What Is Soy Lecithin? 8 Potential Major Benefits

June 5, 2018
Soy lecithin - Dr. Axe

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

Soy lecithin is widely accepted in both conventional and health food stores — it’s often used as an ingredient in food products and is sold in supplement form to boost your health. Yet, surprisingly, there is a lot of confusion (and maybe even prejudgement) about soy lecithin because it includes the word “soy.”

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. When you choose the right soy lecithin products, it actually boasts potential health benefits, such as its ability to lower cholesterol levels and boost brain function. But the soy lecithin world can be tricky, as it is indeed made from soy, a food that I typically try to avoid unless it’s fermented.

Keep reading to learn more about how soy lecithin is made and whether or not it should be avoided like many other soy products on the market today.

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 can also be purchased as lecithin granules.

By and large, the vast majority of lecithin use centers around its usefulness as an excellent emulsifier. We 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. But once the shaking stops, the oil separates from the water again. This is exactly why lecithin is so important and often used as an additive in processed foods, medicine and supplements.

When lecithin enters the equation, oil is broken down into smaller particles in a process called emulsification, making the oil droplets easier to clean or digest when eaten. So lecithin helps to give products a smooth, uniform appearance. Additionally, its ability to emulsify fats makes it an ideal ingredient for nonstick cooking sprays and soaps.

Soy lecithin is extracted from raw soybeans. First the oil is extracted using a chemical solvent, like hexane, and then the oil is processed (which is called degumming) so that the lecithin is separated and dried.

Soy Lecithin Nutrition Facts

Oftentimes extracted from soybean oil, one ounce (28 grams) of soybean lecithin has the following nutritional content: (1)

  • 214 calories
  • 28 grams of fat
  • 2.3 milligrams vitamin E (11 percent DV)
  • 51 micrograms vitamin K (64 percent DV)
  • 98 milligrams choline (20 percent DV)

So why are lecithin supplements so popular and what are soy lecithin capsules used for? Well, the answer lies in the fact that lecithin supplements contain a complex mixture of phospholipids, which compose the cellular membrane structure and are used for energy storage. Two types of phospholipids that are all essential components for biological membranes include phosphatidycholine and phosphatidylserine.

According to researchers in Japan, the administration of fresh phospholipids can work to replace damaged cell membranes and restore the structure and function of the cellular membrane. This is called lipid replacement therapy and it has shown to improve fatigue, diabetes symptoms, degenerative diseases and metabolic syndrome. (2)

Phosphatidylcholine is one of the primary forms of choline and acts as an essential component in cell membrane signaling. Phosphatidylcholine is produced in the liver and converted into choline, which plays several important processes within the body.

Phosphatidylserine is found in the membranes of all animals, higher plants and microorganisms. In humans, it’s most concentrated in the brain and phosphatidylserine supplementation is often used to improve brain function in elderly patients. Research also shows that it might be beneficial for children and young people with ADHD and mental health conditions. (3)


Soy lecithin guide - Dr. Axe

Understanding the “Soy” in Soy Lecithin

Let’s break down the pros and cons of soy so that you can make an educated decision about whether or not you should avoid consuming food products containing soy lecithin. Just because it contains soy doesn’t automatically put soy lecithin on the “avoid” list. There are various forms of soy on the market today, so it would be incorrect to categorize all products made from soy as either “healthy” or “unhealthy” right off the bat.  

A common question about soy lecithin is whether or not it contains soy. And the answer is that soy lecithin is indeed a byproduct from soy, as it’s extracted directly from soybeans. However, it appears that soy lecithin only contains trace levels of soy proteins. For this reason, researchers believe that soy lecithin will provoke allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic consumers because it does not contain sufficient soy protein residues. 

You see, the soybean allergens are found in the protein fraction, which is almost entirely removed in the soy lecithin manufacturing process. According to the Institute of Agriculture and National Resources, “many allergists do not even advise their soybean-allergic patients to avoid soybean lecithin when it is included as an ingredient on food products.” (4)

But do use caution when eating any product containing soy because people with a more sensitive soybean allergy may react negatively to soy lecithin ingestion and will have to be more conscious of packaged foods containing this ingredient.

Another widely researched issue regarding soy is that it contains isoflavones or phytoestrogens, which are naturally occurring estrogenic compounds. Although isoflavones are found in many different plant foods, soybeans contain uniquely rich amounts. In soybeans, isoflavones occur almost exclusively as glycosides (sugar compounds), but once the soy food is ingested, the sugar is hydrolyzed and can be absorbed by the body.

Isoflavones have a chemical structure that’s similar to the hormone estrogen, so they can bind to estrogen receptors and cause estrogen-like effects on the body. That’s at least what some animal studies have shown us, but there is definitely more research to be done on this topic to fully understand the role that consuming isoflavones has on our health. (5)

And although consuming isoflavones may have potential health benefits, like improving menopause and osteoporosis symptoms, there are concerns about their estrogen-like properties and how they effect the thyroid, uterus and breasts, according to an evaluation of the clinical and epidemiologic literature on this subject that was published in Nutrients.
Personally, when I do eat soy, I only go for fermented soy products, like miso and tempeh, which may be beneficial to your health because they are an excellent source of dietary protein, containing all of the essential amino acids, they are easier to digest, the fermentation process breaks down the antinutrients that are present and they contain probiotics. Natto, for example, is a dish that contains fermented soybeans, and I consider it one the greatest probiotic foods because it works to reduce inflammation and support your immune system. (6)

8 Potential Soy Lecithin Benefits

1. Improves Cholesterol Levels

Dietary soy lecithin supplementation is most strongly connected with decreasing hyperlipidemia and influencing lipid metabolism. It’s known for its important role in processing fat and cholesterol, which is why people sometimes take soy lecithin supplements to lower cholesterol naturally. Research suggests that properties of lecithin have the ability to reduce the excess of LDL cholesterol and promote the synthesis of HDL in the liver.

A 2010 study published in the journal Cholesterol evaluated total cholesterol and LDL levels after soy lecithin administration in patients with diagnosed hypercholesterolemia levels. For the study, one 500 milligram soy lecithin supplement was taken by 30 volunteers every day, and the results were quite astounding. Researchers found the following to be true after patients supplemented with soy lecithin:

  • A reduction of 41 percent in total cholesterol after 1 month
  • A reduction of 42 percent in total cholesterol after 2 months
  • A reduction of 42 percent in LDL after 1 month
  • A reduction of 56 percent in LDL after 2 months

This study suggests that soy lecithin may be used as a dietary supplement for the treatment of hypercholesterolemia. (7)

2. Serves as a Source of Choline

Soy lecithin contains phosphatidylcholine, which is one of the primary forms of choline, a macronutrient that plays an important role in liver function, muscle movement, metabolism, nerve function and proper brain development.

According to researchers at the University of Wales Swansea, phosphatidylcholine supplementation has been found to support healthy cholesterol levels, liver function and brain function. Many of the potential benefits of soy lecithin powder or supplements come from the choline content. (8)

3. May Boost Immunity

Soy lecithin supplementation has been shown to significantly boost immune function among diabetic rats. 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 percent.

Additionally, they discovered that lymphocyte (white blood cells that are fundamental to the immune system) numbers skyrocketed 92 percent in non-diabetic rats. This suggests that, at least in rats, soy lecithin has immunomodulatory effects. More research is needed to conclude the role of soy lecithin in the human immune system. (9)

4. Helps Body Deal with Physical and Mental Stress

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 (a combination referred to as 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 milligrams, 600 milligrams and 800 milligrams 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 milligrams PAS because it is considerably more effective at blunting serum ACTH and cortisol levels than the larger doses. (10)

This study suggests that specific properties in soy lecithin may have a selective stress dampening effect and may even be used in the natural treatment of stress-related disorders.

5. May Improve Cognitive Function

A 3-month double-blind, placebo-controlled study published in Advances in Therapy evaluated the positive effects of a supplement containing a blend of 300 milligrams of phosphatidylserine and 240 milligrams of phosphatidic acid that was produced from soy lecithin. The supplement or placebo was given to non-depressive elderly patients with memory problems three times a day for three months. In a separate investigation, the supplement was given to patients with Alzheimer’s disease to measure its effect on their daily functioning, mental health, emotional state and self-reported general condition.

Researchers found that by the end of the treatment period, the supplement blend made from properties found in soy lecithin significantly improved memory and prevented the “winter blues” in elderly patients compared to those receiving the placebo. Among the Alzheimer’s disease patients, the supplement group had a 3.8 percent deterioration and 90.6 percent stability in daily functioning, compared to 17.9 percent and 79.5 percent under placebo. Plus, 49 percent of those in the treatment group reported an improved general condition, compared to 26.3 percent of those receiving the placebo.

These findings suggest that soy lecithin-derived phosphatidylserine and phosphatidic acid may have a positive influence on memory, cognition and mood among the elderly and those suffering from cognitive conditions. (11)

6. May Prevent Osteoporosis

Although the research is mixed, there are studies indicating that soybean and soy-based products, including soy lecithin, act as antiresorptive and bone-enhancing agents in preventing osteoporosis. This is due to the isoflavones found in soy, specifically the glycosides.

According to a scientific review published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, epidemiologic studies have found that elderly Asian women have a lower incidence of hip fractures than Caucasian women, and further research indicates that the consumption of soy products is much higher among Asians than caucasians.

Researchers state that soy-based products could “potentially lower the bone loss rate and decrease the risk of fracture.” This may be due to soy’s estrogenic effects, as estrogen deficiency induced by menopause has shown to accelerate bone loss in older women. It may also be due to properties in soy (notably the glycosides) that have antioxidant, antiproliferative, estrogenic and immune-modulating effects. (12)

7. Relieves Menopause Symptoms

In addition to its potential benefit for osteoporosis, research suggests that soy lecithin supplements may help to improve menopause symptoms by improving vigor and blood pressure levels in menopausal women. A 2018 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study including 96 women between the ages of 40 to 60 sought to investigate whether or not soy lecithin supplements could help to relieve symptoms of fatigue. The participants were randomized to receive active tablets containing high-dose (1,200 milligrams per day) or low-dose (600 milligrams per day) soy lecithin, or placebo, for an 8-week period.

Researchers found that the improvements in fatigue symptoms, diastolic blood pressure and cardio-ankle vascular index (to measure arterial stiffness) were greater in the high-dose group compared with the placebo group. (13)

8. May Prevent Cancer

A 2011 study published in the journal Epidemiology found that there may be a reduced risk of breast cancer associated with lecithin supplement use. Researchers weren’t able to make any conclusive statements about it being a natural cancer treatment, but suggested that their findings should be considered “hypothesis-generating.”

This link between soy lecithin and decreased breast cancer risk may be due to the presence of phosphatidylcholine in soy lecithin, which is converted to choline when ingested. (14)

Soy Lecithin Dangers and Side Effects

Although there are a number of potential benefits from consuming soy lecithin, there are also some dangers and side effects that you should be aware of before choosing to ingest foods or supplements containing this ingredient.

For one thing, consider the extraction process that’s required to get soy lecithin from soybeans. Hexane is a solvent that’s used to extract oils from seeds and vegetables. It’s also used as a solvent for glues and varnishes, and as a cleaning agent in the printing industry. Hexane is used in the extraction process when separating the lecithin from the soybean and then it is removed through another multi-step process.

But there can be hexane residue leftover, and this is not regulated by the FDA. So we don’t know exactly how much hexane may be in the soy lecithin that you’re eating, and the EPA does list a number of dangerous side effects of hexane inhalation exposure, including mild central nervous system effects like dizziness, nausea and headaches. (15)

Another issue that I have with soy lecithin is that unless it’s labeled as “organic soy lecithin,” it probably comes from genetically modified soybeans. So is soy lecithin genetically modified? Well, generally speaking, since soy lecithin is extracted from soy oil, which is almost always generically modified, the answer is usually yes.

A major issue is that the original source for soy lecithin is nearly impossible to tract down, so it can very well come from GM soy and you wouldn’t know it.

The bottom line is that there are some potential health benefits of ingesting soy lecithin, but there are also some drawbacks. What are the side effects of soy lecithin? For one thing, the science about isoflavones and their estrogenic effects still aren’t clear. Plus, people with sensitive soy allergies may have an adverse reaction to soy lecithin and in most cases, it’s from genetically modified soy.

Final Thoughts

  • Lecithin is a generic term to designate a variety of naturally occurring fatty compounds found in animal and plant tissues. Soy lecithin, in particular, is extracted from soybeans and often used as an emulsifier.
  • Soy lecithin is composed of choline, fatty acids, glycerol, glycolipids, phospholipids, phosphoric acid and triglycerides. It contains very little soy protein, so it’s generally considered safe for people with soy allergies.
  • Soy lecithin also has potential health benefits, including its ability to:
    • improve cholesterol
    • serve as a source of choline
    • boost immunity
    • help the body deal with mental and physical stress
    • improve cognitive function
    • prevent osteoporosis
    • relieve menopause symptoms
    • possibly reduce the risk of cancer
  • Although there are many potential health benefits of soy lecithin, it is still commonly derived from genetically modified soy, so look for organic options whenever possible. Also, keep in mind that soy lecithin contains isoflavones, which can have estrogenic-effects when ingested.

Read Next: Top 12 Cancer-Fighting Foods

Josh Axe

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  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!

    • Jennifer on

      Crazy. I just found out by an elimination diet that it does the same for me also. It normally effects me within hours, if not immediately, if I consume a lot of it.

  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……

  24. a n sharp on

    You write” However, it appears that soy lecithin only contains trace levels of soy proteins. For this reason, researchers believe that soy lecithin will [NOT??] provoke allergic reactions in the majority of soy-allergic consumers because it does not contain sufficient soy protein residues.”

    Should there be a ‘not’ inserted in the 2nd sentence? Does soy lecithin provoke allergic reactions?

  25. Janet on

    Hello. I enjoy your content. I think, however, you might have a typo in the paragraph beginning with “A common question about…” i think you’re missing the word “not” towards the end of the paragraph.


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