Got lecithin?

August 4, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Partway through my first pregnancy, I started having pain in my pelvis. It wasn’t the normal round ligament pain. It started in my lower back and radiated through my whole pelvis into the hip joints. When I walked or climbed stairs, it was especially bad. Eventually, I could hardly walk without excruciating pain, lasting for weeks. I asked my doctor about it, but I think all he told me was, “That’s normal.” Thanks, doc. It sure didn’t seem “normal” to me. If only I had met my friend Meredith way back then!

Meredith and I met at our doula training in February of ’09. Some time afterward, when we were hanging out at one of our houses, she started telling the story of how she switched from a doctor to a home birth midwife mid-pregnancy (with her second baby). She began by describing some pelvic pain she had been experiencing and how her doctor was no help to her. Bells and whistles started ringing in my head… Hey! That happened to me too! I had almost forgotten about my first pregnancy pelvic issues until she mentioned hers.

Here’s how Meredith describes her journey to pelvic pain relief (and home birth):

One of the reasons I looked for a midwife and considered homebirth in the first place was because my OB completely dismissed the pain I was having and told me, “Well, it’s only going to get worse.  You can look it up online and find some exercises or something.” I was shocked, offended, and FED UP with the treatment I was getting from everyone in that office. Now I think that either they were particularly rude to me or I was particularly sensitive to it because I was being led away… I was being guided by my intuition to investigate other options.

So, that very weekend after that awful appointment I was in a bookstore, of course browsing the pregnancy section, and I found Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth. I read the first couple of pages and decided I was going to buy it. I read it from cover to cover that very afternoon and said to my husband, “I think I’m going to give birth at home.” I got online, googled “midwives, phoenix, home birth” and Mary was at the top of my list. We communicated via email and set up an appointment to meet up the next week.

During our first appointment, which was just a consultation and Q&A session, I mentioned the pelvic pain and the absurdity of my doctor’s response to my concern. She very quickly replied:

“Hmm… have you tried eating more eggs? The lecithin will help, or you can just buy some lecithin.”

Immediately my mind got to working. I had been craving eggs like crazy. I never really made time in the mornings to make myself breakfast, but my office building had a cafe downstairs and a few times a week I would go down in the morning and buy an egg sandwich or a breakfast burrito with eggs. In retrospect, I realized that the weeks where I had indulged the most, my pelvic pain was the least noticeable! So I set out to eat two eggs every morning and find myself some lecithin that I could take in the evenings or mornings when I didn’t get any eggs. AND IT WORKED!

The pubic pain literally disappeared and the moment I found out that I was pregnant again, I started eating more eggs and I didn’t have a single twinge of pain during my third pregnancy.

As I think back on that bit of information and advice that she gave me, it reminds me of what midwifery is all about. Knowledge passed down from woman to woman through the ages. She had learned that “trick” from someone who learned it from someone else and so on and so on. It’s not something that she learned from a medical text or in a class. (I know because I asked her.) In fact, she didn’t remember where or when she learned it. Almost as if, by osmosis, the wise women inherit the wisdom of those that went before. Now I’ve inherited that little tidbit and I pass it along at every opportunity, along with many, many other bits of wisdom that were shared with me.

Awesome story, huh? I love it.

Yum. Free-range from my sister's hens.

About a week ago, I actually started noticing a few twinges in my pelvis. I immediately recognized them as the same type of pain I had felt during my first pregnancy. So I smiled and thought of Meredith, and made myself some eggs. And what do you know the twinges went away.  Whenever I get a twinge, I consider it a little nudge from my body, saying, “Eggs!”

I did a little internet digging and found more evidence that there’s backing for this remedy.  Midwife Ronnie Falcao shares the following on her website:

In my midwifery training, we were taught that Lecithin works great for pelvic/hip pain caused by loose ligaments in the pelvis. It doesn’t effect the pelvis’ ability to move and expand during labour, but does help ‘keep things together’ and thus avoiding the pain during pregnancy.  [You can also increase B12 and folate supplements, which support methylation and increases natural lecithin levels.] (source)

And apparently some OBs even know the lecithin trick. On an ObGyn Q&A website, a pregnant mother experiencing pelvic pain was given this advice:

I suggest you go to the health food store and get LECITHIN capsules. They are simply a component of the fats we eat every day, but they are very effective for joint and ligament pain of late pregnancy. Start with one a day and increase to three a day if needed. They are completely safe and may allow you to enjoy these last weeks in comfort. (source)

It also turns out that a lecithin deficiency could prove problematic for your baby. Lecithin is the primary source of choline, “a nutrient that is required for normal cell function, healthy nerve and brain functioning [lecithin makes up 30% of the dry weight of your brain], transporting nutrients throughout the body, and liver metabolism” (source).  Studies actually indicate that fewer than 10% of pregnant women meet their daily intake of choline. How could a lecithin/choline deficiency negatively impact your baby?

Researchers from McGill University and Cornell University evaluated the offspring of mice that had ingested a choline-deficient diet during pregnancy and compared them to offspring of mice that consumed a diet with the recommended amount of choline. Heart defects were more common among the mice exposed to a choline-deficient diet.

A choline deficiency was also associated with elevated levels of the amino acid homocysteine, which is linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and reduced cognitive functioning. Previous research has shown that choline helps break down homocysteine in the blood. A recent study published in Behavioral Neuroscience reported that choline intake during pregnancy and lactation is associated with improved attention function.

Yet another important function of choline is in preventing birth defects. Marie Caudill, PhD, RD, associate professor at Cornell University, pointed out that “women with diets low in choline have two times greater risk of having babies with neural tube defects.” (“Choline Deficiency During Pregnancy May Harm Infants”)

Kellymom.com also recommends lecithin as a treatment for plugged milk ducts and quotes Dr. Jack Newman’s explanation: “It may do this by decreasing the viscosity (stickiness) of the milk by increasing the percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the milk.” (She also warns: “[P]eople with a preexisting tendency to depression may become depressed if taking high doses of choline or lecithin. These people should be monitored by a physician.”)

Are you convinced that lecithin (and choline) are important yet?

So where else can you get lecithin (and choline) besides eggs (particularly egg yolks) and supplements? Good sources include: Soybeans, soy lecithin (a common food additive), beef, peanuts, whole grains, and milk. Brewer’s yeast also contains small amounts of lecithin (as well as an array of other nutrients–16 amino acids, 17 vitamins, and 14 minerals) which may explain why it’s an ingredient in lactation cookies. My sister uses liquid soy lecithin as a dough enhancer when she makes homemade bread, so you may want to consider getting some to add to your dough for both the dough enhancing and lecithin-boosting effects. (Although I always hesitate to encourage the use of soy products these days since most of the soy available commercially comes from genetically modified soy plants… a whole other can of possibly dangerous worms!)

Have you tried using lecithin to reduce joint pain or plugged ducts? I’d love to hear your experiences.

I think I’m due for another egg sandwich…