: effect of docosahexaenoic acid and other dietary constituents. Metabolis 57 Suppl 2, S6–10, doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2008.07.007 (2008). – DOI – PMC – PubMed
- Eilander A., Hundscheid D. C., Osendarp S. J., Transler C. & Zock P. L. Effects of n-3 long chain polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on visual and cognitive development throughout childhood: a review of human studies. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 76, 189–203, doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2007.01.003 (2007). – DOI – PubMed
- Fotuhi M., Mohassel P. & Yaffe K. Fish consumption, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and risk of cognitive decline or Alzheimer disease: a complex association. Nat Clin Pract Neuro 5, 140–152, doi: 10.1038/ncpneuro1044 (2009). – DOI – PubMed
- Darios F. & Davletov B. Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids stimulate cell membrane expansion by acting on syntaxin 3. Nature 440, 813–817, doi: 10.1038/nature04598 (2006). – DOI – PubMed
- Salem N. Jr, Litman B., Kim H. Y. & Gawrisch K. Mechanisms of action of docosahexaenoic acid in the nervous system. Lipids 36, 945–959, doi: 10.1007/s11745-001-0805-6 (2001). – DOI – PubMed
8. Guesnet P. & Alessandri J.-M. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and the developing central nervous system (CNS) – Implications for dietary recommendations. Biochimie 93, 7–12, doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2010.05.005 (2011). – DOI – PubMed
9. Mayes C. et al.. Variation in [U-13C] α Linolenic Acid Absorption, β-oxidation and Conversion to Docosahexaenoic Acid in the Pre-Term Infant Fed a DHA-Enriched Formula. Pediatr Res 59, 271–275, doi: 10.1203/01.pdr.0000196372.29648.7a (2006). – DOI – PubMed
10. He C., Qu X., Cui L., Wang J. & Kang J. X. Improved spatial learning performance of fat-1 mice is associated with enhanced neurogenesis and neuritogenesis by docosahexaenoic acid. PNAS 106, 11370–11375, doi: 10.1073/pnas.0904835106 (2009). – DOI – PMC – PubMed
11. Lafourcade M. Nutritional omega-3 deficiency abolishes endocannabinoid-mediated neuronal functions. Nat Neurosci. 14, 345–350 (2011). – PubMed
12 Natural lecithin promotes neural network complexity and activity, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4882550/
13 Influence of Soy Lecithin Administration on Hypercholesterolemia, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3065734/
14 Positive Effects of Soy Lecithin-Derived Phosphatidylserine plus Phosphatidic Acid on Memory, Cognition, Daily Functioning, and Mood in Elderly Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4271139/
15 Loss of brain function – liver disease, Medline Plus, US National Library of Medicine, https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000302.htm
16. Affective disorders: Bipolar (manic) depression and hypomania, Bipolar Depression, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/bipolar-depression
17. Affective disorders: Bipolar (manic) depression and hypomania, Bipolar Depression, https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/nursing-and-health-professions/bipolar-depression
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