Phosphatidylcholine - An Overview
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Phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid that forms a critical part of the membrane in each cell in your body.
It makes up about 30% of the lipids in your cells, making it one of the most abundant compounds in your nervous system.
This makes it a very important substance that can affect many different aspects of cognition and physical health.
It can be great choice as an overall holistic nootropic for many people. 23James Meschino. Choline and Phosphatidylcholine (Lecithin), Natural Health Products Compendium 24Nature Publishing Group. Phosphatidylcholine, Lipidomics Gateway 2009
In fact, the great futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil claims to get PC injections every week to maintain his youth. 25Gary Wolf. Ray Kurzweil Pulls Out All the Stops (and Pills) to Survive to the Singularity, Wired. 2000
Although you might not want to go quite that far, supplementing with phosphatidylcholine can help with:
- Memory and learning
- Forming neural connections
- Physical performance
PC is present is some food, like eggs and beef.
Most supplemental choline is in the form of lecithin, which usually contains 10-20 percent Phosphatidylcholine.
However, more concentrated forms of phosphatidylcholine are now available, which are generally labeled as Phosphatidylcholine (not lecithin).
This can have a more pronounced benefit for users, because phosphatidylcholine can raise blood concentrations of choline 12x higher than other choline sources.26Hirsch MJ, Growdon JH, Wurtman RJ. Relations between dietary choline or lecithin intake, serum choline levels, and various metabolic indices, Metabolism. 1978
This supplement works as a nootropic by increasing flow of acetylcholine (ACh).
This is a critical neurotransmitter involved in memory, learning, and overall cognition.
PC is also a necessary building block in cell membranes, so keeping proper levels can ensure that your body has enough to repair damaged cells and grow new ones.
This can have a profound effect on brain health and mental function. 27Wang L, et al. Dietary uridine-5′-monophosphate supplementation increases potassium-evoked dopamine release and promotes neurite outgrowth in aged rats, J Mol Neurosci. 2005
What Does Phosphatidylcholine Do?
There is some evidence that phosphatidylcholine can treat clinical depression and raise mood in combination with other therapies.
This is probably due to its action on the acetylcholine system, and it’s ability to repair brain cells that may be damaged.
According to one study, PC may be effective in treating bipolar depression when supervised by a trained professional. 1James Meschino. Choline and Phosphatidylcholine (Lecithin), Natural Health Products Compendium
Multiple small studies and case reports suggest that supplementation with phosphatidylcholine 15 g to 30 g/day reduces the severity of both mania and depression in bipolar patients.
They also saw that symptoms recur when phosphatidylcholine supplementation stops. 2Cohen BM, Lipinski JF, Altesman RI. Lecithin in the treatment of mania: double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, Am J Psychiatry. 1982
PC may also lower a hormone called homocysteine, which can cause neurotransmitter deficiency. There is an association between increased homocysteine levels and depression.3Enko D, et al. Association between increased plasma levels of homocysteine and depression observed in individuals with primary lactose malabsorption, PLoS One. 2018 4Olthof MR, et al. Choline supplemented as phosphatidylcholine decreases fasting and postmethionine-loading plasma homocysteine concentrations in healthy men, Am J Clin Nutr. 2005
There is some preliminary evidence that supplementing with PC during pregnancy may prevent the development of schizophrenia as the child grows.
This is an interesting finding, and it most likely linked to how critical phosphatidylcholine is during early childhood development. 5Ross RG, et al. Perinatal choline effects on neonatal pathophysiology related to later schizophrenia risk, Am J Psychiatry. 2013
One large population study of 5918 Norweigan subjects and found that blood concentrations of choline were inversely related to anxiety.
This is a promising initial finding, although more research is needed. 6Bjelland I, et al. Choline in anxiety and depression: the Hordaland Health Study, Am J Clin Nutr. 2009
Unfortunately, clinical trials using Phosphatidylcholine in Alzheimer’s disease are largely disappointing.7James Meschino. Choline and Phosphatidylcholine (Lecithin), Natural Health Products Compendium
Memory and Learning
This is because it can provide extra choline and acetylcholine, which are critical for encoding and storing new information.
There are a few animal and human studies that suggest PC has a nootropic effect on memory.
A study focusing on healthy students saw that PC significantly improved “explicit memory” after ingestion.
Explicit memory refers to conscious long-term memory that is easily and intentionally recalled and recited.
One trial looked at elderly participants who took lecithin for 5 weeks.
At the end of the group that took this PC-containing supplement scored significantly better on memory tests than the placebo group.
The participants who supplemented also self-reported better memory and mood. 10Florence Safford, Barry Baumel. Testing the Effects of Dietary Lecithin on Memory in the Elderly: An Example of Social Work/ Medical Research Collaboration,
Research on Social Work Practice. 1994
A rat study from Japan also seems to support the idea that PC can improve memory processing, at least in animals with dementia. 11Chung SY, et al. Administration of phosphatidylcholine increases brain acetylcholine concentration and improves memory in mice with dementia, J Nutr. 1995
PC does not only have benefits for the brain, but the body as well. It is naturally present in all human cells, and there is some evidence that supplementing with it can influence physical performance.
Athletes might consider phosphatidylcholine as a workout supplement. Optimal muscle performance depends on sufficiently available choline for acetylcholine synthesis.
Phosphatidylcholine supplementation can increase plasma choline concentration in humans before a strenuous activity and might improve performance. 12von Allwörden HN, Horn S, Kahl J, Feldheim W. The influence of lecithin on plasma choline concentrations in triathletes and adolescent runners during exercise, Eur J Appl Physiol Occup Physiol. 1993
There is also preliminary evidence that PC can potentially burn fat (although the research so far has only looked at injections). 13Reeds DN, et al. Metabolic and structural effects of phosphatidylcholine and deoxycholate injections on subcutaneous fat: a randomized, controlled trial, Aesthet Surg J. 2013
PC can have protective effects on the liver. Research shows it can prevent and repair damage to this organ caused by many issues.
Phosphatidylcholine is an integral part of plasma lipoproteins, which transport fat and cholesterol out of the liver, a vital process. 14Sergio O.Serna-Saldivar Janet A.Gutiérrez-Uribe SilverioGarcía-Lara. Phytochemical Profiles and Nutraceutical Properties of Corn and Wheat Tortillas, Tortillas. 2015
In Germany, phosphatidylcholine is authorized for the treatment of the following liver disorders:
- Acute viral hepatitis
- Alcohol – induced fatty liver
- Chronic hepatitis
- Cirrhosis of the liver
- Decreased bile solubility (i.e. estrogen replacement therapy)
- Diabetic fatty liver
- Drug-induced liver damage
- Toxic liver damage
Phosphatidylcholine supplementation also protects against alcohol-induced liver abnormalities and cirrhosis in baboons, and presumably it exerts the same effects in humans.16Olthof MR, Brink EJ, Katan MB, Verhoef P. Choline supplemented as phosphatidylcholine decreases fasting and postmethionine-loading plasma homocysteine concentrations in healthy men, Am J Clin Nutr. 2005
How Phosphatidylcholine Works In The Brain
Phosphatidylcholine works through several different pathways to achieve it’s nootropic and health benefits.
This substance (along with phosphatidylserine) makes up the outer layer of every cell membrane in the human body.
This makes it crucial for maintaining cellular health and structure.
Without enough phosphatidylcholine, your cells will eventually degrade and die. This problem gets worse as you age. 17Zweigner J, et al. Bacterial inhibition of phosphatidylcholine synthesis triggers apoptosis in the brain, J Exp Med. 2004
PC is a rich source of choline, which is crucial for sustaining life. It modulates the basic signaling processes within cells, is a structural element in membranes, and is vital during critical periods in brain development.
Supplementing with a choline source like PC can ensure your body has adequate choline levels, which can have a holistic effect across the board. 18Zeisel SH, Blusztajn JK. Choline and human nutrition, Annu Rev Nutr. 1994
Phosphatidylcholine also increases biosynthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh.)
This neurotransmitter is very closely involved in many aspects of cognition. Especially learning and memory.
PC also metabolizes into other lipids that are necessary for long-term memory formation and storage. So, supplementing with PC can have a big nootropic effect in this regard. 19John H. Growdon. Use of Phosphatidylcholine in Brain Diseases: An Overview, Lecithin. 198720MJ Hirsch, RJ Wurtman. Lecithin consumption increases acetylcholine concentrations in rat brain and adrenal gland
, Science. 1978 21Wurtman RJ, Hirsch MJ, Growdon JH. Lecithin consumption raises serum-free-choline levels, Lancet. 1977
Supplementation of phosphatidylcholine could lead to better transport of vitamin E, which overcome the oxidative damage to activities of the brain. 22Bruno Mesmin, Bruno Antonny. Vitamin Currency in a Lipid Exchange Market, Science. 2013
Phosphatidylcholine Potential Side Effects
Phosphatidylcholine is produced by your body naturally, and is completely non-toxic.
In almost all clinical trials, PC has been well tolerated and free from toxic side effects
That said, if your body already produces plenty of choline, you might not see any benefits, or even experience some negatives.
At higher dosages, Phosphatidylcholine may cause the following mild side effects:
- Reduced appetite
- Abdominal bloating
- Gastrointestinal pain
We strive to bring you the most up to date, research-based information about Phosphatidylcholine and other nootropics.
Something we missed? Do you use Phosphatidylcholine? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.
About the author:
Erik Levi is a co-founder of HolisticNootropics.com and a certified holistic nutritional therapy practitioner.
As an NTP Erik takes a nutrition first approach to health. He has worked with many different people to help them use nutrition to optimize their quality of life.
Erik believes that mental health is a physiological process and cognitive enhancement is not something that can be achieved by just taking some pills with good Amazon reviews.
Instead, true cognitive enhancement comes with the right balance of nutrients, movement, and gratitude. Erik continues to stay up to date with the most current nootropic and holistic health research and promises to deliver the best solutions possible.
You can check out his personal health blog/podcast/YouTube Channel all under the name Holistic A-Hole.