Today I will be talking about Lecithin, a product which can be found on our website under the brand Jamieson. It is a general term to denote a number of very similar compounds, the most important of which is Phosphatidylcholine. The reason why I decided to bring this topic up is because of the utmost important role the choline part of lecithin plays in multiple biochemical processes in our bodies. Another reason is that the vast majority of our society has an inadequate choline intake from diet.
The molecular structure of Phosphatidylcholine is simply a choline molecule connected by a phosphate group to a glycerol molecule which in turn is connected to two fatty acids. It is an amphipathic molecule which means that it interacts positively with both water and with lipids. This unique property allows it to play the very important role of being the main building block of lipid membranes. All the cells in our body have walls made of lipid membranes. Without them, they would not be able to hold their structure and we would essentially not exist! Lipid membranes are composed of lipid molecules that have affinity for each other, a property which helps them stay together and form the lipid membrane. They must also have side groups which interact well with water, as water surrounds the lipid membrane both on the inside and the outside of the membrane. Without an adequate level of Lecithin the cell membranes are not structurally coherent. This affects the functionality of the cell membrane, especially the functionality of the receptors that are on or in the cell membrane, which in turn affects the functionality of the entire cell in a negative way.
Phosphatidylcholine is the most abundant component of cell membranes. This is especially true of nervous tissues in our brains and in the peripheral nervous system (i.e. the nerves outside of the brain). The reason for this is that nerve cells have long structures called axons and dendrites and these structures are composed almost entirely of the phospholipid mentioned above. Thus it is absolutely essential to have an adequate level of Lecithin. Inadequate intake in food or in the form of supplements can lead to a deficiency which in turn will affect the functionality of the nervous system. This can manifest into unwanted conditions like problems with memory or unpleasant mood swings.
Another important point is the very high levels of Lecithin that is required during the development of the nervous system during the fetal stage (i.e. for the fetus during pregnancy) and during early childhood. Inadequate levels during pregnancy may lead to neurological defects in the fetus (such as neural tube defects, and low birth weight) as well as complications during pregnancy (such as premature birth, and preeclamsia). After birth high levels should also be maintained in the mother’s diet as breast milk should contain a high level of Lecithin for the proper development of the nervous system in the neonate.
Acetylcholine is also required for normal functionality of the liver and the kidneys. Deficiency states cause the liver to become fatty (i.e. which in the long run may lead to an irreversible pathological state called liver cirrhosis), especially in people who consume large quantities of alcohol. In the kidneys the condition is called hemorrhagic kidney necrosis which literally means the destruction of kidney cells, along with bleeding. Sounds pretty serious if you ask me.
In my next blog I will discuss the importance of Lecithin in brain and peripheral nervous system functionality via its connection with the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine, its role in muscle contraction, its positive contribution to cardiovascular health as well as its role in the proper synthesis of our genetic code. A very important element in our day to day lives, indeed!