Can lecithin keep your arteries clean?

HealthDiseases and IllnessesAlzheimer's DiseaseMedicineCrohn's Disease

Q: I am 70 years old and have been taking lecithin for more than 35 years. When the doctor viewed images of my arteries, he was amazed to find no plaque or calcification deposits of any kind. He said I had the arteries of a 20-year-old. My heart doctor gave 100 percent credit to the lecithin for keeping my arteries clear.

Not being a smoker helped, too, I'm sure. Lecithin has been recently credited with helping to prevent Alzheimer's, according to my regular doctor. I recommend it to everyone.

A: Lecithin is a fatty acid found in egg yolks and soybeans. It is part of an enzyme critical to the production of beneficial HDL cholesterol, which might explain how it could have helped keep your arteries clear of plaque. One study found it may help lower bad LDL cholesterol (Cholesterol, 2010).

Lecithin is also a building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which may become low in Alzheimer's disease. There are few placebo-controlled studies of lecithin supplements, but it appears to be generally safe.

Q: I have a question about natural herbal supplements to help me sleep. I am in law enforcement and work shifts, so I don't have a regular pattern of sleep.

Is there anything that can help me get better sleep under these conditions? I really don't want to take sleeping pills because they leave me groggy, and I need to be able to move fast when I'm awake.

A. We understand your skepticism about sleeping pills, since a morning hangover is not uncommon. You might want to consider relaxing herbs such as valerian, lemon balm and passionflower. Other natural supplements that can be helpful include melatonin, which seems to be especially helpful for jet lag and shift work, and magnesium. Some people are quite enthusiastic about acupressure wristbands to promote sleep.

Q: My niece has Crohn's disease and has suffered from unremitting diarrhea for months. She started eating homemade macaroon cookies (1 per day, 12.5 grams of dried coconut per macaroon).

As a result, she had a dramatic improvement in her diarrhea in less than a week and actually had to reduce the "dose" to one macaroon every other day. I love double-blind, placebo-controlled studies, but in this case there was no reason not to try one cookie a day.

A: We, too, love double-blind studies, but we agree that your niece figured out a way to determine that coconut macaroons help her. We're impressed with the precision of the dose.

Ever since we first learned from Donald Agar about the beneficial effects of coconut macaroons on diarrhea associated with Crohn's, we have been collecting messages from others. Most people who suffer from this inflammatory-bowel condition report that they get good results with two or three cookies a day. The homemade macaroons may be more potent.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Send questions to them via peoplespharmacy.com.

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