Do you know what keeps chocolate and cocoa butter in a candy bar from separating?
No? Well, it’s actually some type of emulsifier or lubricant. Lecithin, to be exact. Now, I’m sure that you have heard of this substance. A number of vitamin supplements available in the market today contain lecithin and the substance itself, as already mentioned, is a common ingredient used for products ranging from pharmaceuticals to protective coverings.
But what exactly is lecithin?
In biology, the human body produces this substance in the liver and transports it throughout the nervous and circulatory systems. It is a phospholipid and is usually used as a synonym for phosphatidylcholine or PC. It is composed mainly of B vitamins, phosphoric acid, choline, linoleic acid, and inositol.
As a phospholipid (fat-based), lecithin is a key building block of cell membranes, without which, cell membranes would harden and would no longer stay semi-permeable. As such, lecithin protects cells from the destructive effects of oxidation, a naturally occurring process in the body due to the presence of oxygen.
In the food industry, lecithin is regarded as one of the few emulsifiers commonly regarded as safe and was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for human consumption. Since the substance is already an integral part of biological membranes, it can be totally biodegradable and metabolized, making it virtually non-toxic, unlike its synthetic alternatives.
The lecithin used in commercial food industry is often extracted from egg yolk and soy. But the food is actually widely found in many animal and plant based foods, including liver, peanuts, wheat germ, cauliflower, grape juice, and cabbage. There are various studies that show lecithin from soy may have some positive effects on persons with high cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood.
The benefits seem to be attributed to the presence of choline. As a lipotropic substance, choline functions as an agent in the body’s metabolism, giving aid in the digestion of fats. To put it simply, choline helps in burning fat that gets stored in tissues, thereby acting as an agent to support weight loss.
The more choline you have in your body, the faster your fat metabolism becomes, and the lower your blood cholesterol level goes. As you probably know, a large number of health problems are due to high levels of blood cholesterol levels, which actually leads to a congestion of blood vessels. The condition therefore results in the likely occurrence of heart attacks and strokes.
The intake of lecithin may help you avoid this thing from happening to you. As it supports fat metabolism and has been shown to aid in bringing down cholesterol levels, lecithin can protect you against heart attacks and strokes.
In addition, choline in its dietary supplement form is commonly recommended for treating liver, nerve, and a variety of other conditions. It has even been used to treat degenerative conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and memory loss.
As a treatment for memory loss or impairment, many nutritionally oriented doctors consider lecithin or phosphatidylcholine a valuable nerve-building nutrient that may help slow or reverse memory loss because of its function as a phospholipids that serves as a major structural component of brain cells.
Ever seen lecithin effects in action? Try putting an energy bar or a piece of chocolate inside the freezer. Wait a few minutes before taking it out. You will notice that the whole bar is covered in white. That’s lecithin effects in action right there!
Often used as a food additive, lecithin was first derived from egg yolk in 1950 during its discovery by French scientist Maurice Gobley. In fact, that is how it got its name – lethikos, the Greek word for “egg yolk.” But by the end of the 1930s, it was soon discovered that lecithin may also be extracted from crude soybean oil after it has undergone a process called hexane extraction.
Lecithin Effects as an Emulsifier
The food industry is among the first industries that discovered the wonderful lecithin effects of this natural emulsifier. Since its discovery, it has been used in foods such as chocolate, cheese, margarine, and salad dressings. Acting as an emulsifier, the lecithin effects help mix fats with water and keep them from separating. When you place the chocolate bar in the freezer, the low temperature causes the lecithin effects on the fat to fall apart. That’s why the fat rises to the surface, giving the chocolate that whitish tinge.
Besides being found in egg yolks and soybeans, lecithin is also present in all living cells of the body. Lecithin is actually a complex mixture of phospholipids, the most important of which is phosphatidylcholine, which is the number one source of choline. With its emulsifying lecithin effects, the substance is said to help keep fatty substances in bile produced by the liver. Bile is a kind of juice that your body secretes to ease digestion and help your body absorb valuable nutrients, as such, lecithin plays a role in the normal digestive processes of your body.
Steven Zeisel, M.D., PhD., professor and chair of the department of nutrition at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, says that the lecithin effects of this great emulsifier helps maintain the structural integrity of cells. Lecithin is one of the major components that make up the cell membrane or outer covering of our cells.
“Without lecithin, nothing would survive, because you wouldn’t be able to separate the various compartments within cells, nor would you be able to separate cells from each other,” he further adds.
Lecithin Effects and Choline
The word lecithin actually has several different meanings. The generic term refers to lecithin, the compound of lipid and phosphate acid mixtures used in the commercial food industry. However, in chemistry, biochemistry, and other similar sciences, the term takes on a whole different meaning. Often, lecithin is used synonymously with choline, kelecin, lecithol, soy lecithin, vegilecithin, vitrellin, and phosphatidylcholine. Strictly speaking though, choline is actually just a component of lecithin – a major one, that is.
Out of the many chemicals found in lecithin, the most important and the most studied is choline. For years, the lecithin effects of choline has been the subject of countless studies and extensive research, all investigating the purported benefits of lecithin. To name a few, lecithin effects have been investigated on the following conditions: dementia, stroke, Alzheimer’s Disease, substance abuse, brain infection, injury to the brain, and spinal cord injury.