Lecithin

Crude soybean oil is a rich source of lecithin, a mixture of naturally occurring phospholipids (phosphatidylcholine [sometimes commonly called

Ri

R2

R3

a

CH3

CH3

CH3

P

CH3

H

CH3

Y

H

CH3

CH3

8

H

H

CH3

Chroman ring

Phytyl Chain

Fig. 17.2. Structure of tocopherols.

Chroman ring

Phytyl Chain

Fig. 17.2. Structure of tocopherols.

lecithin], phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylinositol) extracted as a by-product during the degumming of crude soybean oil. It constitutes about 0.5-1.5% of the soybean seed or 1-3% of crude soybean oil. Commercially, lecithin is available from a dark-tan to reddish-brown colour and in a fluid state to powdered form; it constitutes about 75% phospholipids, while the rest is unrefined oil, moisture and so on. Lecithin is an important nutraceutical component of soybean. It improves liver function, cardiovascular health, fetal brain development, memory function and the reproductive system. Lecithin is an indispensable component of cell membranes, constituting about 10% of the human spinal cord and 5% of the brain; hence, its deficiency restricts the free passage of nutrients from and into the cells. Therefore, it is of great therapeutic value for patients with Alzheimer's disease who are deficient in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Lecithin is also recommended for relieving depression. More importantly, the choline component in lecithin is the second largest methyl group donor after methionine that keeps the levels of homocysteine (demethylated methionine) under control in the blood, thereby reducing the risk of a heart attack. Lecithin is also required for the synthesis of very low-density lipoprotein, which acts as a vehicle for exporting dietary cholesterol from the liver. In the deficiency or absence of lecithin, lipid accumulation begins in the liver, leading to the formation of gall bladder stones. As an emulsifier, soy-derived lecithin is extensively used in the food and confectionery industries.

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