Interesting Facts About Lecithin

18 Interesting Facts About Lecithin

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Introduction

Lecithin is a fatty substance that is vital for several biological functions in the human body. While lecithin occurs naturally in many foods, it is also manufactured commercially and used as a food additive and dietary supplement. From its chemical structure to its health benefits and industrial applications, lecithin is a fascinating compound. Read on as we explore 18 interesting facts about this versatile phospholipid.

18 Interesting Facts About Lecithin

  1. Lecithin was first isolated in 1845 by the French chemist and pharmacist Theodore Gobley. ((https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lecithin#:~:text=Lecithins%20are%20mixtures%20of%20glycerophospholipids,he%20named%20the%20phosphatidylcholine%20l%C3%A9cithine.)) He extracted it from egg yolk and named it “lecithin” after the Greek word for egg yolk, “lekithos.”
  2. The main components of lecithin are phospholipids, which are fat molecules combined with phosphoric acid. The most common phospholipids found in lecithin are phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, and phosphatidylinositol.
  3. Commercial lecithin comes primarily from soybeans, though sunflower seeds, rapeseed, cottonseed, and egg yolks are also used. Soy lecithin accounts for 80-90% of the commercial lecithin market.
  4. Lecithin is approved by the FDA as a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food additive and is used as an emulsifier, stabilizer, and lubricant. It helps keep ingredients from separating and allows them to blend better.
  5. In the human body, lecithin plays a vital role in fat metabolism and cholesterol management. It emulsifies fats, enabling them to dissolve in water and be transported in blood.
  6. Lecithin helps improve cardiovascular health by decreasing LDL (bad) cholesterol and increasing HDL (good) cholesterol. Population studies show an inverse correlation between lecithin intake and rates of cardiovascular disease.
  7. As a phospholipid, lecithin is a major component of cell membranes and is critical for cellular function. Cell membranes control what enters and exits cells.
  8. Choline, an essential nutrient and component of lecithin, is important for liver function, muscle movement, mood, memory and metabolism. It helps transport lipids, regulates neurotransmitters, and is a component of acetylcholine.
  9. Lecithin may benefit neurological disorders like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression, though more research is needed. It provides choline, which is a precursor for acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter involved in cognition and mood.
  10. Lecithin supplements are sometimes used to treat liver disease like fatty liver disease and hepatitis. The choline in lecithin may help repair damaged liver cells.
  11. In industry, lecithin is utilized heavily for applications requiring emulsification, lubrication, dispersion, and release. It is used in paints, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and food products.
  12. In chocolate production, lecithin is added as an emulsifier to make the cocoa and cocoa butter blend smoothly. It reduces viscosity, allows the ingredients to combine, and gives chocolate a silky texture.
  13. Lecithin enables emulsification of intravenous fat infusions containing essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins. It allows large amounts of fats and oils to dissolve and disperse homogeneously for injection.
  14. As an excellent wetting and dispersing agent, lecithin helps evenly disperse ink pigments on printing presses. It allows inks to flow smoothly and transfer cleanly onto paper.
  15. In bakery items, lecithin improves moisture retention, extends shelf life, and makes dough easier to handle. It interacts with starches and proteins, decreasing stickiness and reducing dough density.
  16. Lecithin’s emulsification and lubricating properties make it useful for textile and leather processing. It helps dyes level out evenly across fabrics and allows softening oils to penetrate leather evenly.
  17. Nanoliposomes made of lecithin can encapsulate and deliver hydrophobic drugs, vitamins, and nutraceuticals in the body. The phospholipid spheres protect sensitive compounds and release them at targeted sites.
  18. Lecithin granules and powders are used in animal feeds to serve as an emulsifier, energy source, and carrier of fat-soluble vitamins. Lecithin coatings prevent oxidation and rancidity of vitamins A, D, E, and K in feeds.

Conclusion

From the discovery of lecithin in egg yolks to its modern production and applications, lecithin has come a long way. As a vital phospholipid with remarkable emulsification and lubrication abilities, lecithin plays indispensable biological and industrial roles. With mounting evidence for its health and cognitive benefits, lecithin promises to continue fascinating researchers and consumers alike.


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