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Nutrient - What are Phospholipids? 10 Interesting Facts!

By Debbie Paddington Dip ION

A strange word, but they have a vital role to play in our body’s normal functioning and some levels decline with age. Read on to find out more …

1. Phospholipids are a class of lipids (fats) and a major component of cell walls. They help repair and maintain cells, so as to keep them fluid and whole. Without enough phospholipids, cell walls would be less efficient in their roles, such as allowing nutrients to enter and waste to leave. The ability of cells to transmit their messages is also impaired, which can cause cell damage. In contrast, when phospholipids are provided, these messages can be amplified and the membrane structure maintained. Phospholipids exist in high amounts in the brain and nerves. Types of phospholipids include: phosphatidyl serine, phosphatidyl choline, phosphatidyl ethanolamine and phosphatidyl inositol.

2. The first phospholipid identified was lecithin in egg yolk, by Theodore Nicolas Gobley, a French chemist and pharmacist, in 1847. The word lecithin originated from the Greek “Lekithos,” referring to egg yolk. Lecithin is a rich source of phosphatidyl choline, which is a precursor to acetyl choline, a major neurotransmitter and key brain chemical for memory, concentration, learning and muscle control. 

3. Phosphatidyl choline maintains healthy myelin, the sheath that covers and protects nerves, thereby ensuring the smooth running of nerve signals to the brain.  

4. In addition, phosphatidyl choline helps bile deal with cholesterol, thereby supporting balanced cholesterol levels. It also helps bile emulsify fats (mix with water), for easier absorption and use, and helps reduce build-up of fat in the liver and arteries. 

5. Studies indicate that phosphatidyl serine supplementation might be beneficial for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. About 1.7% of the UK population, mostly children, have ADHD. Typical symptoms include: impulsiveness, restlessness, hyperactivity and inattentiveness. ADHD often prevents children from learning and socialising well. 

6. These classes of fats are concentrated in the brain cells, especially phosphatidyl serine, which is found in almost every cell in the body, as well as the brain, making up about 70% of its nerve tissue mass. There, it aids in the storage, release and activity of many vital neurotransmitters and their receptors, including acetyl choline, noradrenalin, serotonin and dopamine. It also aids cell-to-cell communication. 

7. Phosphatidyl serine helps maintain optimum brain function, concentration, mood and memory, all of which decline with age. 

8. Studies have shown that phosphatidyl serine could be useful for athletes, as it may help speed up recovery and prevent muscle soreness. It may also be useful for reducing exercise-induced stress by balancing the increased cortisol levels caused by exercise. 

9. Phosphatidyl inositol is found in all cells, but is especially abundant in the brain, where it can make up 10% of the brain’s phospholipids. 

10. The lesser-known phosphatidyl ethanolamine, also known as cephalin, plays a role in blood clotting.

Article References

1) Effects of phosphatidylserine supplementation on exercising humans - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16869708 2) Jäger R, Purpura M, Kingsley M. Phospholipids and sports performance". Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2007; 4(5). doi:10.1186/1550-2783-4-5. PMC 1997116. PMID 17908342. 3) http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pmcentrez&artid=1997116 4) http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2002/sep2002_report_ps_01.html 5) http://www.alz.org/alzheimers_disease_alternative_treatments.asp#phosphatidylserine 6) http://www.drugs.com/drp/phosphatidylcholine.html 7) http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/facts/adhd.htm 8)Hirayama S, Masuda Y, Rabeler R. Effect of phosphatidylserine administration on symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children". Agro Food, 2006; Sep/Oct; 17(5): 32–36. http://www.lipamin-ps.com/ftp/agro_16_20.pdf. 9)Vaisman N, Kaysar N, Zaruk-Adasha Y, Pelled D, Brichon G, Zwingelstein G et al. Correlation between changes in blood fatty acid composition and visual sustained attention performance in children with inattention: effect of dietary n-3 fatty acids containing phospholipids. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2008; 87(5): 1170–1180. PMID 18469236. http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/87/5/1170.

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