Memory Rejuvenators: Choline and Lecithin
Acetylcholine -- A Major Neurotransmitter
Lecithin Converts to Acetylcholine
Years ago Carlton Fredericks, Ph.D., recommended giving choline, the vitamin B cousin, to increase the amount of acetylcholine in the nervous system. Acetylcholine is a major neurotransmitter that mediates our emotions and behavior and provides an important chemical bridge between nerve cells. Lecithin is the richest source of choline, which the brain converts to acetylcholine.
Soy Lecithin Granules
Lecithin comes from the Greek word lekithos, meaning "egg yolk," which, with soybeans, is one of its richest sources. Lecithin is a special type of fat called a phospholipid; its chemical name is phosphatidyl choline. About 13 percent by weight of the lecithin molecule is choline. The foods that are rich sources of lecithin are eggs, organ meats and other meats, whereas grains, fruits and vegetables are poorer sources.
Eliminating eggs from the average daily diet reduces the body's total lecithin intake by one third. Richard Wurtman, M.D., a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and other experts say many people are not getting enough lecithin and choline in their diet.
Throughout her career, my mother Gladys Lindberg, placed all of her clientele on soy lecithin granules. She did so because of her textbook knowledge of its importance. Convinced of the value of lecithin, she would say "it is like a detergent that keeps cholesterol soluble in the blood." Subsequent studies and scientific research proved her right, as lecithin has a cholesterol-lowering ability.
Lecithin and Choline Improve Memory and Learning
Phosphatidyl choline (lecithin), the precursor of acetylcholine, has been given to patients to correct an acetylcholine deficiency. Short-term memory was improved in some patients who took daily doses of phosphatidyl choline for four months. Supplemental choline also enhanced short-term memory.
When choline was fed to pregnant rats, their offspring showed significantly better memory in maze tests than rats whose mothers were not fed choline. The improved memory was maintained at a level comparable to that of much younger rats even after the rats grew old. The beneficial effect probably relates to lecithin's function in nerve membranes and to the need for choline to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which enables signals to go from nerve to nerve.
Human Studies Suggest Lecithin and Choline May Also Benefit Memory
In one study researchers gave 61 healthy older adults, (aged 50 to 80 years) either two tablespoons of lecithin or a placebo for five weeks. By the end of the study, memory test scores of the lecithin group improved significantly, exceeding those of the placebo group. The lecithin group also reported a 48 percent decrease in memory lapses. The researchers concluded that "the cost of lecithin is so low, the negative side effects so minimal and the potential benefits so positive, that we would recommend . . . all persons experiencing memory problems take lecithin granules as food supplements." I personally feel all of us should take lecithin, even if we don't have memory lapses. Let's prevent them.
Increasing the amount of acetylcholine in the brain may open the way to improving mental function, particularly memory. Researchers at Ohio State University found that mice fed a diet laced with choline-rich lecithin or phosphatidyl choline (PC) had much better memory retention than animals given regular diets. When their brains were examined under a microscope, the lecithin-fed mice showed fewer signs of aging. Specifically, the lecithin-fed mice had brain cell membranes that were less rigid and with fewer fatty deposits in them. As the brain ages, its cell membranes become more rigid with fatty deposits and they lose their ability to take in and release brain chemicals and to relay messages. This can cause memory loss and confused thinking.
As we age, brain cells also tend to lose parts of the nerve cells (dendritic spines) that convey impulses to the nerve cells in the body. These chemical receptor areas are very important in transmitting information. This loss in nerve cells results in a condition that may be analogous to a bad telephone connection -- messages tend to be distorted or lost. However, lecithin-fed mice in the study above had the same number of dendritic spines as younger mice.
Psychological Disorders. Lecithin also has been useful in detoxifying some of the severe side effects of the neuroleptic drugs and major tranquilizers used in the management of psychological disorders such as psychosis, according to Dr. Sheldon Hendler. One of the worst side effects of these drugs is tardive dyskinesia, which is characterized by involuntary movement of the neck, head, and tongue. When used for six months or longer, these drugs deplete the brain of choline and acetylcholine, resulting in deficiencies that can last even after the neuroleptic drugs are no longer taken. Supplemental phosphatidyl choline can often arrest the involuntary movements of tardive dyskinesia. It has been used with some success in patients with other neurological diseases such as Gilles de la Tourette's syndrome, Friedreich's ataxia, and a form of dyskinesia caused by the anti-Parkinson's disease drug, Levodopa.
When Lithium Has Failed
Choline and phosphatidyl choline (from lecithin) have also been employed in managing some forms of mania. In fact, these nutrients have been successful in cases where the mineral lithium has failed. In one study, the combination of lecithin and lithium significantly reduced the severity of manic episodes. However, when lecithin was discontinued and the patients were getting only lithium, 75 percent had a worsening of their problem.
Click here to order Lindberg Lechithin Granules. Each tablespoon provides 222 mg of choline which your body uses to ceate phospholipids that make up cell membranes. Add 1-2 tablespoons daily to a shake or mix into salads, dressings or in yogurt.
The easiest way to consume lecithin is to mix it into juice, our protein breakfast shake or use on dry or cooked cereal. It can even be added to salads or into salad dressings. Lecithin granules are much more economical and potent as it takes approximately ten large lecithin capsules to equal one tablespoon of granulated lecithin. All forms should be available at your nutrition store.
- Wurtman, R. J. "The choline-deficient diet." FASEB Journal 5 (1991): 2612.
- Lindberg, Gladys and Judy McFarland. Take Charge of Your Health. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1982, pages 88-89.
- Hendler, Sheldon Saul, M.D., Ph.D. Purification Prescription. New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1991, pages 61�63.
- Meck, W. H. "Choline and development of brain memory functions across the lifespan." Seventh International Congress of Phospholipids (Brussels, Belgium, September 1996).
- Nutrition Science News 2.10 (October 1997).
- Safford, F. and B. Baumel. "Testing the effects of dietary lecithin on memory in the elderly: An example of social work/medical research collaboration." Research on Social Work Practice 4 (1994): 349-358.
- Passwater, Richard A., Ph.D. The New Supernutrition. New York:Pocket Books, 1991, pages 55�56. Hendler, Sheldon Saul, M.D., Ph.D. Purification Prescription. New York: William Morrow and Co., Inc., 1991, pages 61�63.
- Hendler, Sheldon Saul, M.D., Ph.D. The Doctor�s Vitamin and Mineral Encyclopedia. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1990, page 263.
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