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Lecithin sources, health risks

Thursday, October 05, 2017 by

Lecithin is the general term used to designate any number of fatty substances that naturally occur in animal and plant tissues. The word “lecithin” is derived from the Greek word “lekithos”, which means “egg yolk”, a reference to the fact that the first lecithin was isolated from an egg yolk in 1845 by the French chemist and pharmacist Theodore Gobley. Nowadays, lecithin can be extracted from soybeans, eggs, sunflower seeds, cottonseed, and rapeseed.

The most common use for lecithin is that of an emulsifying agent. The ability to effectively suspend fats and oils and prevent them from blending into other substances has made lecithin a popular choice in in culinary, pharmaceutical, and industrial use. In addition to this, lecithin is also commonly taken as a dietary supplement due to being a source of choline, an essential macronutrient that plays a role in brain development, muscle movement, and liver function. Lecithin supplements are typically taken to remedy high cholesterol and improve heart health, though there are some notable side effects to taking them.

Harmful effects that can be caused by lecithin

Since lecithin is usually derived from soy or egg, it can cause allergic reactions of varying severity among people who already have soy or egg allergies. Those who are developing allergic reactions to lecithin will most often develop rashes or hives and will experience itching, increases salivation, difficulty breathing, and/or swelling of their mouth, lips, and throat.

Some people have reported experiencing abdominal pain, nausea, and diarrhea after taking lecithin supplements. In some extreme cases, people ended up developing hepatitis, or inflammation of the liver. Many of the cases of lecithin supplement-caused gastrointestinal distresses were caused by taking too many of the supplements at a single time. However, it’s still best to stop lecithin supplementation to be safe, and to consult a medical professional on the next course of action.

Lecithin is composed of fat and can aid in weight loss by creating a feeling of fullness. However, this can be dangerous in the long run as continuous and prolonged use of lecithin supplements may result in appetite loss. Conversely, lecithin may also contribute to weight gain when taken in large doses over a long period of time.

Depending on the source, lecithin supplements can consist of anywhere between 20 to 90 percent phosphatidylcholine, a component of choline that can cause people to develop a fishy body odor when ingested in large amounts.

Individuals who are using topical diclofenac or Voltaren Gel are cautioned against taking lecithin supplements at the same time as these supplements can enhance the effects of the medication to a potentially dangerous degree.

Body systems harmed by lecithin

The majority of reported harmful effects have been related to the digestive system, making it safe to conclude that lecithin, particularly in supplemental form, has the potential to harm the stomach and intestines. Fortunately, these gastrointestinal distresses have not been observed in low doses of lecithin, making them generally safe when taken in moderation.

Women who are either pregnant or lactating are advised against taking lecithin supplements just to be on the safe side.

Where to learn more


Healthy people will have no issue with lecithin or its supplemental derivatives. However, those with egg or soy allergies may have mild to severe allergic reactions after taking lecithin supplements. People who’ve ingested large amounts of lecithin supplements have reported experiencing digestive issues that ranged from abdominal pain to diarrhea. Lecithin supplements may cause digestive upsets in general, and should be taken under medical supervision.

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