What is Phosphatidylcholine?
Chemically, phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a phospholipid with two fatty acids, a choline molecule, and a phosphate group connected to a glycerol molecule.
The majority of the cell membranes in every cell found in our bodies are made up from phosphatidylcholine, and it is produced endogenously in the human body.
Phosphatidylcholine is synthesized partly through the choline that we consume in our diets. Meat and dairy are the most common foods that humans consume with high choline levels, however there are some vegetarian friendly choline-rich foods as well, including soybeans and peanuts. For a full list of choline-containing foods, click here.
Phosphatidylcholine does more in the body than play a crucial role in our cell membranes. It also (1):
- Is involved in the synthesis of acetylcholine (ACh), the “learning neurotransmitter” that is critical for concentration, memory, and learning abilities
- Promotes liver health, in particular by protecting from fatty liver
- Is used in the production of lung surfactant, which lines our lungs allowing us to breath
- Is critical for neural communication
- Plays a role in fat metabolism
Dangers of Low Levels of Phosphatidylcholine
Low levels of PC can lead to multiple health problems, particularly age-related cognitive decline.
When our cell membranes are damaged or the communication between nerve cells is hindered, we can have trouble remembering things and learning. Low levels of this compound are believed to be one factor in the pathogenesis of certain neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease (AD). (2)
Other conditions linked to low PC levels include:
- Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (3)
- Ulcerative colitis (4)
- Chronic liver diseases, such as fatty liver (5)
Benefits of Phosphatidylcholine
In one double-blind, placebo-controlled human study on the effects of oral supplementation in healthy adults with PC, it was found that 25 grams of PC, which contained 3.75 grams of choline, led to statistically significant improvements in explicit learning. (6)
Following ingesting, a small improvement in memory was noted at 60 minutes after supplementation, with a later improvement observed at 90 minutes. Upon further review, researchers believe that in this study those who experienced the biggest boost in learning were slow learners.
Similar memory improvement results were found in an animal study on mice with low acetylcholine brain levels treated with PC. (7)
Brain and Neuron Protection
Limited studies have found support of the role of supplemental PC in protecting brain cells, or neurons.
In one study on rats one group was treated with PC before and after administration of a chemical that leads to neural inflammation while another group was not. It was found that PC counteracted decreased hippocampal neurogenesis through lowering TNF-α concentrations. (18) TNF-α is a major contributor when it comes to damage from inflammation.
Liver Detox/Fatty Liver
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a very common disease in Western countries that is characterized by the buildup of fat in the liver. Unfortunately, there are no good treatments available, and those who are diagnosed need to participate in lifestyle transformation with the hopes of slowing the progression of the disease.
Low hepatic availability of both choline and PC have been tied to the pathogenesis of NAFLD (9)
In a phase III clinical trial of Realsil, a combination of phosphatidylcholine, vitamin E, and silybin, a standardized extract of milk thistle seeds, it was found that supplementation with this drug for 12 months was linked to significant improvements in liver enzymes and histology as well as insulin resistance. (8)
Subcutaneous phosphatidylcholine injections have been used for the purpose of reducing subcutaneous fat for decades, and has been proven to help in fat loss. (11) When administered this way by an experienced doctor, there are few risks associated with this treatment.
Supplementation with PC, however, has shown no clear effect on blood lipids or weight loss. In fact, in one study on healthy humans it was found that taking this compound actually led to slightly increased concentration of triacylglycerol. (10)
As the research presently stands, unless you are going into a medical professional’s office for PC injections, it does not appear that you will notice an impact on fat loss from PC supplementation.
Very limited studies support the idea that increased PC levels may lead to improved sleep.
One case study on a single boy with bipolar disorder found that supplementation with this nootropic led to both improved mania symptoms and improved sleep. (13) Another study found that increased saliva PC concentration may help to improve airway patency in those with obstructive sleep apnoea. (14)
Numerous animal studies have found that PC may be a useful anti-inflammatory compound.
When fed a phosphatidylcholine-enriched diet it was found to work as a pretreatment but not therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA). (15) This study demonstrates that supplementation with this molecule may be helpful in preventative measures for RA.
In a phase II clinical trial on the effect of phosphatidylcholine on the inflammatory activity caused by ulcerative colitis (UC) it was found that slow release oral PC was effective in alleviating the inflammation caused by UC. 90% of the patients in the treatment group achieved clinical remission compared to only 10% of those in the placebo group.
One study examined the effect of daily supplementation of PC for 2 weeks on homocysteine concentration in healthy men. A high concentration of homocysteine has been linked to cardiovascular disease, and it may be a risk factor. (16)
In this study it was found that supplementation with 2.6 g/day of choline in the form of PC led to lower fasting homocysteine levels in two groups of healthy men: those with elevated homocysteine levels and those with normal levels.
If elevated homocysteine concentrations are found to be a factor in cardiovascular disease, this supplement may reduce the risk of these diseases in humans.
Numerous studies have found benefits of lecithin in those with bipolar disorder, however fewer have shown benefits of just PC. While lecithin does contain PC, it is also made up of phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol, and phosphatidic acid. Many of the benefits of lecithin are believed to be thanks to the PC content.
In one case study of a boy with bipolar disorder, it was found that supplementation with PC led to recovery from hypomania symptoms and insomnia for the full 14 months of the study. (13) This boy carried a specific risk genotype that is tied to bipolar disorder and PC deficiencies.
PC is generally well tolerated and does not come with many side effects. When taken orally, the most common side effects are:
- Upset stomach
- Excessive sweating
There are a few medications that PC can interact with. Click here for details.
Phosphatidylserine vs Phosphatidylcholine
Both phosphatidylserine (PS) and PC are phospholipids found naturally in the cells of our bodies. PC is found in the outer layer of cell membranes, with PS found in the inner layer.
PC contains choline, however PS does not. PS can actually be synthesized from PC in the brain.
The benefits of these two phospholipids are quite different. If you are looking for a boost in cognition, PS is overall a better choice, whereas PC is useful as a source for choline and for helping with particular conditions, such as fatty liver disease and ulcerative colitis.
Choline Bitartrate vs Phosphatidylcholine
40% choline by weight, choline bitartrate is one of the most affordable sources of choline on the market. For a supplement meant to boost your dietary intake of choline, it is a good option.
PC is only 13% choline by weight, however studies have found benefits of supplementing with this choline source.
But which of the two should you go with? Probably choline bitartrate as there have been many more studies on the effects and bioavailability of this choline source.
Dosage: How Much Phosphatidylcholine Should I Take?
Oral dosing ranges from about 0.5 to 4 grams per day. There are not many studies to confirm the appropriate dosage of this supplement, so if you choose to supplement with this compound, start low and work your way up until you experience the benefits you are looking for.
Best Phosphatidylcholine Supplement
The benefits that have been found in studies thanks to supplementation with PC are thanks to it acting as a source of choline. However, there have not been many studies on this drug in particular as a source for choline.
There are better choline options that are more thoroughly studied and have the added ability to easily cross over the blood-brain barrier, helping to give these supplements many nootropic benefits.
If you are looking for a quality choline source to add to your nootropic stack or simply take for its own benefits, Alpha GPC, CDP-Choline (Citicoline), and Centrophenoxine are great options.
- Structure and Function of Phosphatidylcholine transfer protein (PC-TP)/StarD2 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2743068/
- The ratio of phosphatidylcholines of lysophosphatidylcholines in plasma… https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352872915000548
- High throughput lipidomic profiling of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder… https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18778095
- First multicenter study of modified release phosphatidylcholine “LT-02” in ulcerative colitis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24796768
- Hepatic ratio of phosphatidylcholine to phosphatidylethanolamine predicts survival… https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22095799
- Effect of phosphatidylcholine on explicit memory https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9377589
- Effects of dietary phosphatidylcholine on memory in memory deficient mice with low brain levels of acetylcholine concentration https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8569416
- Silybin combined with phosphatidylcholine and Vitamin E in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22343419
- Choline, its potential role in NAFLD, and the case for human and bacterial genes https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4717871/
- Effect of homocysteine-lowering nutrients on blood lipids: results from four randomized, placebo-controlled studies in healthy humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15916468
- Clinical experience and safety using phosphatidylcholine injections for the localized reduction of subcutaneous fat https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17177743
- Oral PCh pretreatment alleviated the signs of experimental RA https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19296835/
- Beneficial effect of phosphatidylcholine supplementation in alleviation of hypomania and insomnia in a Chinese bipolar hypomanic boy and a possible explanation to the effect at the genetic level https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4476977/
- Increased PCl concentration in saliva reduces surface tension and improves airway patency in obstructive sleep apnoea. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24033347
- Oral phosphatidylcholine pretreatment alleviates the signs of experimental rheumatoid arthritis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19296835/
- Choline supplemented as phosphatidylcholine decreases fasting and postmethionine-loading plasma homocysteine concentrations in healthy men https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/82/1/111/4863306
- Retarded release phosphatidylcholine benefits patients with chronic active ulcerative colitis https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1774598/
- Protective effects of a PCl-enriched diet in lipopolysaccharide-induced neuroinflammation in the rat https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21937953