What is Phosphatidylcholine and How Can it Benefit Your Health?
- Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a phospholipid that enhances the free passage of nutrients into the cell while allowing waste and detritus out. By doing so, it works to enhance metabolism (energy production) within a cell.*
- It’s our epigenetics, not necessarily our genetics, that have a greater impact on individual health outcomes. The effects of epigenetics play out in the cell membrane. The cell membrane is largely composed of phospholipids, the main one being phosphatidylcholine.
- Phosphatidylcholine can be absorbed from food, but not in a high enough quantity to support a healthy adult. Supplementation with a high-quality liposomal PC such as Bodybio PC provides support for brain, immune, digestive health, and more.*
- Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is essential to cellular, and therefore overall, health.*
When it comes to your cellular health, the structure and function of the cell membrane, brain, liver, gut health and more, there’s a lot to say about one little molecule: phosphatidylcholine, also known as PC.
Phosphatidylcholine is so important that it’s been our cornerstone supplement for over two decades and has been recommended by BodyBio health practitioners for any chronic condition that could use support from the cellular level — that is to say, just about all of them.*
In this article, we want to introduce you to this powerhouse cellular building block and explain why it’s so important for your health and longevity. We’re going to dive into some science here, but if you bear with us you’ll be amazed at the power of PC and what it can potentially do for your health.
What is Phosphatidylcholine?
Phosphatidylcholine, or PC for short, is not a vitamin but a phospholipid, one of the key elements that make up our cell membranes.
A phospholipid is a lipid that contains a phosphate group and is a major component of cell membranes. A phospholipid consists of a hydrophilic (water-loving) head and hydrophobic (water-fearing) tail. The lipid bilayer acts as a barrier to the passage of molecules and ions into and out of the cell, but it also “allow[s] selective passage of certain substances into and out of cells.” This ability is key to our cellular health.
To further discuss the role phosphatidylcholine plays in your body, we need to outline the role of genetics vs. epigenetics in cellular health.
Phosphatidylcholine and epigenetics
For over half a century, we’ve held onto the illusion that our health and fate were preprogrammed in our genes—this idea is called genetic determinacy. The idea was that our genes not only contain the ability to produce the 100,000 proteins we need from our DNA, but they’re also the brains of the cell, guiding what proteins are required at every moment.
However, recent advances in science are moving away from this premise and viewing epigenetics as the primary guide in genetic instruction. Epigenetics refers to genetic change playing out beyond our DNA, actually occurring on the perimeter of the cell — the cell membrane.
Bruce Lipton, a renowned cell biologist, has concluded that our genes actually do not control what proteins they should produce next. Instead, our genes are guided by a thin sliver of phospholipids so tiny a microscope can not see it. He presents this theory in the fascinating book, The Biology of Belief (Elite Books, 2005).
Lipton, a former professor at the University of Wisconsin Medical School and the Stanford School of Medicine, makes the case that, “Through the action of the cell membrane we can actually control our genes, our biology, and our life, and we have been doing it all along although we have been laboring under the belief that we are victims of our genes”.
Lipton says genes are the blueprints for 25,000 sets of instructions our cell membrane needs to run our body. Architects use blueprints to build things, but there is no action taken by a blueprint. A healthy cell membrane takes the blueprints and sets them into motion. All of this suggests that caring for our health on the cellular level is extremely important because our cell membranes communicate to our bodies for our DNA. When the cell membrane is compromised, the entire system suffers.
Now, how do we maintain tip-top cell membrane — and therefore cellular — health? That’s where phosphatidylcholine comes in.
What Does Phosphatidylcholine Do for Your Body?
Phosphatidylcholine is a biological substrate, a phospholipid, that contributes to cellular membrane structure and function.* You can think of it like the building blocks that make up the cell membrane. There are other phospholipids that comprise the cell membrane such as phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethnalomine, but phosphatidylcholine makes up the majority of the building blocks.
Functionally, PC enhances the free passage of nutrients into the cell while escorting waste and detritus out. By doing so, it works to enhance the process of the metabolism within a cell. Better cell metabolism = better cellular health = a healthier you overall, largely thanks to PC.*
Levels of PC decrease with age, injury, toxic exposure, pollution, pesticides, and lack of a nutrient-dense diet. The impact of this shift in the cell membrane is difficult to overstate. It involves every cell and organ of the body affecting your ability to function. A decline in PC, which causes a rise in sphingomyelin and cholesterol, results in a dramatic shift in cellular homeostasis.
Phosphatidylcholine and Cell Membrane Structure
Phosphatidylcholine molecules forming the structure of the cell membrane looks like this:
Remember those hydrophilic and hydrophobic sides of PC? When they form the cell membrane, they create the phospholipid bilayer, like a PC sandwich with two layers of phospholipids zippered together––the hydrophilic tails forming the inner layer of the membrane and the hydrophobic heads forming the outer layer, separating the inside of the cell from the aqueous environment outside.
This bilayer is self-healing and very fluid, which is ideal for cell function and signaling.
Curious about the role of PC in maintaining the cell membrane? This podcast with Dr. Kara Fitzgerald and Dr. Bruce Hoffman covers cell membrane health, phospholipids, lipid therapy, and more.
Phosphatidylcholine vs. Choline
Choline and PC, while related, are two very different key nutrients. Though choline is part of phosphatidylcholine (specifically, the hydrophobic head where the fatty acid tails are attached), it is not assimilated by the body while in the PC form.
Choline, an essential nutrient related to the water-soluble B-complex vitamins, must also be supplied by dietary sources.. It’s the precursor for acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that controls neuromuscular and peripheral nervous system activity, including GI peristalsis, vasodilation, mood, sleep, thought, and cognition, among others.
PC is what makes up our cell membrane architecture, which also enhances cell function.* When produced correctly, PC can be liposomal, meaning it passes into the bloodstream intact, bypassing digestive degradation to deliver phospholipids to every cell of every organ and organ system of the body.
For more information on differentiating PC, please see our articles on phosphatidylcholine vs phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine vs citicoline.
There are many potential phosphatidylcholine benefits. Here are just a select few. You can also check out our article on the benefits of phospholipids in general for more insights.
1. Promotes a healthy pregnancy & infant development
If phosphatidylcholine is taken during pregnancy, it may can facilitate the healthy development of lungs and lung surfactants in a growing baby, as well as promote healthy fetal growth generally.* There is an increased demand for PC by the fetus, especially during the third trimester, so getting optimal levels is important. As always, check with your doctor before supplementing with phosphatidylcholine during pregnancy.
2. Supports brain health
Studies have found that PC may help with mild memory loss associated with aging and support healthy brain function.* The brain itself is 60% lipids and maintaining the right balance of phospholipids in neuronal cellular membranes is critical for brain functioning.
An animal study published in The Journal of Nutrition showed that phosphatidylcholine “improved memory and generally increased brain choline and acetylcholine concentrations to or above the levels of the control normal mice.”*
It seems that both PC itself and PC as a source of choline to produce acetylcholine, one of the most abundant neurotransmitters in the brain, contribute to maintaining brain health, including learning and memory support.* We eagerly await further study in this exciting field!
Patients looking for support for the liver, respiratory distress, gastric issues, central nervous system dysregulation, and detox may benefit from a PC regimen.*
3. Mitochondrial benefits
Just like the cell membrane, PC is also the most abundant phospholipid in the mitochondrial membrane.
You might remember from another high school biology flashback that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell –– this is where your energy comes from! So when you support your mitochondria by increasing PC levels in your body, your mitochondria are able to more easily produce energy for your cells, translating to more energy for you to accomplish challenging work tasks, wrangle kids, or get in that strength training session.
Good mitochondrial function is also essential to protect the body against cardiovascular disease, metabolic dysfunction, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disease.
4. Supports heart health
There have been some misattributions in the past of PC promoting cardiovascular disease, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
PC is an extremely valuable nutrient in supporting heart health.* The studies linking PC to an increased risk of CVD make the mistake of equating true PC with lecithin or triple lecithin, which only contains 35% PC at the most and is not prepared for optimal use by our cells. Make no mistake, true liposomal PC is one of the most beneficial substances our bodies need, including for cardiovascular health. For additional information on this subject, check out our blog here.
5. Promotes healthy liver and lung function
PC is also a key component in liver health.* It is one of the primary ingredients of bile, which helps us break down and digest fats. Without proper bile flow from the liver and gallbladder, our food is not digested properly, leading to fermentation and allowing microbes to proliferate where they shouldn’t exist––in the stomach and small intestine. Many digestive disorders can result from simply not having enough bile.
Fortunately, supplementing PC can help restore good bile production and flow from the liver to the gallbladder to the small intestine.*
As a lung surfactant, PC is a rescue molecule to acute respiratory distress in adults and children. Basically, the more PC available to the lungs, the better your breathing.* In this viral season, PC may provide you some extra peace of mind that your lungs are working at optimal capacity.
6. Supports gut health
A lack of PC has fascinating connections to inflammatory bowel concerns. PC makes up 90% of the phospholipids in the intestinal mucosa, the mucus layer in the gut that protects the body from pathogens. In patients with ulcerative colitis, “mucus PC content is reduced by 70%”. No wonder the intestinal lining is inflamed in this condition!
This suggests that supplemental PC may help support gut health for those with this condition.* “In three clinical trials, when missing mucus PC in UC was supplemented by an oral, delayed release PC preparation, the inflammation improved and even resolved after a 3-month treatment course.” That’s a remarkable result for healing this difficult condition!
Of course, most of us could use a little extra support for our gut health these days, so PC could certainly be used to support even a “normal” gut.
For more ways to support your gut health, check out BodyBio’s Gut+.
What Are the Side Effects of Phosphatidylcholine, If Any?
As with any supplement, it’s important to know what side effects may exist in order to make the best decision for your body. Fortunately, PC is generally well-tolerated when used orally and topically, so phosphatidylcholine side effects are rare with normal dosages.
Doses that greatly exceed recommendations may evoke mild and temporary gastric distress, such as bloating and diarrhea, especially if taken in the absence of food. Rarely, sweating and itching have been reported in doses approaching 30 grams.
Not All Phosphatidylcholine is Created Equal: A Brief History of Lecithin + PC in the Market
In the 20th century, a substance called lecithin was a problem for big grain companies because of its tendency to stick to oil-producing machinery and cause a mess. Lecithin makes up approximately 2% of oil production, which doesn’t sound like much unless you think about oil production in the US generating approximately 120,000,000 pounds yearly. Two percent of that equals around two million pounds — that’s a lot of lecithin!
Around this same time PC, the largest of the phospholipids, was discovered. However, fatty acid technology was still in its infancy. Understanding lecithin and the phospholipids that are part of lecithin took many years to evolve. The knowledge that lecithin contained PC, and that PC was beneficial, was used to establish a rule concerning PC and lecithin; if there was 30% PC in the lecithin in a supplement it could be called phosphatidylcholine. And so, lecithin was packed in drums with soybean oil, encapsulated, and then produced in bulk and sold to vitamin companies who repackaged them under their own label as “Phosphatidylcholine.”
This watered-down version of PC creates a much less effective product and may even cause harm because of additives and un-tested ingredient interactions. At BodyBio we never dilute our products or substitute quantity for quality.
How to Increase Phosphatidylcholine in the Body
There are two ways to increase PC in the body — through food sources and supplementation.
The top PC-containing foods include meat (especially red meats) eggs, and soybeans, but getting the levels you need through food alone can be difficult, if not impossible.
Since PC in food is broken down into essential fatty acids + choline, it’s not possible to reach optimal levels of PC through diet alone. PC gets taken apart by phospholipase enzymes to send choline to make acetylcholine, and then some choline reunites with phospholipids to make PC in the liver. This process wanes as we age. In fact, an adult is lucky to have 10% of the PC they had at birth. This is why supplementation of PC is necessary and recommended.
Still, it doesn’t hurt to be mindful of which foods contain PC and to incorporate those foods in your everyday diet. You can emphasize high-quality:
- Red meat
- Beef liver (4 oz. per week recommended)
- Soybeans (not recommended for everyday consumption, especially non-organic)
- Sunflower seeds.
As mentioned above, getting an optimal level of PC is difficult through diet alone, but finding a high-quality supplement can be challenging as well. When PC is extracted in the correct way it becomes liposomal. Using a liposomal PC, such as BodyBio PC, sends phospholipids throughout the body and brain, rebuilding whichever cells need repair.
PC supplements are recommended for women hoping to conceive and those who are already pregnant. After all, a growing fetus needs a lot of membranes! The same holds true for aging populations, and anyone who feels like they could use a little extra clarity and brain power during the day. As we mature, the PC content of our cells decreases. The rejuvenating effect of PC supplementation, especially on brain cells, is astounding.
According to the published studies on PC, doses of 1.5 to 5 grams taken orally daily are the recommended dosage. However, there are no studies that indicate optimal doses in any specific situation. Conditions that must be considered include age, gender, size, activity levels, current pathologies, and (in some cases) duration of disease.
The minimum dose we recommend for BodyBio PC is ½ tsp daily, but this can easily be scaled up. If you are looking at taking high doses of PC for neurodegenerative conditions, detox support, or any other complex illness, it’s wise to consult your healthcare provider on dosing.
BodyBio’s Phosphatidylcholine Supplements
Each batch of BodyBio PC is tested several times before being bottled and then tested again by an independent lab to confirm results. Our PC is tested for potency, consistency, purity, and viscosity.
If you’re looking for a quality supplement to enhance brain function, digestive, immune, and overall cellular health, check out BodyBio PC!
Yechiel Y. and Barenholz Y., Relationships between Membrane Lipid Composition and Biological Properties of Rat Myocytes, 1985