The Ins and Outs of Phosphatidylcholine
Fat: it generally doesn’t have a good connotation as people often associated with high cholesterol. However, lipids (i.e. fatty lipids) play an important role in the human body. Lipids are crucial for cellular structure and integrity, providing a specialized function in the membrane of a cell. One such lipid- phosphatidylcholine- plays multiple roles in the processes of growth and metabolism that the human body depends on for life.
What is Phosphatidylcholine?
Phosphatidylcholine is a natural molecule found in the human body as well as in food. A structural lipid, phosphatidylcholine plays a number of important roles in the human body. While research is ongoing, phosphatidylcholine has shown particular promise in the areas of brain health, memory, and mental health disorders. However, many studies are small in sample size, and social media is largely prone to error in reporting. For this reason, it’s always important to consider the strength of research before making definitive health claims surrounding phosphatidylcholine or any other substance.
What happens when you have low levels of phosphatidylcholine?
The body requires choline for the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine. Choline is present in many foods as well as dietary supplements. However, whole foods are always the best source of important nutrients, as they tend to be better absorbed and utilized than nutrients found in dietary supplements. Many scientists believe that this is because there are intrinsic factors associated with nutrients consumed in whole food form that are unable to be replicated via supplement. However, for those with low choline consumption, a doctor may recommend a supplement.
Low consumption of choline (and subsequently low levels of phosphatidylcholine) are associated with interruptions in the typical metabolic processes integral to human health, most particularly the structural synthesis and integrity of cell membranes.
Phosphatidylcholine is a crucial component of virtually every cell in the human body. For this reason, it plays an important role in multiple organ systems and their unique functions.
Diseases of the brain and neurodegeneration have been the subject of rigorous research in recent decades, with scientists scrambling to figure out what role different factors promote or protect against the development of serious, life-threatening neurodegenerative conditions and diseases. Research has included the role of phosphatidylcholine in neurovascular health and disease thanks to its role in cellular membrane structure, as well as its potential impact on inflammatory markers and the development or modulation of brain plaques and fat composition.
The human body depends on phosphatidylcholine to synthesize a compound called acetylcholine, a chemical in the brain that has been shown to play a role in memory, vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, and manic-depressive disorder.
It’s important to note that research is ongoing in all of these areas. However, research around brain health and phosphatidylcholine has revolved largely around Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia in elderly patients. The brain is the most lipid-rich organ, and researchers believe that changes in the phospholipid composition of the brain are involved in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
As phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid entwined with brain health, researchers have begun to measure changes in phosphatidylcholine in aging in relation to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.
Improves Liver Health
While the mechanisms belying the interaction are not fully understood, a certain type of phosphatidylcholine known as polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine may help prevent liver damage and liver fibrosis caused by alcohol abuse.
Other studies have focused on phosphatidylcholine consumption and its effect on other forms of liver disease and dysfunction, including nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a common condition caused by obesity, poor diet, and the overconsumption of simple sugars, refined carbohydrates, and saturated and trans fats. Thus far, studies have shown some improvement with consumption of phosphatidylcholine, but additional research is needed to understand the mechanisms by which phosphatidylcholine may improve hepatic health.
Helps Treat Viral Hepatitis
Phosphatidylcholine is regularly used for the treatment of Hepatitis. Hepatitis is a condition marked by inflammation of the liver. There are three types of Hepatitis: Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C may be either acute or chronic and is caused by a virus. Acute hepatitis occurs within the first six months of transmission. In some instances, acute infection may lead to chronic infection. Chronic infection is characterized by long-term illness caused by the residency of Hepatitis C in the body. Hepatitis C can cause serious and life-threatening complications and liver damage, as well as liver cancer.
Studies have shown benefit for patients with Hepatitis C in particular, although other studies have suggested that phosphatidylcholine may also be of benefit for patients with Hepatitis B. Thus far, given that studies are conflicted on the effect of phosphatidylcholine supplementation for Hepatitis B, additional research is warranted.
Increases Fat Breakdown (Lipolysis) And Weight Loss
While phosphatidylcholine is occasionally used in cosmetic fat reduction procedures via injection in fat tissue, phosphatidylcholine supplementation has shown little effect on weight loss. In these studies, phosphatidylcholine injections do lead to moderate reductions in fat tissue and appearance, albeit not to the degree that significant weight is lost or maintained.
Very few studies are available on the topic of phosphatidylcholine consumption/supplementation and weight loss, and those that are are very small in sample size, bearing little weight in scientific relevance.
Improves Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis (IBD)
Ulcerative Colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease that causes significant pain and ulcers in the gastrointestinal tract. While other bowel diseases may impact the entirety of the gastrointestinal tract, ulcerative colitis affects only the large intestine (the colon and rectum). Ulcerative Colitis can also cause dysfunction in the eyes, skin, and joints, potentially due to the inflammatory pathways that present with and potentially drive the development of ulcerative colitis.
Phosphatidylcholine plays an important role in mucosal barriers, potentially improving the impaired intestinal barrier function seen in patients with ulcerative colitis.
Studies have shown that phosphatidylcholine may help treat many symptoms of ulcerative colitis, including bloody diarrhea that manifests as a trademark of the disease. Other studies have shown a significant reduction in inflammation in patients being treated for ulcerative colitis.
The Possible Health Benefits of Phosphatidylcholine
While the above benefits of phosphatidylcholine are generally recognized with a fair amount of strength in the scientific literature, studies are ongoing in other ways that phosphatidylcholine may play a role in the prevention or treatment of various diseases and conditions. The following benefits of phosphatidylcholine are only potential: studies are very small or lacking scientific weight, but benefits of phosphatidylcholine in these areas continue to be investigated.
May Reduce Inflammation
Phosphatidylcholine supplementation has been shown to reduce cellular inflammation that presents as a trademark of a variety of different conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis and ulcerative colitis. The role of phosphatidylcholine in other areas continues to be investigated, with researchers looking for the role of phosphatidylcholine alterations in diseases like cystic fibrosis.
May Protect Neurons
In animal models, treatment with phosphatidylcholine has been shown to reduce the number of inflammatory markers in various organ systems, including the brain and colon. In cell culture studies, phosphatidylcholine has shown some promise in countering the effects of Beta-Amyloid Plaques, which are largely involved in the pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s Disease.
May Improve Fetal Brain Development
Epidemiological studies have shown that mother with higher phosphatidylcholine or choline consumption is associated with healthier outcomes in fetal brain development and a reduction in risk for mental health and behavioral disorders. However, given the extreme vulnerability of pregnant women and unborn fetuses, extreme caution should be taken around any form of supplementation, phosphatidylcholine included. Always discuss supplementation with a doctor, and never self-prescribe a dietary supplement or any other medication.
May Improve Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
Given the well-recognized role of phosphatidylcholine and acetylcholine in brain health, phosphatidylcholine and choline consumption are now being studied for their effect on our role in the development of multiple behavioral and mental health disorders, including bipolar disorder. However, studies in this area are very limited, especially around treatment. Other studies have shown that alterations in levels of phosphatidylcholine may play a role in the development of bipolar disorder.
May Protect Against Damage From NSAIDs
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are painkillers commonly used for the treatment of headaches, joint pain, fever, and other sources of pain. While NSAIDs are regularly used and play an important role in the reduction of inflammation and treatment of pain, many consumers experience side effects of consumption that may be long-lasting. In some studies, phosphatidylcholine reduces the likelihood of GI injury with regular consumption.
As with any dietary supplement, phosphatidylcholine supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), leaving supplements prone to issues in efficacy and purity. Many dietary supplements contain unspecified ingredients or contain more or less of the ingredients stated on package labeling. For this reason, it is always safest to consume nutrients in whole food form.
However, there are times when supplementation is necessary. In these instances, it is always important to choose a supplement carefully, and always consult your doctor before beginning a regimen of supplementation, as dietary supplements can cause serious and potentially life-threatening interactions with other supplements or medications. Doctors are also able to prescribe higher grade supplements than those available in supermarkets or supplement stores.
The Recommended Phosphatidylcholine Dosage
Phosphatidylcholine is available in multiple forms, and may be given via injection or intravenously for the treatment of certain health conditions. However, it is most commonly consumed through food or dietary supplement in the form of pills, tablets, and capsules. Dosing is incredibly individual: what is safe for one individual may not be for another, so it’s always important to check with your doctor.
There is currently not a recommended dose for phosphatidylcholine supplementation, although a dose of 1.8g has been used in a scientific study for the treatment of Hepatitis C.
Getting Phosphatidylcholine from Food Sources
Phosphatidylcholine is present in a variety of foods, including hard-boiled eggs, egg yolk, red meat, whole grains, mustard, sunflower seeds, soybeans, liver, squid, beef, cod, spinach, potatoes, apples, cow’s milk, carrots, beef, and chicken breast.
The most potent sources of phosphatidylcholine are animal-based products, which may make phosphatidylcholine consumption more limited for vegan or vegetarian consumers, or those who simply consume fewer animal products. However, given the large variety of both plant and animal foods containing phosphatidylcholine, most consumers should be able to consume adequate amounts of phosphatidylcholine without the need for a supplement.
The body also needs choline, an essential micronutrient, to synthesize phosphatidylcholine. Food sources of choline include many of the same foods that contain phosphatidylcholine, including the above list, as well as rice, cabbage, beans, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cottage cheese, quinoa, and mushrooms.
What are Phosphatidylcholine injections?
While medical treatment and research have focused on phosphatidylcholine supplementation via tablet, pill, or cell culture, phosphatidylcholine injections and IV’s are occasionally used to treat other serious health conditions, including Hepatitis. All injections and intravenous administration of phosphatidylcholine should be undertaken with physician approval and supervision.
The Phosphatidylcholine Side Effects
While it’s tempting to only focus on the potential benefits of any given nutrient, it’s crucial to consider the potential side effects or interactions that may occur with supplementation. Phosphatidylcholine is considered potentially safe, although side effects have been noted, with degree and type of effect varies depending on the method of consumption.
Supplementation via oral consumption has been shown to cause stomach upset, pain, excessive sweating, and diarrhea, while injections of phosphatidylcholine may cause redness, swelling, burning, itching, irritation, bruising, and pain around the injection site. Caution is also given to pregnant women, as studies around phosphatidylcholine consumption/administration are very limited and conflicting.
Phosphatidylcholine: Where to go from here.
Phosphatidylcholine supplementation and administration have shown promise in a variety of areas, with benefits seen in areas of neurological health and function, reductions in inflammation, and the treatment of Hepatitis and Ulcerative Colitis.
Given that every cell in the human body requires phosphatidylcholine for the structural integrity of cell membranes, it’s not surprising that the role of phosphatidylcholine on human health and development continues to be the subject of various fields of research. Research in areas surrounding brain health will likely continue to develop, as well as other areas around liver diseases and gastrointestinal conditions.
If you are interested in phosphatidylcholine consumption, always favor whole foods over supplements, as this tends to be the safest and most nutritionally advantageous route. Foods like egg yolk and hard-boiled eggs are some of the best ways. If you are considering supplementation, always consult a doctor.