Lecithin: A Forgotten Giant?
News from NOW's Quality Assurance Department
In today’s high-tech rapidly changing nutrition marketplace we are constantly inundated by new products, irresistible fads, and nutrients that are impossible to pronounce. A nutrient we tried yesterday has already been forgotten today so as to make room for the promise of something new tomorrow. Hopefully we can resist the temptation to forget some of the nutritional giants that have served as foundations to our health and even our industry. Lecithin is just one such nutritional powerhouse.
Lecithin is composed of a group of phosphorus containing fats or phospholipids the most important being phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylinositol, and phosphatidylethanolamine. Lecithin can be found in a variety of foods including egg yolks, milk, meats, fish, and legumes. Since our intake of some of these foods has been reduced due to cholesterol and fat concerns we have concomitantly reduced our intake of this important nutrient. Every living cell contains these phospholipids and the functioning of our nervous system is particularly compromised if we are inadequate in lecithin’s key ingredients. Deficiencies are linked to a variety of neurological disorders. Phosphatidylcholine builds nerve cells and substances they communicate with and has been studied for memory. As a lipotropic choline is critical in fat and cholesterol metabolism particularly via the liver. The heart muscle has one of the highest concentrations of any muscle. For these reasons one often sees lecithin included in weightloss, cardiovascular, and liver support formulas.*
NOW recognizes the importance of lecithin and carries one of the largest selections of lecithin products on the market today. Commercially lecithin is derived from soybeans. Concerns over Genetically Modified Organisms such as found in most soy beans has prompted NOW to introduce a non-GMO lecithin, one of the first of its kind. NOW has a strict specification on heavy metal and microbial content. The extraction process also necessitates careful monitoring of solvent residues, rancidity via peroxide values, moisture content and other impurities, and phospholipid content. Our granular lecithin is 97 - 98% phospholipids compared to the 95% seen in other brands and with a taste that many people prefer over others. This is often a tell tale sign for purity. Rest assured that NOW will continue to work to meet or exceed our already high standards.
Lecithin and Phosphatides
By Heidi Li, NOW Methods Department
Lecithin is the most common natural phospholipid that is found in many animal tissues and organs as an important constituent of biological membranes. It is also widespread in the plant world and abundant in legumes, cereals and seed embryos. Vegetable lecithin is the main constituent of commercially available sources, in which the majority of lecithin is derived from soybeans. Lecithin's biological and physiological properties make it useful in the pharmaceutical, food and cosmetics fields. Moreover, it widely used for a dietary supplement to aid in memory and cognitive function, cardiovascular health and liver function.
Lecithin from soybean sources is a complex mixture of phosphatides that contains mainly of Phosphatidylcholine (PC), Phosphatidyethanilamine (PE) and Phosphatidylinositol (PI) with minor amount of Phosphatidic acid (PA), Phosphatidylserine (PS), and corresponding lysophosphatidyl derivatives (LPC, LPE, LPI, and LPS). Neutral lipids, free fatty acids, carbohydrates and other components are also present in soy lecithin. High-purity PC and PE, the fraction products of phospholipids, were extensively applied in the fields of nourishment, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Among PC, PE and other phosphatides, PC is one of important active ingredients, which acts as a vehicle for essential fatty acids to promote metabolism through the cell membrane. Research has shown that Phosphatidylcholine is beneficial in depression, memory loss and neurological disorders.
The composition of lecithin is largely dependent on lecithin source and degree of purification. Owing to the difficulty of obtaining lecithin PC and PE of sufficient purity, it is important to develop rapid and effective analytical methods for the purpose of quality control and to discover any commercial frauds. HPLC technique has been widely used to develop selective and specific assays, which are required by current pharmaceutical regulations. HPLC analysis of lipids is a comparatively less developed field of application of this technique. American Oil Chemistry Organization (AOCS) established an HPLC method to determine PC, PE and PI in Lecithin by HPLC, which is validated and mostly performed for analysis lecithin. This HPLC method allows separation between different classes of lipids and between individual compounds within a certain class.
NOW Foods carries variety of lecithin products, including Lecithin powder, granule and softgel. To ensure the quality of these products, we have developed HPLC method based on official AOCS method to validate analytical procedure for testing PC, PE and PI. This analytical method is accurate, efficient and simultaneous to determine typical levels of various phosphatidylcholine compounds to ensure the quality of our lecithin products.
Kirk, Othmer, Lecithin, Encyclopedia of chemical technology, vol. 14, John Wiley and Sons, New York, 1981. M. Caselli Anal. Lett. 14 (1981), pp. 1693–1709
J.L. Beare-Rogers, A. Bonekamp-Nasner and A. Dieffenbacher Pure Appl. Chem. 64 (1992), pp. 447–454
M.A. Yorek In: G. Cevc, Editor, Phospholipids Handbook, Marcel Dekker, New York (1993), p. 745