Lecithin is a food additive, which when added to foods is used as an emulsifier or a lubricant. Besides this, it also acts as a flavor protector and an antioxidant.
Lecithin was first isolated in the year 1846, which are naturally occurring fat compounds found in plant and animal tissues. Lecithin was originally isolated from an egg yolk, but today it is commonly extracted from sunflower, soybean, milk, and cottonseed.
Lecithin plays a crucial role in the cell communication and it prevents sticking of the cells to each other.
What is Soy Lecithin?
Lecithin extracted from soybean is called Soy Lecithin. Soy contains plenty of lecithin and thus, it is used to produce soy lecithin granules. Soy lecithin is extracted from soybean oil.
Soy lecithin is available in the liquid as well as granulated form. While reading a food label you may have come across the word ‘soy lecithin’. This additive breaks down the oil present in the product into smaller particles, thus, giving it a uniform and smooth appearance and making it easier to digest if consumed.
Soy lecithin is usually added to medicines, supplements, and processed foods.
The health benefits of soy lecithin are attributed to the presence of a compound ‘phosphatidylserine’ in it.
This compound is a phospholipid, which is a vital component of cell membranes in animals as well as plants.
Furthermore, one cup of soy lecithin contains vital nutrients, like:
- Vitamin E
- Vitamin K
- 1:8 omega 3 to omega 6 ratio
However, it is unlikely that any individual would ever consume such a huge amount of soy lecithin, so one must take these facts with a pinch of salt.
Health Benefits of Soy Lecithin
Many studies indicate that soy lecithin is unhealthy, and it may have negative effects on the body, but a large body of research suggests that soy lecithin is a healing agent and its use may be beneficial for human health. Below mentioned are some research-based health advantages of soy lecithin:
Reduces High Cholesterol Level
A diet rich in soy lecithin increases the activity of an enzyme ‘HMG-CoA reductase’, which reduces the synthesis of cholesterol in the body.
Soybean increases the excretion of bile acids in the feces. Bile acid is a substance produced from the cholesterol and is required for the digestion of fat. Because soy lecithin enhances the removal of bile acid, the body uses cholesterol to produce more bile acids to support proper fat digestion. This reduces the level of cholesterol in the body and thus, helps in reducing hypercholesterolemia.
Soy Lecithin benefits to help the fat to emulsify, thus it avoids its absorption in the body. Some studies have reported that soy lecithin is capable to reduce LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. Not just this, soy lecithin even promotes the synthesis of HDL ‘good’ cholesterol, which is beneficial for the body and protects the heart.
Thus, it can be concluded that diets rich in soy lecithin can be used as an adjunct in the treatment of high blood cholesterol level. (1)
Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia
Phospholipids and phosphatidic acid are found in high concentrations in the neuronal membrane. A decline in these compounds is associated with deficits in mental cognitive abilities and memory impairment. Phospholipids decrease oxidative stress in the brain and stimulate neurotransmitter release.
Research-based studies have reported that soy lecithin derived phospholipids improve cognitive functions of elderly Japanese subjects. Besides this, the unique benefit of soy lecithin is to improve calculation speed of athletes. It also improves learning in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Hence, soy lecithin derived phospholipids support cognitive function, memory, and mood in elderly as well as children. (2)
Supports Liver Health
Soy lecithin plays a beneficial role in protecting the liver against damage and diseases. It prevents liver cirrhosis by reducing the inflammation of the liver cells. It further reduces the build-up of collagen in the liver and further prevents hardening of this organ.
Soy lecithin granules increase the choline levels, which in turn raises the activity of an enzyme that helps in the breakdown of collagen in the liver.
Because the primary role of lecithin is to break down and emulsify fat, it prevents fatty liver disease, a condition which occurs due to excess deposition of fat in the liver cells.
Hence, soy lecithin restores the normal structure as well as the function of the liver, helps in the regeneration of liver cells and protects it against damage. (3)
Soy lecithin may be beneficial for overall cardiovascular health. It is required for the proper functioning of the nerves and muscles, including the heart.
Studies have reported that soy lecithin is effective in lowering elevated levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood. When there is too much of LDL cholesterol in the blood, it leads to the formation of plaque in the arteries and thus, clogs them.
This disrupts the blood flow and increases pressure on the heart. Such a pressure weakens the heart and damages it. Because soy lecithin lowers the level of LDL cholesterol, it protects against the heart disease too.
Besides this, soy lecithin increases the blood levels of HDL cholesterol, which is a good type of cholesterol. This cholesterol supports heart function and reduces damage to the heart. It carries bad cholesterol away from the bloodstream and reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases like atherosclerosis, heart attack, and stroke.
Studies have reported that soy lecithin improves mood by reducing the level of mental stress. Phosphatidylserine present in lecithin hampers the action of ACTH and cortisol, which are the two stress hormones.
Soy lecithin phosphatidylserine supplement blunts the blood level of these stress hormones and exerts a positive effect on emotional responses.
An interesting study found that subjects treated with soy lecithin supplements showed decreased distress, whereas subjects who were not treated with these supplements showed increased distress.
Hence, soy lecithin supplements can be used in the treatment of stress-related disorders because of its stress dampening the effect. (4)
Improved Immune Function
Soy lecithin supplements improve immune function by reducing the level of inflammation in the body. It improves the activity of immune cells that play a crucial role in the removal of toxins and foreign bodies that cause harm to the body.
An amazing research study found that soy lecithin increases the activity of macrophages by 29%. Macrophages are white blood cells that engulf and destroy debris, foreign cells, and pathogens that otherwise cause infections and hamper the immune system.
Soy lecithin supplementation further alters the lymphocyte function. A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell that fights against infections and illnesses.
Hence, soy lecithin indicates an immunomodulatory effect, which increases the resistance of the body against infections. (5)
Prevents Gall Stones
Gallstones are deposits of bile formed in the gallbladder. Soy lecithin reduces the risk of gallstones and other gallbladder diseases. Lecithin helps in the treatment of gallstones via the following mechanisms:
- It reduces the size of the gallstones
- It helps in the dissolution of such stones
- It reduces the lithogenic index of bile
Soy lecithin benefits to increase the excretion of bile via feces. Supplementation with soy lecithin helps in the breakdown of the bile, softens it and eliminates it from your body. It alters the composition of the bile, which enhances the removal of the gallstones. (6)
Other Health Benefits of Soy Lecithin
Soy lecithin has also been promoted for the treatment of many other disorders, but more studies are required to confirm the positive effect of soy lecithin on health. It is useful for:
- Bipolar disorder
- Anxiety and depression
- Dry skin conditions, dermatitis, and eczema
- Digestive problems
Soy Lecithin Allergy
If You Are Allergic to Soy:
Trace levels of soy proteins have been found in soy lecithin, but this amount is too small to provoke allergic reactions in individuals with soy allergies.
Soy lecithin is derived from soy, but it is usually safe for people who are allergic to it. This is possible because most of the allergens are removed during the manufacturing process. Soy lecithin is added to certain food products in very small quantities. Hence, it is safe to consume.
However, in the case of soy lecithin supplements and medications, one must inform their allergist or health-care provider if they are suffering from any soy allergy. Even though the risk is small, people who are extremely sensitive to soy should not take a chance.
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