Phosphatidylcholine is a ubiquitous, naturally occurring phospholipid molecule. It is the major lipid, or fat, of cell membranes and blood proteins. Also known as PC, phosphatidylcholine serves as the body’s main source of choline, an essential nutrient and precursor to the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. PC is also necessary for the production of surfactants, which are critical for lung function and gastrointestinal health. The terms "phosphatidylcholine" and "lecithin" are sometimes used interchangeably; however, lecithin is actually a mixture of several lipids and phospholipids.
PC is necessary for the composition and repair of cell membranes and is vital for normal liver function. Research indicates PC's most beneficial role is in the prevention and treatment of various forms of liver disease and toxicity. PC protects liver cells from viral damage, reduces fibrosis, and prevents cell death from drugs, alcohol and other chemical toxins.
Several studies have shown PC's protective and healing effect on patients with hepatitis A, B and C. In a double blind trial published in the journal Liver, PC administration for chronic, active hepatitis resulted in significant reduction of disease activity. Another study in Hepatology, revealed that choline-deficient patients had a reversal of hepatic steatosis, or fatty liver disease, upon choline supplementation. Additionally, a study from the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, resulted in PC protection of rat liver cells from alcohol-induced toxicity. The authors propose that phosphatidylcholine reduces cell death through a reduction in oxidative stress.
Phosphatidylcholine is a major lipid in the protective mucus layer of the gastrointestinal tract. It can mitigate GI injury by exerting an anti-inflammatory effect. A recent study in BMC Gastroenterology, shows that PC inhibits pro-inflammatory substances and is beneficial for those suffering from ulcerative colitis.
Emerging evidence also indicates that PC can protect the stomach and intestinal lining from the damaging effects of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also called NSAIDs. Using a combined product of the NSAID, naproxen and PC, a study in Inflammopharmacology states that " Naproxen-PC appears to induce significantly less GI injury and bleeding in two rodent model systems while maintaining anti-inflammatory and COX-inhibitory activity."
Phosphatidylcholine's importance in cell membrane integrity and intracellular communication has led to research in the area of neurology. Although studies are limited, data suggests PC supplementation can reduce symptoms of illnesses associated with low levels of acetylcholine including, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Huntington's chorea, Tourette's syndrome and Alzheimer's disease. Results from a study in the Journal Proteome Research, revealed that lipid abnormalities within the brain and blood may be factors in the disease processes of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Kalli Harrison is a naturopathic physician living in Portland, Ore. She graduated from National College of Naturopathic Medicine in the year 2000, and also holds a degree as a medical laboratory technician. Dr. Harrison has been writing health and medical information for patients and clients for more than 10 years.