The Importance of Lecithin

A fundamental tenet of Anthroposophy, the philosophy behind Waldorf schools, biodynamic agriculture and Anthroposophical medicine, is that the creative forces in the world work in a threefold manner. If we apply this idea to the plant world, we see that the plant consists of root, leaf/stem, and flower/fruit.

In the human being, we can observe this threefold nature in a diverse number of ways. In the physical body, we see the round head or nervous system, the transitional chest/heart/lung area that is the rhythmical or circulatory system, and the spear-like shape of the long bones that make up the metabolic/limb system. This threefold nature underlies the basic polarities that shape the human being.   An example of these polarities is the head, which is cool and still, contrasting with the metabolism and limbs, which are warm and active.   The blood or circulatory system serves as the mediator between these two polarities.  

We also find this threefold blueprint in the three central fluids of the body: the cerebrospinal fluid is the still, crystalline fluid of the nervous system; the more active, nutrient-rich fluid of the lymph originates in the metabolism; and the fluid of the rhythmic system (blood) mediates in this threefold dynamic. Another example is the actual shape of one of the long bones in our extremities, such as the femur bone in the leg. Again, we see the round “head,” the transitional “neck,” then the spear-like shape of the shaft, a perfect threefold organization.

In his many medical lectures to doctors, Steiner often pointed out that we should look for the forces, or perhaps activities, that underlie a disease process, and that an imbalance in this underlying “force” will give rise to symptoms in each of the three spheres of the human being. For example, he said that a human being can lose the “forces of cohesion,” making it difficult to “hold things together.” While this is clearly a metaphor, we can readily understand that if the forces of cohesion are weak in the metabolic region, the result would be diarrhea. In the circulatory system, the result would be the inability of the blood to clot, which is hemophilia.   Finally, in the head/nervous system, we could call schizophrenia a condition in which we are not able to form cohesive thoughts.

Though some people might think this way of thinking is overly poetic and has no place in modern scientific medicine, my experience has been that looking through this “lens” can lead to effective strategies to remedy these specific illnesses. Almost 100 years ago, Steiner pointed to one substance that could improve the forces of cohesion, and that substance is stibium (also called antimony). Amazingly, it has proven to be a useful medicine for these three diverse conditions.

Stibium is a crystal that clearly has tremendous inner powers of cohesion, which can be seen in its intricate patterns, the so-called flowers of antimony. Antimony’s molecules have the ability to hold together in strands at great distances, even though the strands are only a few molecules thick. This substance embodies the forces of cohesion in nature, which can come to the aid of a human being suffering from the lack of these forces.

Another example of the threefold manifestation of disease is seen by the tendency of plaque, or lipid, deposition to occur in each of the three realms.   In the nervous system, we see deposition disease as the underlying dynamics of Alzheimer’s, in which amyloid or waxy deposits form in the tissues of the brain. These amyloid plaques interrupt the electrical transmission of impulses in the brain, eventually resulting in Alzheimer’s characteristic memory loss and dementia.   In the circulatory system, plaque deposition is the fundamental defect of atherosclerosis.

What about in the metabolic system? How does this fatty depositional tendency play out there? One answer would be gallstones, where we see cholesterol (fatty deposits) forming within the gall bladder.   Another possibility would be that the intestinal lining is meant to be coated by a thin, fatty, protective layer, which serves not only to protect the delicate hair–like villi lining the gut wall, but also to prevent proteins, which could act as antigens or allergens, from penetrating the gut wall and entering the blood stream. In cases of ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and leaky-gut syndrome, this protective coating is thin or even non-existent. In some cases, only fatty deposits exist rather than an intact protective layer. Without the smooth layer of fat protecting the lining, the cells lining the intestinal wall get damaged, and the whole system leaks.

Many of my older readers might remember that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, perhaps the first “superfood” became popular, which was lecithin.   Lecithin, otherwise known as phosphatidylcholine, is found in such foods as egg yolks, soybeans and other foods that contain fat.   It is a ubiquitous fatty substance in the human being, making up a large proportion of the fat composition of our brain and nervous system and at least 70 percent of the fats of the protective layer of the intestinal wall.

In those early days after the discovery of lecithin, the research suggested that lecithin was needed for proper brain development and function, which was why eggs, the food that contains the most lecithin, has historically been considered brain food.   Then it was discovered that lecithin acts as a kind of detergent in the body and can dissolve fatty deposits in the blood vessels. As time went on, the science of lecithin developed, and now lecithin is given intravenously by holistic physicians for neuro-degenerative diseases (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, MS, etc.).   It is widely used in Europe, often under the name Plaquex (see plaquex.net for more information) to dissolve plaque in the body’s arteries.   More recently, studies out of Europe have shown that higher doses of lecithin replenish the lining of the gut wall, nourish the goblet cells that line the gut wall, and treats ulcerative colitis as effectively as conventional medicines.   Again, we see the threefold nature of disease and a medicine that addresses the underlying imbalance in each sphere.

Although I have advocated the liberal consumption of eggs for years, especially for children, I have rarely given lecithin as a supplement or medicine to my patients.   The reason for this was simple.   As far as I knew, the only lecithin available for oral or IV use was isolated from soybeans, and not organically grown soybeans. My worry that all the commercial lecithin was possibly contaminated with GMO soybeans, so it was something I couldn’t risk using.

Luckily, I was not the only one concerned about the use of GMO soybeans as the basis for a medicine. Very recently a lecithin has become available that is made from organically grown sunflower seeds.   I am now glad to be able to offer this valuable supplement to my patients. The dose depends on the situation, but 2 to 6 tablespoons a day is the range, and it’s best consumed in a smoothie.   It usually takes a month or so to see benefits, especially in bowel disease, probably because it takes this amount of time to build up an effective gut-wall barrier.

Hopefully, with a more healthful product, coupled with the understanding of the threefold nature of disease, lecithin can be a valuable aid in the prevention and treatment of disease.

With gratitude,

Tom