Not to be confused with the lecithin we already make in our bodies, sunflower lecithin is made by – you guessed it – sunflowers!1
Sunflower lecithin, and other plant sources of lecithin, were originally viewed as mere by-products of the oil refining process, e.g. removing it from sunflower oil better to give it better stability, so we could cook with it.2
Nowadays, sunflower lecithin has been upgraded in the eyes of many and is used as an emollient in medicines, cosmetics, dietary supplements and food.3
You have most likely already eaten some foods containing sunflower lecithin as it’s a popular additive in chocolate, mayonnaise, margarine, bakery and instant products as an emulsifier for its unique fat composition.4
Its job is to suspend oils and fats and keep them away from other substances so they can’t mix.
It also occurs naturally in some foods, including5:
You will also see it on the ingredients of some beauty products, like moisturisers and serums, as emollients can help draw moisture into the skin and make it feel nice and smooth.
There are other claimed health benefits of sunflower lecithin, but we’ll get onto those below!
Not much of one, no. Whether it is made in the human body, in animals and animal products, or found in plants (mainly their seeds), lecithin is simply a mixture of fatty acids called glycerophospholipids, including:
Soy lecithin is the most popular plant source of the compound, but some people are allergic to soy or are concerned about its GMO status and so opt for sunflower lecithin.
Research suggests that lecithin could lower levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, while raising levels of HDL (good cholesterol). One study in 2009 found that participants who took 500mg of lecithin daily lowered their cholesterol by 56% in just 2 months.1
According to anecdotal evidence, there are some potential sunflower lecithin breastfeeding benefits.
Lecithin is already found in human breast milk. Some women like to take lecithin supplements to help prevent blocked milk ducts and reduce the thickness of their breast milk, so they can have an easier time breastfeeding their children. However, there are no current studies that can prove that it works in this way.2
However, some breastfeeding experts, like the British organisation NCT, do suggest that taking a lecithin supplement may help to get rid of milk blisters that form on blocked milk ducts of breastfeeding mothers.3
According to the EU’s Committee on Herbal Medicinal products, lecithin can help to reduce feelings of weakness and tiredness.4
Similarly, a study in 2018 in Nutritional Journal found that women who were going through the menopause experienced reduced tiredness and increased energy when taking a high daily dose (1200mg) of lecithin.5
When you consume lecithin, your body breaks it down into a vitamin-like essential nutrient called choline.
Some research suggests that choline can help support cardiovascular health by altering lipid (fat) profiles, helping to maintain normal blood pressure and reducing levels of plasma homocysteine.6
Although research is limited, the way that choline reacts in brain seems to help support the structure of neurons and promote cognitive function in older people.7
When applied directly onto the skin in beauty and skincare products, lecithin has been seen to soothe and soften the skin.
This may be because of its emollient properties, which typically help to create a barrier on the skin to seal moisture in, making it potentially beneficial for dry and ageing skin.8
Sunflower allergies are quite rare, whereas soy allergies are more common, making sunflower lecithin potentially less risky than soy lecithin.
No, sunflower lecithin does not contain lectin.
You can usually find sunflower lecithin supplements in the following formats:
There is no current recommended dosage for lecithin, but a popular dosage in sunflower lecithin supplements is around 1200mg.
Like with most supplements without a recommended dosage, it is advised that you take it slowly and start off with a small dose to see how your body reacts to it and then increase if you want to.
Lecithin supplements like sunflower lecithin are regarded as generally safe to take. However, some people may experience some of the following side effects9:
Last updated: 8 April 2021
Joined Holland & Barrett: Apr 2019
Masters Degree in Toxicology and BSc Hons in Medical Biochemistry
Bhupesh started his career as a Clinical Toxicologist for Public Health England, advising healthcare professionals all around the country on how to manage clinical cases of adverse exposure to supplements, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, industrial chemicals and agricultural products.
After 7 years in this role and a further year working as a drug safety officer in the pharmaceutical industry, Bhupesh joined Holland & Barrett as a Senior Regulatory Affairs Associate in 2019.