Lecithin is a waxy yellow phospholipid molecule found in both plants and animals. Your body uses lecithin to metabolize fats. Lecithin also contains choline, an essential nutrient sometimes included in the B-complex vitamin family, which your body uses to manufacture the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Lecithin may provide benefits for liver health. Check with your doctor before using lecithin to treat a liver condition.
Lecithin protects the liver from alcohol and other toxin-induced damage by discouraging the accumulation of fat in liver tissue, thereby preventing the development of fatty liver, which can lead to fibrosis, or scar tissue in the liver, says Phyllis Balch, certified nutritional consultant and author of the book "Prescription for Herbal Healing." Lecithin products with highly concentrated levels of phosphatidylcholine are available. Balch advises doses of 350 mg to 500 mg three times per day for liver diseases. For cholesterol reduction, Balch recommends doses of 500 mg to 900 mg per day. Use lecithin with your doctor's supervision.
Lecithin may prevent liver fibrosis by increasing the breakdown of collagen -- a protein component of scar tissue -- by as much as 60 percent, according to Bernard F. Szuhaj, co-editor of the book "Nutrition and Biochemistry of Phospholipids." In one animal study, lecithin supplementation reduced the transformation of liver cells into collagen-producing cells by 30 percent. Lecithin may also inhibit the production of a tissue-damaging molecule known as tissue necrosis factor. In one study, published in the January 2000 issue of the "Journal of Applied Physiology," when scientists administered tissue necrosis factor to laboratory animals, the animals' levels of choline decreased by 26 percent, indicating a potential role for choline in managing tissue necrosis factor levels.
Lecithin or choline deficiency can result in abnormal liver function in healthy adult men within a matter of weeks and has been shown to contribute to the development of liver cancer in animals, according to Robert Wildman, author of "Handbook of Nutraceuticals and Functional Foods." Lecithin is used in the production of very low-density lipoprotein cholesterol from triglycerides, a process that takes place in the liver. Without sufficient lecithin levels, liver lipids accumulate and promote fatty liver and potential liver dysfunction. People on intravenous feeding that doesn't include lecithin are particularly susceptible to developing fatty liver.
The University of Maryland Medical Center cautions that some people may experience allergic reactions or side effects from lecithin supplementation. Symptoms may include itching, rash or hives, swelling of the face or hands, swelling around the mouth or throat, and chest tightness or difficulty breathing. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, low levels of folic acid -- a water-soluble B-complex vitamin -- may lead to choline deficiency, since your body is capable of using choline for some of the functions normally carried out by folic acid.