Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a phospholipid (a fatty substance) found in lecithin and is an important component of the membrane of every cell in the body; helping them to retain their fluidity. If cell membranes lose their fluidity the function of the cells is compromised. For example, receptors for neurotransmitters, hormones, cytokines (immune signaling chemicals), and other important molecules are located on the membranes of cells; if the membranes are lacking PC and are unhealthy then these important biochemicals fail to do their jobs efficiently.
Cells of the brain and nervous system in particular need large concentrations of PC for repair and maintenance. PC provides nourishment to the fatty myelin sheaths surrounding nerve fibres. This nutrient is also a major source of choline required for the production of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Some of the functions of acetylcholine in the brain include involvement in learning and memory, concentration and focus, and long term planning. Acetylcholine also controls motor activity (movement), the amount of stimuli entering the brain, and many other functions. It is no surprise then that studies have found that PC supplementation can improve mental performance and may even be helpful in age-related cognitive decline, dementia, Parkinson's disease, and other neurological disorders.
Phosphatidylcholine also plays an important role in the body's detoxification processes. Another important function of the cell membrane is to allow nutrients into the cell while allowing for the passage of toxins and waste out of the cell and into the extracellular fluid, and ultimately the blood before they are excreted from the body. By helping to maintain healthy cell membranes PC facilitates this process. PC also increases important antioxidant and detoxifying substances within the body including glutathione and S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) whose concentrations are highest in the liver. Studies have shown PC supplementation to be highly beneficial in liver disorders including hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Finally, PC is required for the proper metabolism of fats and glucose. It has recently been found to perform this function partly by activating a specific fat metabolism regulating protein in the liver. PC may have beneficial effects on levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, as well as in helping to regulate blood sugar levels and insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of diabetes.
PC is a major component in a nutritional detoxification therapy known as phospholipid exchange (PLX) which can be given orally but is often administered intravenously by physicians specializing in nutritional medicine.