You may often consider some dietary fats as villains, but phosphatidylcholine is a type of fat that wears a white hat. Phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid, which is present in your diet and is essential for your health. Phosphatidylcholine and other phospholipids help to keep many essential body functions fluid and moving with every beat of your heart.
Good food sources of phosphatidylcholine include liver, eggs, salmon and soybeans. Dietary phosphatidylcholine is broken down in your small intestine during digestion and then reformed in the cells of your small intestine for absorption. In your tissues, phosphatidylcholine can be used to make choline, which is an essential nutrient. Choline is especially needed to make a chemical called acetylcholine that is required for passage of electrical signals through your brain. Including sources of phosphatidylcholine or choline in your diet can help to keep your mind sharp and clear, prevent that cloudy or foggy feeling and keep you bright and alert.
Phospholipids such as phosphatidylcholine make up much of the structure of the membranes of all of your body’s cells. Phospholipids provide a fluid sea for proteins to float in so that they can do their jobs. Imagine yourself floating on a raft on a lake. You are the protein that needs to get from one place to another, and the phospholipids are the fluid sea that gives you mobility. The phospholipids in cell membranes help to regulate what goes in and out of your cells, how cells communicate with each other and many other cell activities.
Phosphatidylcholine is a component of the bile that is produced in your liver, stored in your gall bladder and secreted into your small intestine to aid with dietary fat digestion and absorption. Phosphatidylcholine helps to prevent stones from forming in your gallbladder, and it is also an emulsifying agent. After a meal, phosphatidylcholine helps to break up large fat globules into small fat globules in your small intestine, which allows you to digest and absorb the fats in your diet.
Phosphatidylcholine is required in your liver to ship triglycerides and cholesterol with very low-density lipoproteins into your blood for distribution to your tissues. Without phosphatidylcholine, cholesterol and triglycerides would accumulate in your liver and cause a fatty liver, which could lead to hepatitis and eventually to liver failure. High-density lipoproteins also require phosphatidylcholine to transport cholesterol from your tissues to your liver for bile production and for elimination from your body. In this way, phosphatidylcholine can also help to prevent cholesterol from accumulating in your artery walls.
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Michael Peluso is a semi-retired scientist in the field of nutritional biochemistry. He received his M.S. in nutrition from the University of California, Davis and Ph.D. in nutrition from the University of Missouri. Peluso's work has appeared in scholarly publications such as the "Journal of Nutrition," "Lipids" and "Experimental Biology and Medicine."