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What Heals and What Hurts: The Difference Between Lecithin and Soy Lecithin

Lecithin. Its role is to breakdown the fats in your body. Lecithin is naturally found in the foods that most of us eat, especially rich foods, such as egg yolks, soybeans, grains, wheat germ, liver, cauliflower, fish, legumes, yeast, and peanuts.

Maurice Gobley, a French scientist discovered lecithin in the egg yolk in 1950, and since then, scientists, the food industry and the government has worked hard to ensure that a synthetic form of this lecithin is not only present in almost every processed food, but that it would be harmful to the body.

For all the science geeks out there, in biochemistry terms and other related science, lecithin is a synonym for phosphatidyl choline. It is the main lipid component in biological membranes, like our cell membranes or cell walls of plants. On the other hand, commercial lecithin is actually a natural mixture of neutral and polar lipids, including glycolipids, triglycerides, sterols, and small quantities of fatty acids, carbohydrates, and sphingolipids.

Lecithin that contains phosphatidyl choline is produced mainly from vegetable sources, although it may also be found in animal and microbial sources. The majority of commercial lecithin sold in the market today come from soybean (mostly), sunflower, and grape seed. When talking about plant lecithin, the most common source is soybean. This is a big red flag, because most all soybeans are genetically modified and highly tainted with pesticides, but we will get into why that is so bad a little later.

 Let’s first focus on lecithin, without the soy.

According to the Institute of Medicine (1998), lecithin provides a great source of choline– essential to every cell in the body, for it is one of the main components of cell membrane. It builds brain cells and improves cardiovascular function.

The following are some of the many health claims that lecithin is said to have:

• Improves cardiovascular health

• Improves liver and cell function

• Fat transport and fat metabolism

• Healthy reproduction and child development

• Better treatment for gallstones

• Increases the improvement of memory, learning and reaction time in people

• Helps grow healthy hair and skin

• Increases cell communication

• Better physical performance and muscle endurance

• Relief of arthritis

Pretty great, huh? But before you rush out to the closest health food store to buy a bunch of commercial lecithin or anything with the name lecithin in it, learn to read labels . . . especially the difference between lecithin and soy lecithin.

What exactly is the difference between soy lecithin and lecithin?

According to the Mayo Clinic and British Journal of Nutrition, there are vast differences between the two, though the food industry tries to confuse consumers with its play on words and marketing of the word lecithin. Soy lecithin is derived from soya, the beans retrieved from pod of the soya plant. Once harvested, the soya is turned into a myriad of food products such as oil, tofu and milk. These products are processed with toxic Hexane. The “stuff” that is chemically turned into soy lecithin is a by-product of the soy manufacturing process that is often dehydrated and then recolored with chemicals to make it lighter so that it can be added to foods to make them “smoother” and to act as an emulsifier to keep foods like butter or cake mix from separating and to make the cleaning of manufacturing equipment faster (i.e. for the non-stick properties). The bottom line: Soy lecithin (shown in the powder form to the right) is a waste product left after producing soya oil, and lecithin is a collection of several phospholipids that have both health and industrial uses.

Side Effects and Health Risks of Consuming Soy Lecithin

The mixed reviews and strong opinions regarding soy lecithin in the media and nutrition arena confuse even me. On one hand, there are professionals in the field that proclaim soy lecithin’s amazing health benefits, including: improving brain functioning, promoting healthy weight loss, lowers cholesterol, prevents diseases and detoxifies the liver. They say that as long as the soy lecithin you chose to consume is fermented, follows guidelines passed by the FDA for pesticides toxicity and is not genetically modified, it is a great supplement to man’s diet.

It’s scary to read the flip side of this argument, however.

Let’s break down soy lecithin. First, the soybean.

The soybean was a modest and unpopular crop until food manufacturer’s intent on creating cheap vegetable oils effortlessly convinced the U.S. government to start subsidizing it. The soy was turned into oil, and the industry was left with an industrial waste product. Then a group of really smart people had an idea to hide these toxic industrial waste products and carcinogens into food and have people eat it by putting it in all the things they like and make it really cheap: hamburgers, ice cream, chocolate, chips, TV. dinners, mac and cheese. . .  

In a nutshell, little bits of soy lecithin (used mainly as a food additive) here and there will not kill you (though it is found in the majority of processed foods, especially in foods we feed our babies, toddlers and kids, like chocolate milk, Nutella, peanut butter, ice cream, crackers, chewing gum, and yogurts. On the up side, only a small percentage of an entire processed food is made of this stuff. The real problem comes when people are eating excess amounts of processed soy (and yes, our modern day society is guilty of consuming an overabundance of processed foods made with soy lecithin) and or taking soy lecithin daily supplements (over 3.5 grams of choline per day). Go and look inside your pantries, freezers and refrigerators and down the aisles of your local markets. You will be surprised at how many products use soy lecithin, even organic products!

Below is a list of adverse side effects from the use of soy lecithin. Remember that manufactures of foods and supplements may not provide the honest information regarding ingredients in their product.

•Low blood pressure, marked by fainting or dizziness.

 •Diarrhea

 •Nausea

 •Headache

 •Abdominal pain

 •Bad breath

 •Loss of Appetite

 •Excessive weight gain

 •Fullness of stomach

 •Confusion

•Blurred vision

 •Coughing, sneezing, runny nose

•Excessive perspiration

 •Anaphylactic shock and in very severe cases, even death

 •Allergic reaction in case you have soy allergy.

 •Soy lecithin that contains genetically modified soy may affect the function of the pancreas and may lead to serious diseases and disorders.

 •Excessive consumption of the supplements may lead to cerebral abnormalities and poor mental reflexes. It can even affect the physical growth of the person.

 •The element fenistein present in soy lecithin can adversely affect the fertility of a man leading to sexual dysfunction and abnormalities in reproductive functions.

 •Studies show that phytoestrogens present in soy promote development of certain types of breast cancer in adult women, by lowering or raising the level of natural estrogen in their bodies.

 Soy Allergy Symptoms •Swelling of the lips, mouth, or throat

 •Swollen throat, facial swelling, difficulty in swallowing

 •Skin rash or hives

 •Wheezing or difficulty in breathing.

 •Itching

(Source: Buzzle.com)

No matter which side of the argument you may find yourself on, my mind is made up. The risks far outweigh the benefits on soy lecithin, and the pervasiveness of the product has me reading food label ingredients even more carefully now. Even organic tea has soy lecithin! Again, my mantra remains the same. . . Eat fresh, whole foods, not too much and educate yourself as to where your food comes from.

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19 Responses so far.

  1. Jannie says:

    Hi

    How will I be able to know if the lechithin I use is soy or not. It only says on the lable (Phospholipids 62% minimum)

    Thanks

    Jannie van Vuuren

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Unless it states on the label that it is organic/non-GMO lecithin, assume that it is soy lecithin. Most international labels, unless required by government, will not list GMO and if it is soy or not. 62% minimum Phospholipids is the ordinary fluid soy lecithin level. The higher the % of phospholipids, the better the functionality as a water in oil emulsifier.

  2. Robin D says:

    I have psoriasis and I am 61 years of age. I would like to know the benefits and recomended amount daily of lecithin for my skin and about how long to see any results.
    Thank you.

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Every person is different when it comes to recommended amount of daily dosage of any vitamin, mineral or supplement. Lecithin and psoriasis have a great relationship with each other, in that studies have shown that taking lecithin up to three times a day for a few months mitigate the flare ups and severity of psoriasis and other skin inflammatory disorders. It has been shown to control cholesterol in the body and reduce fat absorption. Even used topically, lecithin seems to prove a great medicinal tool in treating psoriasis. That being said, there is also a dire need to keep the rest of the “holistic” lifestyle in check. When I say “holistic”, I do mean “whole.” How is your stress level? How is your fat intake? Your processed foods and sugar intake? What type of acidic forming and alkaline forming foods are you consuming? How is your digestive and intestinal tract? What types of topical creams/medications (if any) are you using? These all play a large part of the existence of psoriasis in the body. I suggest that all aspects of wellness from psychological to physical, from nutritional to mental, be taken into consideration and you have a good chance of seeing the psoriasis respond accordingly.

  3. Sonu says:

    Is the lechithin I use is good or not.
    It only says on the lable it non-GMO and has Phospholipids 95% .
    Is that safe for toddlers (in small quantities like 1/2 tablespoon) ?

    Thanks

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Lecithin is great for people of all ages, but too much is not beneficial. Lecithin supplements could cause gastrointestinal problems, diarrhea, weight gain, a rash and headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and/or a “fishy” body odor. Recommended dosages for infants up to 6 months old is 125 mg. Infants from 7 to 12 months old: 150 mg. Children from one to 3 years old: 200 mg. 250 mg for children from 4 to 8 years old and 375 mg for children from 9 to 13 years old.

  4. Diana says:

    Hi,
    I’ve read that lecithin is helpful for breastfeeding moms in preventing blocked ducts and clearing blocked ducts. I’d like to take some but I wasn’t sure if I should take soy lecithin or regular lecithin? …From the article it doesn’t sound like soy lecithin is all that great :(

    Thanks,
    Diana

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Opt for non-gmo soy lecithin when possible. Lecithin with higher percentage of phosphatides is best. I like Premier Lecithin Granules, from Premier Research Labs. And, yes, it is very beneficial to breastfeeding moms!!

  5. David says:

    What would be the differences (and possible benefit/disadvantage) with Sunflower Lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      One of the greatest benefits of taking sunflower lecithin is its ability to break down fat within the body. Now, keep in mind that lecithin is found at the cellular level in the body but not considered an essential nutrient. Even so, it works by regulating waste materials that go into and out of cells but also the flow of nutrients. For years, this substance has been used to help fight high cholesterol levels by preventing the buildup of fats, especially in the walls around the heart, veins, and arteries.

      Sunflower lecithin has been shown successful when used as a dietary supplement in the prevention of cirrhosis of the liver. Sunflower lecithin has the ability to disperse fat and break it down, so that build up in the liver does not occur. In addition, many people will take lecithin as a weight loss supplement. Again, because it allows fat to break down instead of accumulate, it can aid in light to moderate weight loss. The biggest advantage in taking sunflower lecithin over soy is that people do not experience and allergic reaction.

  6. Rachel Belzile says:

    Hi,

    I suffer from hypothyroidism and I am taking 188 mcg of syntroid every day. I read that the soy has the side effect of slowing down the thyroid function. Can I still take non-gmo soy lecithin granule? If not, is there any other way to get the benefits of licithin. I woud like to take it to improve my cardiovascular health, my liver function, better fat metabolism as well as the improvement of my memory.

    Thank you,
    RB

  7. Cynthia says:

    Where can I find sunflower lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Amazon.com has great sources of Organic, NON-GMO sunflower lecithin :), otherwise, your local health food stores should carry a variety of them!

  8. Cynthia says:

    is it ok to take the sunflower lecithin if im taking a blood pressure pill (hydrochloric) 12.5 mg at bed time. Which is basically a water pill to manage my BP.

  9. Mary says:

    For breastfeeding moms, is it better non-GMO soy or sunflower lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Sunflower lecithin can be seen as the best source of vegetable lecithin for the food market: it is the perfect choice to replace lecithin made from (genetically modified) soybeans as well as to prevent a possible allergic reaction to soy (even if it is non-GMO soy).

      Sunflower lecithin has additional advantages such as very low odor and neutral taste, high phosphatidylcholine content, lower linolenic acid (= better stability) and high performance in its applications within the food, dietetic and pharmaceutical markets.

      The performance of sunflower lecithin is almost identical to that of soy lecithin. If I were to choose, I would select sunflower lecithin over non-GMO soy.

  10. Veronica says:

    What about lecithin extracted from eggs? Is that the best form of lecithin?

    • Dr. Nancy says:

      Lecithin extracted from fresh eggs using a solvent method (instead of a scorched method) yields a far higher quality and larger quantity of lecithin. I personally choose sunflower lecithin, but with the competition out there and the demand for purer and higher quality at a lower cost, lables need to be read. Do a little research on the company in which you obtain your lecithin. You will be very surprised in how many products (different types of ) lecithin is present (from vaccinations to pharmaceutical and over the counter drugs. . . and your favorite chocolate).

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