The term “phosphatidylcholine” is often used synonymously with “lecithin”, although the two are not exactly the same.
Lecithin is actually a more generic term for a combination of phospholipids, the primary one being phosphatidylcholine. Foods such as egg yolks, soybeans, beef, liver, fish, pork, sunflower, and canola, are rich in lecithin and represent some of the natural dietary sources of phosphatidylcholine. Lecithin is also produced commercially and is commonly added to foods as an emulsifier or sold as a supplement.
Phosphatidylcholine may comprise anywhere from 20% to 90% of commercially prepared lecithins.
Structurally speaking, phosphatidylcholine is in a class of chemical compounds known as phospholipids, composed of a choline head group, glycerophosphoric acid, and two fatty acids. Phosphatidylcholine is one of the most important, and the most abundant phospholipids present in the human body. It has both hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties, making it well-suited for its role as a structural component of cellular membranes, and allowing it to play critical roles in cell membrane interactions such as messaging and transport of substances across the cell wall.
Phosphatidylcholine has a particularly prominent presence in the extensive cell membrane surfaces of the liver, where it has been shown to aid in repairing damage from toxins, metals, pharmaceuticals, alcohol, and viruses. It is also involved in hepatic export of very low-density lipoproteins, which are important in preventing fatty liver disease, and in supporting healthy cholesterol metabolism. The liver is intricately involved in phosphatidylcholine homeostasis, serving to receive, recycle, and remanufacture phosphatidylcholine and other needed lipoproteins.
Phosphatidylcholine breakdown supports the body’s supply of choline, and vice versa. Choline is an essential nutrient involved in most of the same functions as phosphatidylcholine. Choline is critical to normal fetal development and healthy metabolism in adults. It was once believed that the human body was able to manufacture enough choline on its own, but research has shown that supplementation, in the form of phosphatidylcholine, is beneficial and may even enhance performance in sports*. Choline is a precursor molecule to the important neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, essential to proper nervous system functioning throughout the body, including muscle control, brain activity, and memory. Folate and methionine are also critical to cognitive health. Choline, folate, and methionine have all been identified as essential dietary substances. Phosphatidylcholine is closely involved in maintaining equilibrium and an adequate supply of each of these important substances in the human body. If the metabolism of one is disturbed, it directly affects the metabolism of the others. In this way, phosphatidylcholine plays an integral role in supporting the body’s resistance to cognitive decline*. Phosphatidylcholine is also important during pregnancy for supporting proper development of the fetal immune system. Phosphatidylcholine is also present throughout organelles within the cell and plays roles in beneficial types of apoptosis.
The phosphatidylcholine in LipoSorb® is arranged in micelles. These are a type of nanosized, single-layered vesicular structures in which the hydrophilic heads of the phosphatidylcholine molecules congregate on the outer surface and the hydrophobic tails all face toward the center of the vesicle. Arrangement in micelles allows the oil-soluble phospholipid to become easily absorbed in the watery environment of the small intestine, increasing bioavailability and efficacy*.
D-α-tocopheryl polyethylene glycol succinate, or vitamin E TPGS is a water-soluble form of vitamin E. The presence of TPGS in these formulations provides many benefits, including enhancing the cellular uptake of the phosphatidylcholine, stabilizing the micelles, sustaining the release time and providing a small source of the antioxidant vitamin E.
Blusztajn JK, Liscovitch M, Mauron C, Richardson UI, Wurtman RJ. Phosphatidylcholine as a precursor of choline for acetylcholine synthesis. J Neural Transm Suppl. 1987:24:247-59.
Dietary Reference Intakes: The Essential Guide to Nutrient Requirements (2006) http://www.nap.edu/catalog/11537.html
EFSA Journal (2007) 490, 1-20. Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Food Additives, Flavourings, Processing Aids and Materials in Contact with Food on a request from the Commission related to D-alpha-tocopheryl polyethylene glycol 1000 succinate (TPGS) in use for food for particular nutritional purposes.
Jacob RA, Jenden DJ, Allman-Farinelli MA, Swendseid ME. Folate nutriture alters choline status of women and men fed low choline diets. J Nutr. 1999 Mar;129(3):712-7.
Jäger R, Purpura M, and Kingsley M. Phospholipids and sports performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007; 4: 5.
Lewis ED, Goruk S, Curtis JM, Jacobs RL, and Field CJ. Supplementation with phosphatidylcholine during suckling improves the immune response of the offspring. The FASEB Journal. April 2013. 27:Meeting Abstract Supplement 123.8.
Maher J. Liposomes and Micelles. Mother Nature’s Natural Nanotechnology. Dynamic Chiropractic. June 17, 2008, Vol. 26, Issue 13.
Olthof MR, Brink EJ, Katan MB, and Verhoef P. Choline supplemented as phosphatidylcholine decreases fasting and postmethionine-loading plasma homocysteine concentrations in healthy men. Am J Clin Nutr. July 2005, vol. 82 no. 1:111-117.
Taylor P and Brown JH. Synthesis, Storage and Release of Acetylcholine. In: Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition. Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, et al., editors. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven; 1999.
Troen AM, Chao WH, Crivello NA, D’Anci KE, Shukitt-Hale B, Smith DE, Selhub J, Rosenberg IH. Cognitive impairment in folate-deficient rats corresponds to depleted brain phosphatidylcholine and is prevented by dietary methionine without lowering plasma homocysteine. J Nutr. 2008 Dec;138(12):2502-9.
Vance DE. Role of phosphatidylcholine biosynthesis in the regulation of lipoprotein homeostasis. Curr Opin Lipidol. 2008 Jun;19(3):229-34.
Wright MM, Howe AG, Zaremberg V. Cell membranes and apoptosis: role of cardiolipin, phosphatidylcholine, and anticancer lipid analogues. Biochem Cell Biol. 2004 Feb;82(1):18-26.
Yan A, Von Dem Bussche A, Kane AB, Hurt RH. Tocopheryl Polyethylene Glycol Succinate as a Safe, Antioxidant Surfactant for Processing Carbon Nanotubes and Fullerenes. Carbon N Y. 2007 Nov;45(13):2463-2470.
Zeisel SH and da Costa KA. Choline: An Essential Nutrient for Public Health. Nutr Rev. 2009 Nov; 67(11): 615–623.
Zeisel SH. Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:229-50.
Zeisel SH. Choline: Human Requirements and Effects on Human Performance. In: Food Components to Enhance Performance: An Evaluation of Potential Performance-Enhancing Food Components for Operational Rations. Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Military Nutrition Research; Marriott BM, editor. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 1994.