What Is Soy Lecithin?

November 4, 2017
What is soy lecithin? - Dr. Axe

If you read your labels, I’m sure that you’ve run across it because soy lecithin one of the most widely used food additives on the market today. (1)

It’s widely accepted at  both conventional and health food stores, and in numerous products, yet there is surprisingly a lot of confusion about soy lecithin because people take a knee-jerk reaction to anything that has the word “soy” in it. People either love or hate the stuff but many do not really know what it is.

So, what is soy lecithin?  And is it good for me?

The bottom line is that there are pros and cons to consuming soy lecithin, but it’s definitely not as bad as some make it out to be.

What is Soy Lecithin?

When seeking to answer the question, “What is soy lecithin?” our search immediately takes us to mid-19th century France. First isolated by French chemist Theodore Gobley in 1846, lecithin is a generic term to designate a variety of naturally occurring fatty compounds found in animal and plant tissues.

Composed of choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, phospholipids, phosphoric acid and triglycerides lecithin was originally isolated from egg yolk.

Today, it is regularly extracted from cottonseed, marine sources, milk, rapeseed, soybeans, and sunflower. It is usually used as a liquid but also can be purchased as granules.

By and large, the vast majority of lecithin use centers around its unique ability of being an excellent emulsifier. We all know that oil and water don’t mix, right?

When the two are placed into a solution and shaken together, the oil droplets initially spread out and appear to evenly disperse. Once the shaking stops, the oil separates from the water again. This is why lecithin is so important.

When lecithin enters the equation, oil is broken down in smaller particles in a process called emulsification making the oil droplets easier to clean or digest if eaten.

This is one of the reasons why soy lecithin is used as an additive in processed foods, medicines and supplements; it helps give these products a smooth, uniform appearance. (2) Additionally, its ability to emulsify fats makes it an ideal ingredient for nonstick cooking sprays and soaps.

Soy Lecithin Dangers & Side Effects

Although given the Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) distinction by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), soy lecithin may not be as safe as manufacturers make it out to be. (3)

Some of the more commonly recognized side effects associated with consuming soy lecithin, for instance, are issues like bloating, diarrhea, mild skin rashes, nausea and stomach pain. (4)

A 1985 article published in the journal Developmental Psychobiology, however, suggests that the dangers associated with regular soy lecithin consumption may be much worse.

Testing the theory that soy lecithin can cause behavioral and neurochemical abnormalities, pregnant rats and their offspring were exposed to 2% or 5% soy lecithin diets and enrichment started as early as conception.

According to the study, “The most marked early sensorimotor deficits (reflex righting and swimming development) were seen in the 5% soy lecithin preparation group, although all soy lecithin preparation-exposed offspring had elevated brain/body weight ratios and choline acetyltransferase [ChAT] levels.” (5)

This is interesting because ChAT is responsible for the synthesis of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is essential for memory and brain function and, when elevated, can help prevent a number of neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease.

Nonetheless, for animals exposed to lifelong 2% or 5% soy lecithin, the researchers observed that they “were hypoactive, had poor postural reflexes, and showed attenuated morphine analgesia;” meaning that it lessened the pain-killing effects of morphine.

Now, before you throw out all coconut milk and cooking spray, keep in mind that these rats were given an exorbitant amount, and it’s extremely unlikely that someone will consume a diet made up of 5% soy lecithin.

With that said, it is important to remember that, although it’s only one compound from the entire plant, soy lecithin is still made from soy.

Understanding the “Soy” in Soy Lecithin

So is soy lecithin soy? Technically, yes. It is a byproduct from soy. Soy is definitely not a black-and-white topic though, and describing it as “healthy” or “unhealthy” doesn’t take into account the biochemistry behind the various forms that are consumed today. For instance, unfermented soy products like tofu, soy milk and edamame definitely make the “naughty list” because they contain: (6)
  • Denatured proteins – when heated, proteins and enzymes are destroyed in the manufacturing process, which is one causative factor of the all-too-common soy intolerance or allergy.
  • Goitrogens – known to cause hypothyroidism and thyroid cancer.
  • Hemagglutinin – red blood cell clotting agent that can cause a decrease in oxygen in your blood cells.
  • High phytic acid – shown to reduce the mineral content in our bodies.
  • Phytoestrogens/isoflavones – human estrogen imposters linked to infertility and breast cancer.
  • Trypsin inhibitors – chemicals that slow down pancreatic enzymes and interfere with protein digestion.

On the other hand, fermented soy products like miso and tempeh are a completely different story and are on my “nice list” because they are a fabulous source of probiotics. In fact, natto made my list of the Great 8 Probiotic Foods!

At the end of the day, I have personally found that unfermented soy products are just not worth the risk, and I stay away from them as much as possible. And, even though soy lecithin contains only trace amounts of soy proteins from unfermented soy, my recommendation is to limit it as well. 

Soy Lecithin Benefits?

On the other side of the soy lecithin debate is an exceptionally large body of research that supports it use as a healing agent.

Referred to as a fat that is “essential” to the cells in our bodies, lecithin is used both as a standalone medicine and also as a common additive in many medicines today. In spite of the side effects discussed above, lecithin has been used for years to treat a number of diseases including: (7)

Of these conditions, dietary soy lecithin supplementation is most strongly connected with decreasing hyperlipidemia and influencing lipid metabolism (8)

A 2010 study published in the journal Cholesterol, for example, evaluated total cholesterol and LDL levels after soy lecithin administration in patients with diagnosed hypercholesterolemia levels.

One 500 mg soy lecithin supplement was taken by 30 volunteers every day, and the results were quite astounding: (9)

  • A reduction of 40.66% in total cholesterol after 1 month.
  • A reduction of 42.00% in total cholesterol after 2 months.
  • A reduction of 42.05% in LDL after 1 month.
  • A reduction of 56.15% in LDL after 2 months.

In addition to helping normalize cholesterol, soy lecithin supplementation has been shown to significantly increase immunity function; especially in diabetics.

For example, Brazilian researchers discovered that daily supplementation with soy lecithin caused macrophage activity (white blood cells that engulf foreign debris) of diabetic rats to increase by 29%.

Additionally, they discovered that lymphocyte (white blood cells that are fundamental to the immune system) numbers skyrocketed 92% in non-diabetic rats! (10)

One of the many keys to soy lecithin’s health benefits is a compound known as phosphatidylserine; a common phospholipid that helps make up part of the cell membranes in plants and animals.

Known to affect stress hormones adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and cortisol, phosphatidylserine derived from cow brains has been shown to dampen response to physical stress.

Testing to see how phosphatidylserine derived from soy lecithin compared, German researchers evaluated the effects that soy lecithin phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylserine complex (PAS) supplementation has on ACTH, cortisol and a psychological evaluation known as the Spielberger State Anxiety Inventory stress subscale.

Published in the Danish journal Stress, the trial compared 400 mg, 600 mg and 800 mg of PAS on groups of 20 people each. The researchers not only discovered that PAS has some pretty remarkable effects on the human psyche, they uncovered that it is dose-dependent.

Meaning, they found a sweet spot with the 400 mg PAS because it is considerably more effective at blunting serum ACTH and cortisol levels than the larger doses. (11)

Soy Lecithin Facts 

Oftentimes extracted from soybean oil, one cup of soy lecithin has the following nutritional content: (12)

  • 1:8 omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
  • Vitamin E – 89% daily value
  • Vitamin K – 501%
  • Choline – 763 mg

It’s highly unlikely that anyone would ever consume this amount, so we must take these nutrition facts with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, if you purchase the organic variety, soy lecithin is a solid source of choline, which has many health benefits.

“One of the newest nutrients to be added to the list of human vitamins,” according to The George Mateljan Foundation, choline plays a key role in methylation. (13)

Literally affecting every cell in the body, methylation is a vital process to maintain human life and involves the transfer of a methyl group (1 carbon and 3 hydrogen atoms) to amino acids, enzymes and DNA. Methylation is so crucial for our health that inadequate activity has been linked to: 

  • Abnormal Immune Function (14)
  • Alzheimer’s disease (15)                  
  • Autism (16      
  • Cancer (17                                    
  • Cardiovascular Disease (18)
  • Chronic Fatigue (19)
  • Chronic Inflammation (20)
  • Dementia (21)
  • Diabetes (22)
  • Down’s Syndrome (23)
  • Fertility & Miscarriages (24)
  • Multiple Sclerosis (25)
  • Neurotransmitter Imbalances (26)
  • Pregnancy Problems (27)
  • Psychiatric Disorders (28)

Soy Lecithin Labeling Concerns

Generally speaking, soy lecithin is extracted from soybean oil, which is almost always genetically modified (GM). There is a lot of concern in natural health circles that the GM protein and DNA from the original soy crop exists, although it is largely undetectable. (29)

This concern has spurred on policy and regulatory changes in the European Union back in 2000, which passed the “Commission Regulation (EC) 50/2000” requiring food containing additives derived from GMOs to be labeled.

Because the original source for soy lecithin is nearly impossible to tract down, the EU now requires manufactures selling lecithin in Europe to use a meticulous labeling system know as “identity preservation” (IP). (30)

Stateside, the U.S. Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act requires soy lecithin labeling when used in food and non-food items. According to the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, the reason for this is because soy lecithin has been linked to allergies.

“Soy lecithin does contain trace levels of soy proteins and these have been found to include soy allergens. However, apparently, soy lecithin does not contain sufficient soy protein residues to provoke allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic consumers.

Many allergists do not even advise their soybean-allergic patients to avoid soybean lecithin when it is included as an ingredient on food products. (31)

Whether you’re concerned over the risk of developing allergies or consuming GMOs, there are several reasons to limit soy lecithin from your diet. I wouldn’t be too concerned, though, if you occasionally consume it in your natural health processed foods.

From the sound of it, you might think leaky gut only affects the digestive system, but in reality it can affect more. Because Leaky Gut is so common, and such an enigma, I’m offering a free webinar on all things leaky gut. Click here to learn more about the webinar.

Josh Axe

Get FREE Access!

Dr. Josh Axe is on a mission to provide you and your family with the highest quality nutrition tips and healthy recipes in the world...Sign up to get VIP access to his eBooks and valuable weekly health tips for FREE!

Free eBook to boost
metabolism & healing

30 Gluten-Free Recipes
& detox juicing guide

Shopping Guide &
premium newsletter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


  1. Eric Brown on

    Since 4 years ago, I have been on a vegan plus seafood diet (by choice). I live at home in a fishing community, and have a lot of wild ocean fish I catch to get protein from. However, I do work 1/2 the time away in a remote location, and it is more difficult to achieve my protein intake according to my preferred diet. I have also been using soy milk on my breakfast cereal in the mornings since this seems to be the one milk with a higher protein content. Is there an alternative milk I should be using that does contain a higher protein amount for my protein struggling diet? Would you have suggestions on protein supplements I can take with me to my workplace to help satisfy daily requirements? Thanks for any help!

      • JD on

        There is a good documentary on RT (Russian Television) which you can Google about the use of Glyphosate (the main active component in Monsantos Roundup)its use on an industrial scale in Soya farming and conditions observed in farm animals fed with soya based feeds. Not an especially scientific analysis; no indisputable connection demonstrated – but a lot of coincidences…

  2. Heather on

    Thanks for all the amazing work you do! I wanted to comment to say that by doing an extensive elimination diet, I have pin pointed soy as the agent that wreaks havoc on my mood. Within 12-24 hours after consumption, I feel irritable and emotional without having reason. It’s similar to my monthly cycle. I’m not here to protest soy, I just wanted to comment to say that soy has an obnoxious affect on my system. Weird stuff!

  3. Brenda A-W on

    Is soy lecithin safe in vitamin E supplements if I have a family history of breast cancer? I have had a radical hysterectomy so I do not produce estrogen on my own.

  4. Vanessa on

    My two year old vomits within a few hours of eating soy lecithin. We had an allergy test done for soy and it came back negative. Should we just caulk it up to a food intolerance or could there be something more serious doing on?

  5. Vanessa on

    My two year old vomits within hours of eating soy lecithin. And for the next couple of day after consuming it his scalp has a fishy smell. We had him tested for a soy allergy but it came back negative. Should we just caulk it up to a food intolerance or could there be something more serious going on?

  6. Mary C on

    So what about consuming liposomal vitamin c made with gmo free soy lecithin? I take between 3 to 6g a day (two tablespoons). Please advise

  7. Alyssia Kreischer on

    How do you feel about isagenix? Are the ingredients including sou lecithin beneficial to take in that manner or damage toys?

    • Alyssia Kreischer on

      How do you feel about isagenix? Are the ingredients including soy lecithin beneficial to take in that manner or dangerous?***

  8. Beverly Ann Stevens on

    Do you have recipes for making homemade raw and/or pasteurized GOAT’S MILK YOGURT?
    Do your have to use different type of culture starter than you would use for cow’s milk?

  9. Kate on

    I know you may not be monitoring these comments anymore, but just in case: Is it true that using lecithin of any kind increases a person’s risk for stroke and heart attack? I’ve stopped using lecithin since reading this information online. Thank you!

  10. dan c on

    excellent am in hospital just got CRT-D implant have taken 4 large lecithin capsules per day for years and now read from Cleveland clinic al the bad stuff….you article was comprehensive and helpful

  11. dan c on

    excellent quite helpful after reading Cleveland Clinic…have taken 4 large lecithin capsules per day for decades just had CRT-D implant

  12. Daniel on

    Soy is GMO and for that fact I stay the hell away from it. I just noticed that those A-hole food corps like celestial tea are now putting soy lethicin in their tea. Most likely to give us tumors and cancer. Have to switch brands now!!!!!

  13. Lynn Raia on

    Soy is detrimental to people with G6PD deficiency. Unfortunately, the soy lecithin is in just about everything we eat. It is nearly impossible to find products without it.

  14. Karen on

    Should I totally avoid soy lecithin, if I am on Anastrozole? I had breast cancer and the medication is removing estrogen from my body.

  15. Astor Minigan on

    Soy – as in Monsanto soybeans. Monsanto’s ubiquitous Roundup Ready soybeans, engineered to withstand its own blockbuster herbicide, contain more herbicide residues than their non-GMO counterparts. They also are nutritionally inferior. Source peer-reviewed journal “Food Chemistry.” So do you trust Monsanto?

  16. Lolana on

    I’m not seeing lecithin supplements that say they are fermented.
    Are you saying all those supplements are bad?
    I am sure they are helping me.

  17. Rose on

    Smh … stop comparing humans to rats!! These tests are useless
    this info is bizare and a waste of my time!
    There has never been not one human study showing soy bad for human beings

    • Steven on

      I take soy lecithin supplements to increase the volume and intensity of my ejaculate, and I can assure you that it works, but I’d be happy to have you test my theory… for scientific purposes, of course.

      • Sam on

        Casual observation; men that produce the most ejaculate (why you want that, I don’t know) seem to have a higher rate of prostate cancer. Check on that theory…for scientific purposes, of course.

  18. dk350 on

    soy lecithin may be responsible for irritable bowl syndrome and your body retaining belly fat i have personally suffered digestive problems and constant bloating stomach cramping and diarrhea non stop every day since they switched from corn needed to make ethanol fuel to soy beans years ago and have been sick ever since now soy , soy lecithin , and soybean oil is in nearly every food or food product we eat someone needs to investigate if this is making people sick and fat in america today !

  19. Helena on

    There have been several previous and unanswered questions about sunflower lecithin. I will try also. How do the therapeutic results of the PS in sunflower lecithin compare to the soy lecithin? Do you recommend supplementing with sunflower lecithin or straight PS supplements?

  20. His mom on

    Is it possible to be sensitive to soy lecithin but fine with soy protein? My asd kid has a horrible aggressive behavior to lecithin but can eat a chicken sandwich with soy protein? I don’t get it. Any theories?

    • John Burlingame on

      Hi, cant come into contact with soy, soy lecithin. Its fed to chickens, and makes it into the eggs. There is soy free fed chickens, you will have to google it. If he that sensitive to it, he may be like me. Living a life soy free is a costly lifestyle. I haven’t eaten fast food since 6/2014. All breads contain soy from the store but only one dont. Gluten free udi’s contain no soy. Soy will also be in the toothpaste, mouthwash and depending on the age, throw out any chewables, aspirin or vitamin pills. Search out a local compounding shop to have soy/soy lecithin removed from any medical he needs to take. I have a Facebook page with crossbones (Soy lecithin), detailed diet of soy free. Some items to avoid at all cost.

    • John Burlingame on

      The soy with protein gives me a brain fog, Soy without the protein, Soy lecithin robs me of my short term memory and a entire list of other neurological issues.. for the brief moment its in my system if I’m lucky enough to drink it in a fluid. I can flush it out in 2 hours with soy free water. And yes there is water with soy in it, out there. It’s in almost all sodas, Simply Orange juice and all sports drinks.

  21. John Burlingame on

    Hi my name is john I’m 45 years old. Live in TX. And I had dementia for the most part. Luck be have it I hate doctors. My dementia was killing me. I was to the point I jackknifed my truck with my trailer attached 4 times. Because my short term memory was that bad. I finally was to a point a bullet was a good choice. By dumb luck I tried a caveman diet. Then tried a gluten free diet. Something I did made my memory get better. Trial and error has resulted me finding the root cause of my dementia. I’m dementia free at this point. But it comes at a great cost. The thing causing my dementia is an ingredient. Which is in everything. If by chance I come back in contact with it. Air, taste, blood, takes 8 seconds for the full force of dementia to hit me. Only when I drink fluids to remove it from my system do I feel once again normal. (Soy lecithin) is my killer. I’ve tried looking into finding anyone knows about soy and dementia. Throwing emails at anything waiting for something to stick. I’m only looking because I now cannot work with wood let alone everything else I used to love to do. Can’t work on my truck, the oils contain soy. Paint has soy. Neosporin and everything medical has soy. I’m only soy free now out of great cost. I had to remove a root canal. The tooth contained soy. All my meds are compounded including my aspirin. All foods are regulated. Only issue I have now is everything outside my house. I’m trapped.

  22. Anna Van on

    Dr. Axe, I just read your article about soy lecithin. Please consider a brief article about sunflower lecithin. Lethikos, a US manufacturer, is claiming that their 100% Natural, non-GMO liquid sunflower lecithin is processed without using chemicals and it is free of glyphosate residue. Would this be a better alternative to soy lecithin? Thank you.

  23. Tanya on

    Could anyone elaborate more on this please “elevated brain/body weight ratios” – meaning, the rats were heavier?

    JJ Virgin says there is no soy protein in soy lecithin, yet here it states that there is some proteins in lecithin.. I wonder if I’m reacting to it.. I started taking non-GMO soy lecithin to help me sleep and while it seems to be helping I have gained about 3 pounds.. nothing else in my diet has changed, still the same activity levels, etc. I wonder……


More Posts