What Is Phosphatidylcholine?
Phosphatidylcholine is a molecule that contains two fatty acids attached to a glycerol backbone with a phosphate group and choline.
- is an integral component of the pulmonary surfactant – a mixture of fats and proteins lining our lungs that make it possible for us to breathe.
- is one of the main components of mucus that lines and protects our gut.
- improves communication between nerves by increasing choline and acetylcholine levels in the brain
- improves liver health
- helps breaks down fats
Phosphatidylcholine levels may decrease as we age. For example, in the brain, there is a 10% reduction between age 40 and age 100 .
Because choline is needed to make phosphatidylcholine, low choline levels can limit its production. Choline deficiency can decrease phosphatidylcholine levels in the liver, leading to liver failure .
Phosphatidylcholine is also responsible for the production of very low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) [9, 10].
Why Are Low Levels Of Phosphatidylcholine Bad?
- Low levels of phosphatidylcholine in the brain are associated with Alzheimer disease [11, 12]. On the other hand, high levels of docosahexaenoic acid (the fatty acid which is attached to phosphatidylcholine in the brain) are associated with a decreased risk of dementia [13, 14].
- Low phosphatidylcholine levels in certain brain areas are associated with schizophrenia [15, 16, 17].
- Low levels of phosphatidylcholine in the liver are associated with fatty liver (NAFLD) .
- Very low levels of phosphatidylcholine caused liver damage in mice .
- Low levels of phosphatidylcholine are associated with ulcerative colitis .
Health Benefits of Phosphatidylcholine
1) Phosphatidylcholine Improves Memory
Low levels of phosphatidylcholine are associated with memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease .
A study (DB-RCT) of 80 healthy young adults found that phosphatidylcholine supplementation improved memory .
2) Phosphatidylcholine Improves Liver Health
Low levels of choline and phosphatidylcholine can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in humans [26, 27]. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as the name implies, is a disease in which fat build up in the liver due to causes other than alcohol.
A study (DB-RCT) using a combination of milk thistle (silybin) and phosphatidylcholine treatment showed a significant improvement in liver enzymes, insulin resistance, and liver tissue in 179 patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease .
Choline supplementation increases the ratio of phosphatidylcholine/phosphatidylethanol (PE) in the liver. This may prevent the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and increase the chance of survival after liver surgery [18, 25, 29].
3) Phosphatidylcholine Helps Treat Viral Hepatitis
A trial (DB-RCT) in 176 patients showed that phosphatidylcholine helped treat chronic hepatitis C but not hepatitis B .
Another study (DB-RCT) trial of 15 patients showed that phosphatidylcholine helped treat chronic hepatitis B .
However, phosphatidylcholine was not effective in treating acute viral hepatitis in a study of 22 patients .
4) Phosphatidylcholine Increases Fat Breakdown (Lipolysis) And Weight Loss
Fat breakdown involves the breakdown of triglyceride into glycerol and free fatty acids .
Phosphatidylcholine increases the production of PPAR gamma receptor, responsible for the breakdown of fats .
Phosphatidylcholine injections directly into the fat tissue can cause fat breakdown and can be used as an alternative to surgery. They can also help with lipomas, benign tumors caused by the buildup of fat [35, 36, 37].
A study (RCT) of 13 women showed that phosphatidylcholine injections reduced body fat and can be used for weight loss intervention .
Phosphatidylcholine injections reduced fat in the eyelids of 30 patients, acting as an alternative to eyelid surgery .
However, in a study (DB-PCT) of 26 subjects, phosphatidylcholine supplementation increased triglyceride levels in the blood .
5) Phosphatidylcholine May Reduce Inflammation
A cell study showed that phosphatidylcholine prevents the inflammation caused by TNF-α .
6) Phosphatidylcholine May Protect Neurons
Inflammation can decrease the production of new neurons in the hippocampus, a brain region important for learning and memory. Phosphatidylcholine prevented this decrease in mice by decreasing TNF-alpha levels .
7) Phosphatidylcholine May Improve Fetal Brain Development
Prenatal phosphatidylcholine supplementation may promote normal brain circuit function in the fetus and decreases the risk of mental illnesses .
In a study (RCT) of 100 pregnant women, phosphatidylcholine supplementation ensured proper brain development in the fetuses’ brains and prevented the delay in certain areas of brain development in fetuses that were genetically susceptible to schizophrenia .
8) Phosphatidylcholine May Improve Symptoms of Bipolar Disorder
A case study of a bipolar boy showed that phosphatidylcholine supplementation improved sleep and helped with his symptoms of hypomania (a mild form of mania, which is a period of euphoria or great excitement) .
In one study, high phosphatidylcholine levels in the white matter of the brain were associated with bipolar disorder. However, another study of 104 adults found no changes in phosphatidylcholine levels between people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or healthy individuals [15, 50].
9) Phosphatidylcholine Improves Symptoms of Ulcerative Colitis (IBD)
Four studies (DB-RCTs) of 316 patients with ulcerative colitis found that phosphatidylcholine supplementation reduced disease severity and improved quality of life. It also decreased dependence on corticosteroids in patients taking them [51, 19, 52, 53].
10) Phosphatidylcholine May Protect Against Damage From NSAIDs
11) Phosphatidylcholine May Prevent Gallstones
Dietary phosphatidylcholine prevented the formation of gallbladder stones in mice .
Sources of Phosphatidylcholine
- Egg yolks (6,771 mg/100g)
- Pig liver (1,668 mg/100g)
- Chicken liver (1,120 mg/100g)
- Soybeans (917 mg/100g)
- Squid (777 mg/100g)
- Chicken breast (391 mg/100g)
- Beef (408 mg/100g)
- Peanuts (270 mg/100g)
- Cod (331 mg/100g)
- Spinach (37 mg/100g)
- Potato (38 mg/100g)
- Carrot (23 mg/100g)
- Apple (21 mg/100g)
- Cow’s milk (12 mg/100g)
Phosphatidylcholine can be administered in capsules, tablets, and injections.
Clinical studies have used various oral phosphatidylcholine doses, ranging from 0.5 g to 4 g per day for up to 12 weeks [51, 53, 52, 19].
Phosphatidylcholine injections for fat reduction contain between 40 cc and 60 cc .
Side Effects and Risks
While there are no reported side effects in the literature, users report the following side effects of oral phosphatidylcholine:
- excessive sweating
- stomach upset
Side effects of phosphatidylcholine injections include  :
Phosphatidylcholine injections directly in a fatty growth may cause inflammation or tissue death (necrosis). Safety of long-term use is uncertain [66, 67].
Phosphatidylcholine injections directly in a fatty growth should be avoided by pregnant women and people with heart disease, kidney disease, uncontrolled diabetes or hypothyroidism, infections, active or previous autoimmune disease, or active skin disorders .
Phosphatidylcholine May Increase The Risk of Heart Diseases
Byproducts of dietary phosphatidylcholine include choline, trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO), and betaine, which increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), coronary heart disease, stroke, and other heart diseases. Mainly TMAO increases the risk of heart diseases but choline and betaine produce TMAO [68, 69, 70].
However, the link between TMAO and heart disease is controversial and still debated in scientific literature.
Phosphatidylcholine supplementation may increase triglyceride levels in the blood .
However, in 26 healthy men, phosphatidylcholine decreased homocysteine levels, which are a potential risk factor for heart disease, compared to placebo .
Limitations and Caveats
There is a lack of human trials to support some benefits of phosphatidylcholine supplementation. Further clinical trials are needed to confirm its benefits in humans.
One user reported that using phosphatidylcholine for a few years reversed his fatty liver and returned his high liver enzymes back to normal.
Another user reported that over a period of nearly two months their belly fat “decreased tremendously.”
A user who received phosphatidylcholine injections said they were rushed to the ER twice due to the therapy: “My blood pressure plummeted and required 4 bags of IV fluid before I stabilized. There are serious adverse effects to mesotherapy. The public needs to know there ARE risks other than swelling and bruising.”
One user who took phosphatidylcholine for three years had outstanding results. They said that “The difference is very obvious if I miss a few days. Though I take phosphatidylcholine primarily as a memory boost, I believe it has done wonders for my overall health.”