The gatekeeper to the cells in the human body is the cell membrane, which consists of a lipid bilayer to help maintain cellular fluidity. The cell membrane decides what goes into the cell and what stays out. When the cell membrane is healthy and strong, cells are protected so they can carry out their designated tasks. But what keeps the gatekeepers functioning at their peak? Phosphatidylcholine.
What is phosphatidylcholine?
Phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid or fat-like molecule that is considered the predominant phospholipid of all cell membranes, especially in the brain, liver, and digestive tract. (7) That’s why phosphatidylcholine can positively influence our health on so many different levels. Before we dive into phosphatidylcholine benefits, let’s examine two substances commonly confused with phosphatidylcholine.
Phosphatidylcholine vs choline
What’s the difference between phosphatidylcholine and choline? Choline is an essential nutrient obtained from the diet that is used to synthesize phosphatidylcholine in the body. (12)
Phosphatidylcholine is the lipid-soluble form of choline, (11) and the phosphatidylcholine structure features choline at the head of the molecule. It is estimated that about 95% of total choline found in tissues in the human body is the phosphatidylcholine form. (5)
Phosphatidylcholine vs phosphatidylserine
Phosphatidylcholine is also often confused with phosphatidylserine, as both substances are phospholipids that have been shown to support brain health. Whereas phosphatidylcholine is found in many cell membranes throughout the body, phosphatidylserine, primarily concentrated in brain tissue, is actually synthesized from phosphatidylcholine. (3) Essentially, this means we need phosphatidylcholine to make phosphatidylserine.
As mentioned previously, phosphatidylcholine is especially important to cell membranes in the brain, liver, and gastrointestinal tract. That’s why this nutrient can help enhance cognition, liver health, and digestion. Preliminary research also indicates that low levels of phosphatidylcholine are associated with higher levels of anxiety. (1)
Enhances cognition and neuroprotection
Phosphatidylcholine provides neuroprotection via many pathways and increases levels of acetylcholine, an important neurotransmitter in the brain that influences synaptic transmission and plasticity. Research shows that phosphatidylcholine can help protect against age-related memory decline by boosting hippocampal function. (2) Researchers have also found that abnormal phosphatidylcholine metabolism is correlated with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease. (10)
Supports liver function
Phosphatidylcholine is an important player in the process of methylation. The liver is the major organ where methylation reactions occur on an ongoing basis. This explains in part why phosphatidylcholine can help reduce the risk of liver conditions, such as fatty liver, fibrosis, and cancer. (6) Phosphatidylcholine also supports liver detoxification and regeneration. (7)
Much of the research on phosphatidylcholine in digestion health involves its role in inflammatory disorders that can damage the gastrointestinal tract. For example, a 2010 study showed that phosphatidylcholine may help reduce inflammation associated with ulcerative colitis. (9) Preliminary research also shows that phosphatidylcholine may help prevent NSAID-related gastrointestinal damage. (4)
What about a phosphatidylcholine supplement?
Phosphatidylcholine is found naturally in foods such as beef, eggs, salmon, pork, and chicken. (11) However, it can sometimes be difficult to get enough phosphatidylcholine from dietary sources alone. According to the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements, most adults don’t meet the recommended intake of choline, 550 mg per day for men, 425 mg per day for women, and 450 mg per day for pregnant women. (8) When there is not enough choline in the diet, the body can not synthesize adequate phosphatidylcholine. In these cases, a phosphatidylcholine supplement may be advised. Before taking a phosphatidylcholine supplement, consider meeting with an integrative healthcare provider for additional guidance.
The bottom line
Phosphatidylcholine may not be the most well-known nutrient, but it certainly can have a powerful impact when it comes to the health of the brain, liver, and digestive tract. Because it’s difficult for many people to get enough of this important phospholipid through their diet, taking a phosphatidylcholine supplement to increase intake may be worth considering.
- Bjelland, I., Tell, G. S., Vollset, S. E., Konstantinova, S., & Ueland, P. M. (2009). Choline in anxiety and depression: the Hordaland Health Study. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(4), 1056-1060.
- Blusztajn, J. K., Slack, B. E., & Mellott, T. J. (2017). Neuroprotective Actions of Dietary Choline. Nutrients, 9(8), 815.
- Kim, H. Y., Huang, B. X., & Spector, A. A. (2014). Phosphatidylserine in the brain: metabolism and function. Progress in lipid research, 56, 1–18.
- Lim, Y. J., Dial, E. J., & Lichtenberger, L. M. (2013). Advent of novel phosphatidylcholine-associated nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs with improved gastrointestinal safety. Gut and liver, 7(1), 7–15.
- Ueland PM. (2011). Choline and betaine in health and disease. J Inherit Metab Dis, 34(1):3-15.
- Mehedint, M. G., & Zeisel, S. H. (2013). Choline’s role in maintaining liver function: new evidence for epigenetic mechanisms. Current opinion in clinical nutrition and metabolic care, 16(3), 339–345.
- Monograph. (2002). Phosphatidylcholine. Alternative Medicine Review, 7(2), 150-154.
- National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. (2020, February 24). Choline Fact Sheet for Consumers. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Choline-Health%20Professional/
- Schneider, H., Braun, A., Fullekrug, J., Stremmel, W., & Ehehalt, R. (2010) Lipid based therapy for ulcerative colitis—modulation of intestinal mucus membrane phospholipids as a tool to influence inflammation. In J Mol Sci, 11(10), 4149-4164.
- Whiley, L., Sen, A., Heaton, J., Proitsi, P., García-Gómez, D., Leung, R., Smith, N., Thambisetty, M., Kloszewska, I., Mecocci, P., Soininen, H., Tsolaki, M., Vellas, B., Lovestone, S., Legido-Quigley, C., & AddNeuroMed Consortium (2014). Evidence of altered phosphatidylcholine metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiology of aging, 35(2), 271–278.
- Wiedeman, A. M., Barr, S. I., Green, T. J., Xu, Z., Innis, S. M., & Kitts, D. D. (2018). Dietary Choline Intake: Current State of Knowledge Across the Life Cycle. Nutrients, 10(10), 1513.
- Zeisel, S. H., & da Costa, K. A. (2009). Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. Nutrition reviews, 67(11), 615–623.