"Lecithin is any of a group of yellow-brownish fatty substances occurring in animal and plant tissues, and in egg yolk, composed of phosphoric acid, choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, triglycerides, and phospholipids (e.g., phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylethanolamine, and phosphatidylinositol). However, "lecithin" is sometimes used as a synonym for pure phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipid that is the major component of its phosphatide fraction. It may be isolated either from egg yolk (in Greek lekithos—λέκιθος) or from soy beans, from which it is extracted chemically (using hexane) or mechanically."

It has low solubility in water. In aqueous solution its phospholipids can form either liposomes, bilayer sheets, micelles, or lamellar structures, depending on hydration and temperature. This results in a type of surfactant that is usually classified as amphoteric.

Lecithin is sold as a food supplement and for medical uses.

In biology

Phosphatidylcholine occurs in all cellular organisms being one of the components of the phospholipid portion of the Cell Membrane

As a food additive

Lecithin is regarded as a well-tolerated and non-toxic surfactant. It is approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration for human consumption with the status "Generally Recognized As Safe." Lecithin is an integral part of cell membranes, and can be totally metabolized, so it is virtually non-toxic to humans. Other emulsifiers can only be excreted via the kidneys. Lecithin is used commercially in substances requiring a natural emulsifier and/or lubricant, from pharmaceuticals to protective coverings. For example, lecithin is the emulsifier that keeps cocoa and cocoa butter in a candy bar from separating.

There are studies that show soy-derived lecithin has significant effects on lowering cholesterol and triglyceride, while increasing HDL ("good cholesterol") levels in the blood [Iwata, T., Kimura, Y., Tsutsumi, K., Furukawa, Y. & Kimura, S. (1993).The effect of various phospholipids on plasma lipoproteins and liver lipids in hypercholesterolemic rats. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology 39, 63-71.] [Jimenez, M. A., Scarino, M. L., Vignolini, F. & Mengheri, E. (1990). Evidence that polyunsaturated lecithin induces a reduction in plasma cholesterol level and favorable changes in lipoprotein composition in hypercholesterolemic rats. Journal of Nutrition 120, 659-667.] .

Commercial lecithin, as used by food manufacturers, is a mixture of phospholipids in oil. The lecithin is obtained by degumming the extracted oil of the seeds. The lecithin is a mixture of various phospholipids, and the composition depends on the origin of the lecithin. A major source of lecithin is soybean oil. Because of the EU-requirement to declare additions of allergens in foods, in addition to regulations regarding Genetically Modified Crops, a gradual shift to other sources of lecithin, e.g., sunflower oil, is taking place.

The main phospholipids in lecithin from soya and sunflower are phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidyl inositol, phosphatidyl ethanolamine, and phosphatidic acid. They are often abbreviated to PC, PI, PE, and PA, respectively. To modify the performance of lecithin, i.e., to make it suitable for the product to which it is added, it may be hydrolysed enzymatically. In hydrolysed lecithins, a portion of the phospholipids have one fatty acid removed by phospholipase. Such phospholipids are called lyso-phospholipids. The most commonly-used phospholipase is phospholipase A2, which removes the fatty acid at the sn-2 position.

In margarines, especially those containing high levels of fat (>75%), lecithin is added as an 'anti-spattering' agent for shallow frying. Lecithin is admitted by the EU as a food additive, designated by E number E322.

Lecithins may also be modified by a process called fractionation. During this process, lecithin is mixed with an alcohol, usually ethanol. Some phospholipids have a good solubility in ethanol (e.g., phosphatidylcholine), whereas most other phospholipids do not dissolve well in ethanol. The ethanol is separated from the lecithin sludge, after which the ethanol is removed by evaporation, to obtain a phosphatidylcholine-enriched lecithin fraction.

Compatibility with special diets

Thus far, the only proven benefit and suggested use is for those taking niacin to treat high cholesterol. Niacin treatment can deplete choline, necessitating an increased amount of lecithin or choline in the diet.

Egg-derived lecithin may be a concern for those following some specialized diets. Egg lecithin is not a concern for those on low-cholesterol diets, but, if not purified before being used as a food ingredient, it could significantly raise the overall cholesterol content of the food.

For observant Jews under Kashrut, it is considered "pareve", neutral, e.g., may be mixed with both meat and dairy. [OK Kosher Certification, "Meat, Dairy, and Pareve." [http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=63 http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=63] Retrieved on Sept 10, 2008.] However, soy derived lecithin is considered by some to be kitniyot and prohibited on Passover. [OK Kosher Certification, "Keeping Kosher for Pesach." [http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=172 http://www.okkosher.com/Content.asp?ID=172] Retrieved on Sept 10, 2008.] For most Muslims, lecithin or any other derivatives from plants, egg yolks or animals are allowed.Fact|date=May 2008 There is no general agreement among vegetarians concerning egg-derived lecithin, but since it is animal-derived, Jains, strict vegetarians, vegans choose not to consume it.

See also

* Biochemistry
* Choline
* Lipid
* Lipid bilayer


External links

* [http://www2.chemie.uni-erlangen.de/services/dissonline/data/dissertation/Christoph_Wabel/html/Chapter1.html Introduction to Lecithin] (University of Erlangen)
* [http://www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/soyguid.html FDA Industry guideline for soy lecithin labeling]
* [http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/nutsupdrugs/pho_0288.shtml Phosphatidylcholine info]
* [http://www.kellymom.com/nutrition/vitamins/lecithin.html Use of lecithin for recurrent plugged ducts]
* [http://www.perfectbiotech.com Lecithin Manufacturer]

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Lecithin — Lec i*thin, n. [Gr. le kiqos the yolk of an egg.] (Physiol. Chem.) A complex, nitrogenous phosphorized substance widely distributed through the animal body, and especially conspicuous in the brain and nerve tissue, in yolk of eggs, and in the… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Lecithīn — Lecithīn, ist nach Gobley der phosphorhaltige Körper der Höhner u. Karpfeneier, eine neutrale Substanz, welche beim Behandeln mit Mineralsäuren u. Alkalien Öl , Margarin u. Glycerinphosphorsäure liefert …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Lecithīn — Lecithīn, ein phosphorhaltiger Körper, der in Tier und Pflanzenzellen weitverbreitet vorkommt und besonders im Gehirn, in Nerven, Samen, im Blut, namentlich bei hochgradiger Leukämie, im Eiter, in der Galle, Milch, im Eidotter, Kaviar, in Hefe,… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Lecithin — Lecithīn, fettähnliche Substanz, charakteristischer Bestandteil des Gehirns, der Nerven und des Eidotters, überhaupt im Tier und Pflanzenkörper verbreitet, knetbare, nicht deutlich kristallinische Masse, quillt mit Wasser; zerfällt durch Säuren… …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • Lecithin — ⇒ Phospholipide …   Deutsch wörterbuch der biologie

  • lecithin — fatty substance found in the yolks of eggs (among other places), 1861, from Fr. lécithine (coined 1850 by N.T. Gobley), from Gk. lekithos egg yolk, + chemical suffix INE (Cf. ine) (2). Gk. lekithos is of unknown origin …   Etymology dictionary

  • lecithin — [les′i thin] n. [< Gr lekithos, yolk of an egg + IN1] any of several phosphatides found in nerve tissue, blood, milk, egg yolk, soybeans, corn, etc.: used in medicine, foods, cosmetics, etc. as a wetting, emulsifying, and penetrating agent …   English World dictionary

  • Lecithin — Lecithine (deutsch: Lezithine, altgriechisch: λέκιθος = Eidotter) ist der klassische Name für eine Gruppe chemischer Verbindungen, die so genannten Phosphatidylcholine. Dabei handelt es sich um Lipide, genauer Phospholipide, die sich aus… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • lecithin — /les euh thin/, n. 1. Biochem. any of a group of phospholipids, occurring in animal and plant tissues and egg yolk, composed of units of choline, phosphoric acid, fatty acids, and glycerol. 2. a commercial form of this substance, obtained chiefly …   Universalium

  • lecithin — Traditional term for 1,2 diacyl sn glycero 3 phosphocholines or 3 sn phosphatidylcholines, phospholipids that on hydrolysis yield two fatty acid molecules and a molecule each of glycerophosphoric acid and choline. In some varieties of l., both… …   Medical dictionary

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