Since you are what you eat (you know that, right?), your cell membranes are made up of the fats that you ingest—for better or for worse.

But first, here’s why you care about your cell membranes.

Cell Membrane Physiology: In With the Good, Out With the Bad

Historically the “brain” of the cell was considered to be its nucleus, and cell walls were considered to be the “skin.”  But if you remove the nucleus from a cell, it can still function just fine—it just can’t reproduce (implying that the nucleus is more like the cell’s reproductive organ than its brain.)  But if you remove the cell’s membrane, the cell dies immediately.

Cell membranes are like gates, and the receptors dotted along the membrane are like gatekeepers.  They require a certain “password” in order to open and let a particular substance inside the cell—not just anybody gets in.  But the “gate” has to be fluid enough to allow the gatekeepers to do their jobs properly, and also to let out the internal waste left over from cellular processes. Healthy gates will:

  • Let in nutrients and oxygen (critical for life!)
  • Let in cell signals (such as insulin, for instance—unhealthy cell membranes contribute to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes).
  • Let in glucose for energy (limiting insulin resistance)
  • Let in neurotransmitters in brain cells (improving mood disorders)
  • Maintain proper nerve conduction (treating neuropathy symptoms).
  • Letting the trash “out” is universally important, since toxic buildup is one of the primary causes for the inflammatory diseases of Western culture, such as diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune conditions, allergies, and cancer.

From the standpoint of weight loss, healthy cell membranes are critical. Most obviously this is because of insulin signaling, but unhealthy membranes also lead to inflammation, and inflammation can be associated with weight gain for many.

Essential fatty acids are one important component for keeping the cell membrane healthy, but fifty percent of your cell membranes are made up of the nutrient I’m spotlighting here: phosphatidylcholine.

Phosphatidylcholine and Fat Burning

I wrote here on  the soaring rates of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, generally secondary to insulin resistance; unchecked, this can lead to fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver. This article shows that phosphatidylcholine protects against both of these in animal models.

Probably the reason phosphatidylcholine has this effect on the liver is because, in addition to its role in the cell membrane, its component choline is necessary for transporting fat to your mitochondria (the powerhouse of your cells). The mitochondria are the bacteria inside of your cells that produce ATP, the energy currency of your body.

This means that, in addition to helping to keep your cell membranes healthy, phosphatidylcholine also directly encourages fat burning.

Where to Get Phosphatidylcholine

Phosphatidylcholine is found in eggs, milk, soybeans, mustard, peanuts, liver, and sunflowers, but you can also take it as a supplement.

All commercial phosphatidylcholine comes from lecithin, which is usually a byproduct of soybean oil (GMO unless otherwise stated), although it can come from sunflower oil as well. Lecithin does contain phosphatidylcholine, but it contains other phospholipids as well—so percentage-wise, you’re not getting as much as if you took a pure version.

My preference is a liposomal version of phosphatidylcholine (not choline, not lecithin) derived from sunflowers. It’s highly absorbable, it’s a much higher percentage of the component you want, and it avoids the GMO issue from soy. Here’s the one I recommend:

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