Foggy thinking? Support Cellular Health in the Brain!
Phosphatidylcholine is a crucial molecule that serves as a structural component of cell membranes and transports lipid molecules throughout the body. Without enough phosphatidylcholine, cells quickly succumb to the damaging effects of oxidative stress, causing dysfunction in the brain, digestive tract, and liver.
While phosphatidylcholine is found naturally in several foods, including egg yolks, beef liver, fish roe, and sunflower seeds, research indicates that most people aren’t getting nearly enough of this nutrient in their diets.
Read on to learn about the important roles of phosphatidylcholine in the body and why supplementing with this nutrient can greatly benefit your health.
What Is Phosphatidylcholine?
Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a type of phospholipid, a lipid molecule with an attached phosphate group. Structurally, it consists of a choline “head,” a glycerol “body,” and a “tail” made of two fatty acid chains.
Phospholipids form the lipid bilayer of every cell membrane in the body, with phosphatidylcholine residing primarily in the outer leaflet of the bilayer. This makes phosphatidylcholine essential for the normal structure and function of cell membranes throughout the body, including neuronal and intestinal cell membranes. (1)
The amphiphilic (possessing both hydrophilic “water-loving” and lipophilic “fat-loving”) properties of phosphatidylcholine also make it useful for transporting lipids throughout the body. PC plays a vital role in cholesterol transport and degradation and helps maintain healthy blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The unique structure of PC also makes it useful for removing toxins from the body.
The human brain is nearly 60 percent fat, with most of that fat consisting of phospholipids. (2) It is not surprising, then, that the health benefits of phosphatidylcholine include supporting recovery from traumatic brain injury and protecting against cognitive decline.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is brain dysfunction caused by an outside force such as a violent blow or jolt to the head. TBI has been referred to as a “hidden epidemic” because of the 1.4 million people who suffer a TBI per year, 3 out of 4 are mild injuries that go undetected by MRI, yet still induce brain inflammation and dysfunction. (3)
TBI has many adverse effects on the brain – it destabilizes neuronal membranes, causes programmed cell death (apoptosis) of neurons, and disrupts neurotransmission. These physiological effects cause symptoms such as mental confusion, chronic headaches, mood changes, and an increased risk of neurodegenerative diseases.
Encouragingly, a growing body of research indicates that phosphatidylcholine supports recovery from TBI by decreasing brain inflammation and promoting the growth of new neurons. (4)
Brain phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine are essential for regulating neurotransmission, synaptic plasticity, and cognitive function. Phosphatidylcholine is also a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is involved in memory and cognition.
Low maternal intake of choline, the precursors to phosphatidylcholine, during pregnancy, is associated with reduced intelligence in infants and children. Low choline intake also increases the risk of cognitive decline in adults. (5, 6) Conversely, higher intakes of choline and phosphatidylcholine enhance child cognition and improve cognitive function in adults. (7)
Supplementing with phosphatidylcholine has several beneficial effects on brain function. In animal models of dementia, supplemental phosphatidylcholine has a nootropic effect, improving concentration and memory. (8) It may also protect against dementia, improve depression, reduce anxiety and promote restful sleep. Importantly, PC appears to work synergistically with EPA and DHA, enhancing the delivery of these crucial lipids to the brain. (9)
Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome
Chronic inflammatory response syndrome (CIRS), also referred to as “mold illness,” is a severe immune response to environmental mold, mycotoxins and other biotoxins, such as those produced by Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. I previously touched on the health consequences of mold exposure and CIRS in my blog The Toxic Mold/Leaky Gut Connection and in a podcast with Dr. Jill Carnahan.
CIRS instigates inflammation throughout the entire body. The bacterial metabolites and mycotoxins involved in CIRS, such as lipopolysaccharide and trichothecenes, damage DNA, lipids, and proteins and inducing dysfunction at a cellular level. (10, 11) Phosphatidylcholine is an indispensable part of any treatment protocol for CIRS due to its ability to enhance detoxification and restore healthy cellular function.
ATP, the energy “currency” of the body, is produced in tiny organelles in our cells called mitochondria. Mitochondrial membranes are composed of phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine. When mitochondrial membranes are damaged by stressors such as environmental toxins, phospholipids are lost, mitochondrial energy production falters, and fatigue may result. Indeed, research has shown that patients with chronic fatigue have lower levels of phosphatidylcholine compared to healthy control subjects, suggesting an increased need for this nutrient. (12)
Supplementing with phosphatidylcholine can provide mitochondria with the phospholipids they need to generate new mitochondrial membranes, thereby restoring healthy ATP production and significantly improving fatigue.
The brush border of the intestine is composed of cells that contain phosphatidylcholine in their cell membranes. Inflammatory foods and gut pathogens trigger the destruction of the endothelial lining of the gut, leading to a loss of phospholipids. Supplementation with PC replenishes intestinal phospholipids and has been found to alleviate symptoms of intestinal dysfunction. (13)
Liver Health and Detoxification
Phosphatidylcholine has several beneficial effects on the liver. As I mentioned earlier, PC provides structure for circulating lipoproteins. It packages cholesterol and triglycerides into very-low-density lipoprotein particles (VLDL), preparing them for secretion by the liver.
When PC intake is insufficient, excess fat and cholesterol accumulate in the liver, resulting in inflammation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Conversely, phosphatidylcholine supplementation facilitates the metabolism and export of lipoproteins from the liver, significantly improving liver enzyme abnormalities and symptoms of NAFLD. (14)
Phosphatidylcholine also “displaces” toxins in cell membranes, allowing them to be processed by the liver and removed from the body. (15)
PC is also a source of methyl groups, a single carbon atom bound to three hydrogen atoms, that are essential for phase II liver detoxification. In fact, 60 percent of the body’s methyl groups come from choline! (16) Phase II liver detoxification is responsible for metabolizing toxic compounds produced in Phase I detox, rendering them harmless and promoting their excretion from the body.
Phosphatidylcholine, Fish Oil, and Magnesium: An Essential Trio for Brain Health
Phosphatidylcholine works synergistically with omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium to support brain health (see below for the high-quality brands I recommend).
When the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, found in fish oil, is bound to phosphatidylcholine, its uptake by the brain is significantly enhanced. (17) DHA is a crucial structural component of neuronal membranes and regulates neurotransmission. DHA sufficiency is associated with a reduced risk of depression, anxiety, cognitive decline, and neurodegenerative disorders. Combining DHA-rich fish oil with phosphatidylcholine therefore enhances the delivery of both nutrients to the brain, significantly enhancing brain health.
In my practice, I’ve found that magnesium also enhances the brain health benefits of phosphatidylcholine. Elevating brain levels of magnesium enhances learning and memory; combining magnesium with phosphatidylcholine and fish oil may produce even more dramatic brain health benefits than using phosphatidylcholine alone. (18)
What’s the Best Phosphatidylcholine Supplement?
Phosphatidylcholine can be produced in the body from dietary choline or consumed in the diet. The best dietary sources of phosphatidylcholine are egg yolks, liver, beef, chicken, pork, soybeans, peanuts, and krill oil.
However, it can be hard to consume enough of these foods to support optimal choline levels. In fact, research indicates that 90 percent of Americans don’t get enough choline in their diets! (19) Supplementing with phosphatidylcholine can serve as a form of “insurance,” ensuring that you consume sufficient choline to optimize your brain, liver, and gut health and detoxification.
There are many phosphatidylcholine products on the market. The best phosphatidylcholine supplement I’ve found, and the one I use in my practice, is Micellized Pure PC. This formulation contains phosphatidylcholine that has been micellized, or broken down into very small lipid droplets. These droplets are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to cells, where they deliver nutrients and repair membranes.
If you want to support your brain and gut health, reduce fatigue, and support detoxification, then phosphatidylcholine is one nutrient you should seriously consider incorporating into your diet and lifestyle.
Try My Favorite Micellized Pure PC
When I was at my sickest with mold toxicity, this Miscellized Pure PC really made a difference in my brain fog and forgetfulness. I still use it now if I have an inflammatory flare-up. This product is not cheap--it may be the most expensive in our shop!--but it’s highly absorbable and the only brand I will use. It’s worth it!
You can try my favorite brand as a stand alone product or as part of our popular Inflammation Repair Kit.
The Inflammation Repair Kit contains:
1 Micellize Pure PC
1 liquid high-quality fish oil
1 chelated magnesium powder
These three products are the exact three I used to manage my own severe headaches and brain fog while going through toxic mold. Got brain symptoms yourself? Give it a try! Remember to use daily!
Have you ever taken PC? What was your experience? Please share below!
Bridgit Danner, LAc, FDNP, is trained in functional health coaching and has worked with thousands of women over her career since 2004. She is the founder of Women’s Wellness Collaborative llc and HormoneDetoxShop.com.
Bridgit, a toxic mold survivor, is also the author of a free guide to supplements for toxic mold exposure. Check it out here!