Meanwhile, back in the digestive area, researchers can pinpoint many of lecithin’s benefits when it comes to transporting valuable resources from place to place in our bodies.
We are constantly secreting lecithin into our bile, says Dr. Zeisel, and that helps enzymes mix with fat so that the fat is digested.
The liver exports fat. To do that, it must wrap the fat in an envelope containing lecithin and certain proteins. When lecithin is unavailable, no envelope can be made, and fat accumulates in the liver. Liver cells low in lecithin fill up with fat and then die.
"Humans who are fed intravenously with solutions that lack lecithin and choline start to have liver cell death," says Dr. Zeisel. "This can be reversed when you give them a lecithin or choline supplement."
One form of choline, phosphatidylcholine (PC), seems to be particularly beneficial to the liver. In clinical studies, PC helped with alcoholic liver damage, cirrhosis, viral liver damage, and drug-induced liver damage. Animal research showed that PC supplementation was superior to any other treatment for alcohol-induced liver damage and cirrhosis.
PC is found in small amounts in most lecithin supplements. Greater concentrations are available in supplements labeled PC or Leci-PC.
Closely related to the way lecithin benefits the liver is the way it helps to prevent gallstones. The lecithin has a blending effect on bile salts and bile components. Without lecithin, the proteins in bile would separate out and form gallstones, says Dr. Zeisel.