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What Is Phosphatidylcholine?

Have you heard of Phosphatidylcholine (PC)? If no, you’re not alone; however, this product is a very popular product on the website, so people obviously know about it!  Let's get to the bottom of this popular nutrient.

First Off, How Is Phosphatidylcholine Even Pronounced?

According to the American Heritage Medical Dictionary, its two phonetic pronunciations look like this: 

phos·pha·ti·dyl·cho·line    AND    fŏs'fə-tīd'l-kō'lēn

Phosphatidylcholine and Cell Membranes

Your cell membranes are like a wall around your cells and depend on phosphatidylcholine. This wall lets the nutrients in while keeping harmful elements out, and those membranes are everywhere – surrounding every one of the 37.2 trillion cells that make up your amazing body. PC keeps your cell membranes fluid and healthy, allowing them to function at their optimal level. If the membranes become stiff, unhealthy, and nonfunctional, they can't move nutrients into your cells or transport harmful compounds out. The external cell membranes protect your nucleus, which contains your DNA, and the internal cell membranes protect your mitochondria, the powerhouse that produces your body's energy source.

If a cell membrane is damaged, how can it protect your DNA? It can't! Think of all the environmental chemicals and infectious agents that will inevitably get in. And what will happen to your mitochondria without a healthy cell membrane? How can your mitochondria efficiently produce the energy each cell needs if their cell membranes are unhealthy? They can't. In fact, without a membrane, your cell is dead.

Why Choline is Important

In order to make phosphatidylcholine, your body needs a lot of choline, and humans obtain primarily from our diet (meat, liver and eggs and some vegetable sources).

Choline is needed for a number of tasks:

  • To support liver function, nerve function, muscle movement, energy levels, and metabolism. 
  • To make acetylcholine, a brain neurotransmitter important for learning and concentration.
  • As a backup pathway for the Methylation cycle when you don't have enough methylfolate (methylated vitamin B9) or methylcobalamin (methylated B12)

What Are Phosphatidylcholine's Health Benefits?

Phosphatidylcholine and Pregnancy

You need extra phosphatidylcholine during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Children who are still growing also need extra PC. Basically, whenever your body is making a lot of new cells, you need a lot of this vital substance. In addition, PC is essential for nerve function, muscle movement and brain development. 

Phosphatidylcholine, Fat Metabolism and Bile Health

PC helps package and move triglycerides, a type of fat, out of your liver. Phosphatidylcholine breaks down fat deposits in the body and is necessary for metabolizing and transporting fat to our cells. Without enough PC, you can develop a condition known as fatty liver because fat actually becomes trapped in the liver. 

Also involved in fat metabolism is bile, a substance produced by your liver, and then sent to your gallbladder until it's needed. You need PC to help your bile flow smoothly out of your gallbladder. Bile helps you absorb fat, which aids in digestion, thus keeping bacteria out of your small intestine. Here's more on why healthy bile is important.

Phosphatidylcholine and Liver Health

Your liver is one of the hardest working organs in your body. To date, improving liver damage is the best documented clinical success for use of phosphatidylcholine. Research findings consistently show significant clinical benefits by using phosphatidylcholine, including improvement of enzymatic and other biochemical indicators, faster functional and structural rebuilding of liver tissue, accelerated restoration of subjects' overall well-being, and improved survival following PC treatment (1, 2). 

Phosphatidylcholine also has potential benefits for liver repair due to hepatitis, particularly hepatitis C. Numerous studies have found administering phosphatidylcholine to people with chronic, acute hepatitis, led to a substantial decrease in disease activity (3, 4, 5). 

Patients who had alcohol-induced fatty liver disease (technical term hepatic steatosis) and were deficient in choline had a reversal of this condition upon supplementing with choline (6, 7).

Phosphatidylcholine and Mental Function

Another use of phosphatidylcholine is related to cognitive health. The body uses phosphatidylcholine to make a brain chemical called acetylcholine, which is involved in memory. For this reason, researchers hypothesize PC may help people with Alzheimer’s disease, but clinical studies have not yet supported this theory 100%. Still, people with mild to moderate dementia may benefit from supplements of phosphatidylcholine (8).   

How Does Phosphatidylcholine Taste?

It depends on the supplement, but some are pretty potent. You could add it to juice, such as orange or pineapple, but drink it quickly since it won’t mix well. Or simply swallow it straight. You may hold your nose while taking it as sense of smell is needed to taste. Then wash it down with something you enjoy. I find the taste to be not that bad but we are all different ;) PC also comes in gelatin capsules, which eliminates the taste concern.

Use a non-GMO, soy-free form. A sunflower-based product is better. Store liquid PC in a cool, dry area, but not in the refrigerator, which would make it harder to pour.

So now we know why phosphatidylcholine is a big deal and a top seller! It sounds like a lot of research has been done, but more is needed in certain areas to determine phosphatidylcholine as a valid treatment option or not. Taking PC supplements can lead to feelings of depression, so talk to your health care provider to help you fine-tune your dosage. 

In Health and Happiness,

Kelly Harrington, MS, RDN

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Healthy Goods

References:

1. Kidd PM. Phosphatidylcholine, a superior protectant against liver damage.  Altern Med Rev 1996;1:258-274.

2. Buchman AL, Dubin MD, Moukarzel AA, et al.  Choline deficiency: a cause of hepatic steatosis during parenteral nutrition that can be reversed with intravenous choline supplementation.  Hepatology 1995;22:1399-1403.

3. Ilic V, Hegic-Janev A.  Therapy for HBsAg-positive chronically active hepatitis.  MedWelt 1991;42:523-525.

4. Niederau C, Strohmeyer G, Heintges T, et al.  Polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine and interferon alpha for treatment of chronic hepatitis H and C: a multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.  Hepatogastroenterol 1998;45:797-804.

5. Visco G. Polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine (EPL) associated with vitamin H-complex in the treatment of acute viral hepatitis-H.  La Clinica Terapeutica 1985;114:183-188.

6. Knuchel F. Double blind study in patients with alcohol-toxic fatty liver.  Med Welt 1979;30:411-416.

7. Buchman AL, Dubin MD, Moukarzel AA, et al. Choline deficiency: a cause of hepatic steatosis during parenteral nutrition that can be reversed with intravenous choline supplementation. Hepatology 1995;22:1399-1403.

8. Schaefer EJ, et al.  Plasma phosphatidylcholine docosahexaenoic acid content and risk of dementia and Alzheimer disease: the Framingham Heart Study.  Arch Neurol.  2006 Nov;63(11):1545-50.

9. SH. Choline and phosphatidylcholine.  In: Shils M, Olson JA, Shike M, Ross AC, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease, 9th ed. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins, 1999;513-523.

10. McCann JC, Hudes M, Ames BN.  An overview of evidence for a causal relationship between dietary availability of choline during development and cognitive function in offspring. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2006;30(5):696-712.  

 

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