1) What is lecithin?
Lecithins are a group of naturally occurring ingredients found in soybeans, sunflower seeds, canola, cottonseed, eggs, marine sources, and animal fat. They contain a mixture of molecules called glycerophospholipids as well as other fats. The exact makeup depends on the origin of the lecithin. Processing also affects the levels of lecithin components.
Commercial lecithin supplements have been generally made from soybeans and most soybeans are genetically modified (GMO). Recently, there has been an increase in the use of lecithin made from sunflower seeds because of concerns about soy allergy and the health and environmental effects of GMO crops. In addition, sunflower lecithin is generally extracted by cold-pressing (mechanical) whereas soy extraction often uses chemicals such as hexane and acetone.
Lecithin can be certified organic and:
- Made without GMOs.
- Grown without synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.
- Processed without chemicals.
There does not seem to be a significant difference in the main ingredients of soy or sunflower lecithin (Krüger 2015).
2) How does it work?
Lecithin acts as a soap (emulsifier), allowing water and oily substances to mix. It is added to many products, including medication, animal food, paint, and plastics. It is used in foods such as chocolate, bread, ice cream, and margarines.
Lecithin may act as in emulsifier in breast milk and prevent the fat from solidifying and causing milk pimples or plugging ducts.
Some mothers have found taking lecithin useful, but there are no studies to support this (McGuire 2015).
If the cause of milk pimples is milk leaking between the layers of nipple skin, lecithin is unlikely to help prevent them.
Lecithin is considered a generally safe food additive and supplement. One study (Fisher 2010) showed that a lecithin supplement of 5,400 milligrams a day was safe for pregnant mothers, at least in the short term.
Lecithin may cause nausea and other gut symptoms.
Soy lecithin is highly processed and unlikely to contain significant amounts of protein. However, individuals who are allergic to soy may wish to use sunflower seeds lecithin.
There is some concern that the processing of lecithin by the gut releases a chemical that can contribute to heart disease (Russell 2013). Do not use lecithin over the long term and consider stopping every three to six months and only resuming it if needed.
Lecithin and other supplements are not as closely monitored for safety and effectiveness as is prescription medication. Supplements may contain unexpected ingredients or contaminants, vary from batch to batch, and be incorrectly labelled. Consider choosing a reliable manufacturer whose products are made in a country that has high standards.
4) Taking lecithin
Lecithin can be found in the health-food section of stores and is available as liquid, powder, granules, and in capsules. The capsules are easiest to swallow. Powder and granules need to be added to other foods or liquids.
For mothers who want to try lecithin, a typical dose is one 1,200 mg capsule at each meal and one at bedtime.
These doses can be doubled if mothers tolerate the original dose, and if they continue to get milk pimples or plugged ducts.