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Supplements

Phosphatidylcholine (PC)

What Is It?
Health Benefits

Forms
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Cautions
References

Evidence-Based Rating Scale


What Is It?

A member of the phospholipid or fatty acid class of compounds, phosphatidylcholine (PC) is the major component of lecithin, a compound that naturally occurs in all cell membranes and is essential for biological functions. (1, 2) Lecithin is found in eggs and plants such as mustard, soy, and sunflower. Although egg lecithin contains a large amount of phosphatidylcholine (69%), plant lecithins are considered safer than animal sources. As a result, most PC supplements are derived from soy lecithin which contains 24% phosphatidylcholine. Lecithin-derived phosphatidylcholine acts as a surfactant, which means that it is responsible for maintaining the surface tension of cell membranes and controls what enters and leaves the cell through the membranes.

In the body, phosphatidylcholine is the major supplier of choline, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is necessary for optimal brain and nerve function. As a result, researchers are interested in using phosphatidylcholine for improving memory and treating neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.

Health Benefits

Animal studies indicate phosphatidylcholine alone and in conjunction with vitamin B12 improves memory. However, studies in humans have thus far shown no significant improvement in memory loss for Alzheimer's patients; more human studies are needed. (3-6) 

Specifically, phosphatidylcholine may help to:

  • Reduce inflammation in stress conditions. Choline derived from phosphatidylcholine exhibits anti-inflammatory properties in stress conditions.  A recent animal study indicated dietary PC supplementation in conjunction with two other lipids decreased inflammation in mice with pleurisy, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the lungs. This study confirms a potential for anti-inflammatory properties in humans. Another animal study indicates PC supplementation enhanced recovery from hypothermia. And in a human study of patients with chronic active ulcerative colitis, phosphatidylcholine in a delayed release formulation (to allow it to get to the colon) was shown to alleviate inflammation. (7-9)

  • Reduce gastrointestinal toxicity of ibuprofen. Long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) such as ibuprofen has been known to cause gastrointestinal injury particularly in patients aged 55 and older. In a study of 125 patients with osteoarthritis, a dose of 2400 mg/day of ibuprofen or an equivalent dose of ibuprofen-PC was administered for 6 weeks. Patients that were given ibuprofen-PC showed a trend toward improved gastrointestinal safety.(10)


  • Reduce hyperlipidemia in dialysis patients. Dialysis patients have a high incidence of cardiovascular complications; therefore, hyperlipidemia (elevated blood lipids) is of particular concern. Phosphatidylcholine makes cholesterol more soluble and less able to cause hardening of the arteries. In a 1989 study, dialysis patients with serum cholesterol levels of 260mg/dl or higher were given placebo or phosphatidylcholine. The PC group showed a decrease in total cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels indicating PC supplementation is effective for hyperlipidemia. (11)

  • Reverse fatty liver and other liver damage. PC supplementation may be used in the treatment and reversal of liver damage. Research has shown that the fatty liver, which is a complication of long-term intravenous feeding in critically ill patients, may be reversed. Phosphatidylcholine may also have therapeutic and preventive effects in alcohol-induced liver disease. In addition, animal studies indicate PC supplementation decreases the hyperlipidemia (increased blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels) that accompanies alcohol consumption while maintaining levels of HDL, or "good" cholesterol. (12-15)

  • Treat effects of hepatitis. Studies indicate phosphatidylcholine supplementation reduces the effects of hepatitis B including liver damage. In hepatitis C, one study indicates PC supplementation in conjunction with interferon and after termination of interferon reduces the relapse rate. (16-19)

  • Treat fat deposits. Phosphatidylcholine injections have been used in Europe since 2002 for to cause lipolysis—the breakdown of fat in fat cells. In a 2005 study, patients with lower eyelid fat pads were given phosphatidylcholine injections. Treatments were cosmetically beneficial and were still apparent after nine months. However, more studies are needed to determine long-term safety and efficacy.(20,21)

  • Alleviate premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Studies have shown that omega-3 phospholipids from the tiny Antarctic shrimp known as Krill, which contains mostly PC in conjunction with other phospholipids outperformed conventional fish oil in the treatment of symptoms of PMS and dysmenorrhea (painful menses). (22)

  • Improve exercise performance. Studies indicate oral PC supplementation improves performance in various sports activities where exercise has depleted choline concentrations. More research is needed to determine minimum dietary requirements. (23)

Note: Phosphatidylcholine has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for phosphatidylcholine.

Forms

  • tablet
  • softgel
  • capsule
  • liquid

Dosage Information

Special tips:

  • Read labels carefully. Phosphatidylcholine is often sold in the form of a complex and should be taken only according to the manufacturer's directions.

  • Pure preparations that contain up to 98% phosphatidylcholine are considered best since lower dosages are required, resulting in fewer side effects.

  • For subjects with severe liver damage, best results may be obtained by initiating therapy with intravenous and oral PC, then maintaining oral supplementation after improvement has begun. 

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for phosphatidylcholine, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

  • The therapeutic range of PC intake is 800-2,400 mg daily, and 4.6 grams or higher for liver salvage.

  • To enhance absorption, take PC 20 to 30 minutes before meals with a 6- to 8-ounce glass of water or juice.

General Interaction

Do not take PC with acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors since this combination may excessively increase acetylcholine levels and potentially cause cholinergic side effects. AChE inhibitors include donepezil (Aricept), tacrine (Cognex), and rivastigmine (Exelon). In addition, anticholinergic drugs such as atropine and cholinergic drugs such as succinylcholine may also increase acetylcholine levels and should not be combined with PC. 

Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealthMD Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.

Possible Side Effects

  • PC is well tolerated at daily intakes of up to 18 grams. Ingesting large amounts (30 grams) may cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea.

  • Injectable PC can cause pain, burning, itching, tenderness to touch, bruising, edema, and redness at the injection site. Dosages greater than 1.2 grams phosphatidylcholine may cause nausea and abdominal pain.  

Cautions

  • Avoid PC if you have unipolar clinical depression as it may exacerbate this condition.

References

1. Physicians' Desktop Reference Health. Web page. Available at: http://www.pdrhealth.com/drugs/altmed/altmed-mono.aspx?contentFileName=ame0344.xml&contentName=Phosphatidylcholine&contentId=500. Accessed May 9, 2009.
2. Drug Information Online. Web page. Available at: http://www.drugs.com/npp/lecithin.html#ref13. Accessed May 9, 2009.
3. Hung MC, Shibasaki K, Yoshida R, Sato M, Imaizumi K. Learning behaviour and cerebral protein kinase C, antioxidant status, lipid composition in senescence-accelerated mouse: influence of a phosphatidylcholine-vitamin B12 diet. Br J Nutr. 2001 Aug;86(2):163-71.
4. Moriyama T, Uezu K, Matsumoto Y, Chung SY, Uezu E, Miyagi S, Uza M, Masuda Y, Kokubu T, Tanaka T, Yamamoto S. Effects of dietary phosphatidylcholine on memory in memory deficient mice with low brain acetylcholine concentration. Life Sci. 1996;58(6):PL111-8.
5. McDaniel MA, Maier SF, Einstein GO. "Brain-specific" nutrients: a memory cure? Nutrition. 2003 Nov-Dec;19(11-12):957-75.
6. Higgins JP, Flicker L. Lecithin for dementia and cognitive impairment. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2003;(3):CD001015.
7. Eros G, Varga G, Váradi R, Czóbel M, Kaszaki J, Ghyczy M, Boros M. Anti-inflammatory action of a phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine and N-acylphosphatidylethanolamine-enriched diet in carrageenan-induced pleurisy. Eur Surg Res. 2009;42(1):40-8.
8. Kumar R, Divekar HM, Gupta V, Srivastava KK. Antistress and adaptogenic activity of lecithin supplementation. J Altern Complement Med. 2002 Aug;8(4):487-92.
9. Stremmel W, Merle U, Zahn A, Autschbach F, Hinz U, Ehehalt R. Retarded release phosphatidylcholine benefits patients with chronic active ulcerative colitis. Gut. 2005 Jul;54(7):966-71.
10. Lanza FL, Marathi UK, Anand BS, Lichtenberger LM. Clinical trial: comparison of ibuprofen-phosphatidylcholine and ibuprofen on the gastrointestinal safety and analgesic efficacy in osteoarthritic patients. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 2008 Aug 15;28(4):431-42.
11. Kirsten R, Heintz B, Nelson K, Oremek G. Reduction of hyperlipidemia with 3-sn-polyenyl-phosphatidylcholine in dialysis patients. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol. 1989 Mar;27(3):129-34.
12. Phosphatidylcholine. Altern Med Rev. 2002 Apr;7(2):150-4.
13. Buchman AL, Dubin M, Jenden D, Moukarzel A, Roch MH, Rice K, Gornbein J, Ament ME, Eckhert CD. Lecithin increases plasma free choline and decreases hepatic steatosis in long-term total parenteral nutrition patients. Gastroenterology. 1992 Apr;102(4 Pt 1):1363-70.
14. Mitzscherling K, Volynets V, Parlesak A. Phosphatidylcholine reverses ethanol-induced increase in transepithelial endotoxin permeability and abolishes transepithelial leukocyte activation. Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2009 Mar;33(3):557-62.
15. Navder KP, Baraona E, Lieber CS. Polyenylphosphatidylcholine decreases alcoholic hyperlipemia without affecting the alcohol-induced rise of HDL-cholesterol. Life Sci. 1997;61(19):1907-14.
16. Jenkins PJ, Portmann BP. Use of polyunsaturated phosphatidyl choline in HBsAg negative chronic active hepatitis: results of prospective double-blind controlled trial. Liver 1982;2:77-81.
17.Visco G. Polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine (EPL) associated with vitamin B-complex in the treatment of acute viral hepatitis-B. La Clinica Terapeutica 1985;114:183-188.
18.Ilic V, Begic-Janev A. Therapy for HBsAg positive chronically active hepatitis. Med Welt 1991;42:523-525.
19.Niederau C, Strohmeyer G, Heintges T, Peter K, Göpfert E. Polyunsaturated phosphatidyl-choline and interferon alpha for treatment of chronic hepatitis B and C: a multi-center, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Hepatogastroenterology. 1998 May-Jun;45(21):797-804.
20. Hasengschwandtner F. Phosphatidylcholine treatment to induce lipolysis. J Cosmet Dermatol. 2005 Dec;4(4):308-13.
21. Glynis Ablon, MD, and Adam M. Rotunda, MD. Treatment of Lower Eyelid Fat Pads Using Phosphatidylcholine: Clinical Trial and Review. Dermatologic Surgery Volume 30 Issue 3, Pages 422-427 Published Online: 5 Mar 2004.
22. Kidd PM. Omega-3 DHA and EPA for cognition, behavior, and mood: clinical findings and structural-functional synergies with cell membrane phospholipids. Altern Med Rev. 2007 Sep;12(3):207-27.
23. Jäger R, Purpura M, Kingsley M. Phospholipids and sports performance. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Jul 25;4:5.

Evidence Based Rating Scale

The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements and therapies demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

 

Condition

Rating

Explanation

 

Alcoholism

   

Studies indicate improvement in liver function and reduced liver inflammation; more large-scale studies needed. Recommended Dosage: 450mg taken 3X/day with meals.(12)

 Hepatitis B  

Multiple studies consistently indicate improved liver function. Recommended Dosage: 450mg taken 3X/day with meals. (12, 16-18)


 Hepatitis C  
One study indicates reduced relapse rate; more studies needed. Recommended Dosage: 600mg taken 3X/day with meals in combination with interferon. (12,19)
 

Memory Loss/Impairment  

Cochrane reviews indicate only a possible moderate benefit for Alzheimer's patients.  Recommended Dosage: 420mg taken 3X/day with meals. (5,6)



Date Published: 05/18/2009
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