High HomocysteineCholine has been shown to lower homocysteine levels.
Betaine (trimethylglycine) (6 grams per day) and choline (2 grams per day) have each been shown to lower homocysteine levels.1,2 Choline in the amount of 2.6 grams per day (provided as 34 grams per day of soy lecithin) has also been shown to lower homocysteine levels in a double-blind trial.3 More recently, 1.5 grams of betaine per day, an amount similar to that in a typical diet, also has been found to lower homocysteine levels.4 Doctors usually consider supplementation with these nutrients only when supplementation with folic acid, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12 do not reduce homocysteine levels sufficiently. The results of this study, however, point to the potential benefit of increasing one’s intake of foods rich in betaine (such as whole wheat, spinach, beets, and other plant foods).
High CholesterolTaking lecithin supplements may be a useful way to lower cholesterol.Although lecithin has been reported to increase HDL cholesterol and lower LDL cholesterol,5 a review of the research found that the positive effect of lecithin was likely due to the polyunsaturated fat content of the lecithin.6 If this is so, it would make more sense to use inexpensive vegetable oil, rather than take lecithin supplements. However, an animal study found a cholesterol-lowering effect of lecithin independent of its polyunsaturate content.7 A double-blind trial found that 20 grams of soy lecithin per day for four weeks had no significant effect on total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, or triglycerides.8 Whether taking lecithin supplements is a useful way to lower cholesterol in people with elevated cholesterol levels remains unclear.
Birth DefectsCholine appears to protect against neural tube defects when taken prior to and early in pregnancy, as it has similar biochemical effects as folic acid.In a preliminary study of California mothers, those who had higher intakes of choline during the three months prior to conception were significantly less likely to give birth to a child with an NTD, compared with women with lower choline intakes.9 The possibility that choline may protect against NTDs is plausible, as choline has similar biochemical effects as folic acid, which is known to reduce NTD risk.
Alzheimer’s DiseaseWeak evidence suggests that moderate amounts of lecithin, a fat used by the body to build membranes that may be obtained through food sources, may slightly improve symptoms.
A double-blind trial of 20 to 25 grams per day of lecithin failed to produce improvements in mental function in people with Alzheimer’s disease.10 However, there were improvements in a subgroup of people who did not fully comply with the program, suggesting that lower amounts of lecithin may possibly be helpful. Lecithin supplementation has also been studied in combination with a cholinesterase inhibitor drug called tacrine, with predominantly negative results.11,12,13,14
GallstonesPhosphatidylcholine (PC)—a purified extract from lecithin—is a component of bile that helps protect against gallstones. Supplementing with it may help dissolve gallstones
Phosphatidylcholine (PC)—a purified extract from lecithin—is one of the components of bile that helps protect against gallstone formation. Some preliminary studies suggest that 300–2,000 mg per day of PC may help dissolve gallstones.15,16 Some doctors suggest PC supplements as part of gallstone treatment, though the supporting research is weak.17