If you’re someone who pays attention to the nutrition label on a packaged food item, you might have noticed the word ‘lecithin’ under ingredients. You might be aware of this nutrient’s powers but have you ever wondered when and how much of this you should take? Read on to find out!
Today, there are alternative sources available for every kind of nutrient our body requires, be it vitamins, minerals, or fatty acids such as fish oil. Lecithin is no exception.
With a myriad of health benefits to reap, taking soy lecithin might just be the solution to many common health issues, such as high cholesterol, poor sleep, and memory, poor digestive health, etc. Lecithin should already be a part of everyone’s diet because it is an essential nutrient naturally present in many food sources; however, taking additional soy lecithin supplements can promote overall well-being.
That being said, when is the right time to take soy lecithin? And how much of it should you be taking to see results? The simple answer to this – there is no set time or dosage for taking soy lecithin. A wide range of dosages are recommended based on the health problem you’re trying to fix, and as for time, lecithin is best if taken before meals, but there is no scientific evidence or research to prove this.
This article tells you everything you need to know about soy lecithin so that you can make an informed decision about when you should be taking it, and how much of it you should include in your diet.
What is soy lecithin?
Essentially, lecithin is a kind of fat. It belongs to a group of naturally occurring fats and lipids called phosphatides/phospholipids. Phosphatides are present in nearly all living cells and are structural components.
While lecithin is naturally occurring, it is also produced commercially. Although lecithin was initially found in egg yolk, it also came to be found in multiple other sources. Commercial lecithin is a by-product of edible oil processing. Depending on the kind of oil, the lecithin by-product can vary. For instance, soy lecithin, the most common lecithin used in the food industry, is extracted from soybeans. Similarly, sunflower lecithin is a by-product of sunflower oil processing, and so on. Lecithin almost always refers to soy lecithin, since it is the most common type.
Lecithin is commonly used as a food additive, and the primary reason for this is that it acts as an emulsifier. Emulsifiers keep normally immiscible substances (substances that do not mix), like oil and water, together. For instance, soy lecithin is used in chocolate production to keep the cocoa butter (fat) and chocolate portion combined.
Lecithin also has other applications in the food industry, such as for viscosity reduction and as a wetting agent.
Apart from being used as a food additive (in minimal amounts), the main formulations of lecithin are as follows – liquid, granule, and powder. Supplements may be available in the form of soft capsules or granules, and some products may come as tablets or powders.
Health benefits of soy lecithin
While lecithin supplements can be derived from sunflower seeds, eggs, etc., soybean is the most common ingredient used for lecithin supplements. In general, lecithin extracted from any of these substances has tremendous health benefits. These are the benefits of soy lecithin:
Improved cardiovascular health
The primary benefit of lecithin is that it improves cardiovascular health. In fact, one of its most spectacular properties is its ability to reduce excess LDL cholesterol, also known as bad cholesterol. In addition, it promotes the synthesis of HDL or good cholesterol.  Lower LDL level means less buildup of plaque in your arteries and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
Helps with bowel conditions and improves digestion
Lecithin can also help with ulcerative colitis or inflammatory bowel disease. Lecithin contains a chemical called phosphatidylcholine, which is a component of mucus in the digestive tract and can help prevent inflammation. Since ulcerative colitis is linked with low levels of this chemical, lecithin can help treat ulcerative colitis. Lecithin has also been associated with better digestion and improved immune function in general.
Aid breastfeeding mothers
Another issue that soy lecithin can help with is Mastitis, which is most common in breastfeeding women. Mastitis is a condition in which the breast tissue becomes inflamed, usually because of clogged milk ducts. Taking lecithin supplements can help with recurrent clogged ducts. The usual recommended dosage for this is 3600 to 4800 mg per day.
Improve brain function and cognition
Lecithin contains a compound called choline, which is a precursor (something required to get to the next step) in the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a crucial neurotransmitter as it plays a vital role in regulating memory, mood, and intelligence. It also acts as a messenger between various nerves and is also needed for DNA synthesis. Since choline can have such a significant impact on cognition and brain development, it may be beneficial to take soy lecithin, among other vitamins for brain health, to improve brain function. Studies have been conducted to determine the efficacy of lecithin in treating patients with Alzheimer’s, dementia, or any other cognitive impairments .
Soy lecithin contains a compound called inositol, which has been known to reduce general anxiety, panic, and OCD symptoms . Thus lecithin can be used to lower cortisol levels and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Helps with sleep
Soy lecithin can help improve sleep patterns as it contains choline. In the body, choline helps make acetylcholine, which is an important neurotransmitter associated with REM sleep. Lecithin also contains fatty acids, and fatty acids in general have been linked to better quality sleep.
Lecithin dosage for anxiety and other issues
Note that while soy lecithin is approved as an ingredient or food additive, it is not FDA approved for treating or preventing any medical conditions. Lecithin is “Generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the US Food and drug administration. This means that there are no standard dosage guidelines and that supplements are not monitored by the FDA for purity and safety.
Thus, it would be wise to pay attention to labels and to generally go for products that a credible third party has independently tested.
Since there are no standard guidelines or a recommended daily allowance for lecithin, the dosages might vary depending on the reason for taking the supplements. Generally, manufacturers state the recommended dosage to be anywhere between 1200mg to 7500 mg of lecithin per day. Never take more than the label suggests, and always check with your physician before starting lecithin supplements.
There is no standard dosage. Lecithin has been tested as a treatment for mania, and in one conducted study, the patients were given 10 mg thrice daily, which was found to improve the mania symptoms.  While mania and anxiety are not the same, they have certain similar characteristics, so it is inferred that a similar or milder dosage can be given to treat anxiety.
About 500 mg. One study has shown that administering 500 mg of soy lecithin daily can decrease LDL cholesterol and total cholesterol by nearly 50% in two months’ time.
The Canadian breastfeeding foundation recommends 1200 mg four times daily for breastfeeding mothers. Consult with your physician before taking lecithin.
These dosages are only examples of how lecithin can be administered and in what quantities. Talk to a physician about what might work for you and your health concerns.
When is the best time to take soy lecithin?
There is no hard and fast rule for when soy lecithin needs to be taken. However, before breakfast and before dinner is the optimal time to take soy lecithin. Before meals is a recommended time.
The desired effect of lecithin can be seen only when it is taken daily or consistently.
Lecithin can also be taken during pregnancy as it contains compounds that are important components of amniotic fluid. Regardless, Check with your doctor before taking lecithin, and this is especially important when pregnant.
What is the best way to take soy lecithin?
Lecithin can be taken as capsules, granules, tablets, powder, or any of its other available formulations. The most important thing, however, is to never mix two different types of formulations. For instance, do not take capsules and tablets at the same time. Stick to one form of lecithin while taking it. Capsules can be taken as is, and forms such as powder and granules can also be taken as is, or added to smoothies or other meals if desired.
Can lecithin be taken on an empty stomach?
Yes. Lecithin is best taken before meals, but it’s more than okay to take it at a different time if you happen to miss a dose. Never overcompensate for a missed dose and never take more than recommended on a label. Lecithin does not need to be taken with meals and can be taken on an empty stomach.
Other sources of lecithin
Despite all the different kinds of lecithin supplements available today, someone trying to have sufficient lecithin intake to maintain good health can turn to natural sources of lecithin. There are many foods that are rich in lecithin and can provide many other nutritional benefits as well, such as –
- Red meat
- Organ meats like liver
- Wheat germ
- Sunflower oil
- Legumes, etc.
Side effects of lecithin
Generally, there are no severe adverse effects of lecithin. People with soy allergies might have to be wary of supplements and food items with lecithin in them. Such individuals can switch to alternatives such as sunflower lecithin.
Some other side effects might include:
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased appetite
- Increased salivation
One issue with soy lecithin is that unless the label says ‘organic’, chances are the lecithin has been extracted from genetically modified soybeans and is not always all-natural. On top of that, the extraction process of soy lecithin can also leave behind residue which can be harmful to the body.
Not enough clinical research has been done on lecithin and its effects, so side effects, treatments, and dosages may vary from person to person–but it’s good to know the possibilities and what to expect.
Can people with soy allergies take lecithin?
Soy lecithin contains soy protein residue, which is the substance that causes allergic reactions in people who are allergic to lecithin. Thus, people with allergies might want to avoid soy-based lecithin and try sunflower lecithin or lecithin derived from another source, as it can provide the same health benefits.
What is the best way to take lecithin?
The best way to take lecithin is in its natural form, as it comes in food. There are many foods that are rich in lecithin, for example, green vegetables, legumes, seafood, liver, etc. However, for people taking supplements for health reasons, lecithin can be taken as capsules, powder, granules, pills, tablets, and more. The best option out of these is dependent on personal comfort and dosage. Lecithin can be taken on an empty stomach and with a meal but does not have to be taken with a meal.
Can lecithin help me with anxiety?
Lecithin does contain compounds such as inositol, which are known to decrease anxiety and render a calm mental state. However, not enough research has been done regarding the efficacy of lecithin in treating anxiety. The best way to understand this is that lecithin treatment for anxiety needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as it might work for some individuals and might not work for others. Dosage for anxiety can vary from person to person but should never be more than the dosage on the product’s label.
Can lecithin help me sleep?
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter associated with REM sleep and is one, if not the most important, neurotransmitter of the sleep cycle. That being said, since lecithin is rich in choline, which helps to make acetylcholine, it is thought that lecithin can help with or improve sleep patterns. Additionally, there are other fatty acids for sleep that can be beneficial.
When is the best time to take soy lecithin?
Before breakfast or before dinner are considered good times to take soy lecithin. However, supplements can be taken at any time of the day and can be taken daily. As mentioned previously, a lack of standard guidelines means that the best time to take lecithin can vary depending on personal needs. Pregnancy is also a good time to take lecithin (in moderation) since lecithin is an essential component of amniotic fluid.
There is no wonder that lecithin is a necessary compound for healthy biological function. However, for a lot of its health perks, there is little clinical and concrete evidence to prove these claims. Soy lecithin’s benefits and risks are still a subject of study that needs more research.
Regardless, it is clear that lecithin is vital and should be part of our diets through natural sources. If extra lecithin is needed to treat a specific condition, then one can turn to supplements, but only after consulting a doctor and finding out what dosage works for them in particular. People with soy or egg allergies can try sunflower lecithin or another form of lecithin as an alternative.
- Mourad, Amouni Mohamed et al. “Influence of soy lecithin administration on hypercholesterolemia.” Cholesterol vol. 2010 (2010): 824813.
- Higgins, J P T, and L Flicker. “Lecithin for dementia and cognitive impairment.” The Cochrane database of systematic reviews ,3 (2003): CD001015.
- Moré, Margret I et al. “Positive effects of soy lecithin-derived phosphatidylserine plus phosphatidic acid on memory, cognition, daily functioning, and mood in elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.” Advances in therapy vol. 31,12 (2014): 1247-62.
- Cohen, B M et al. “Lecithin in the treatment of mania: double-blind, placebo-controlled trials.” The American journal of psychiatry vol. 139,9 (1982): 1162-4.