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The Building Block of Liver Cell – Essential Phospholipid

The liver

The liver is the largest and most metabolically complex organ found in the human body. The liver performs over 500 vital functions. Our liver acts as a chemical processing factory by converting the diets into substances that the body can use, store the nutrients, and supplies cells with the nutrients when needed. Besides, it also helps to convert toxic substances into harmless substances or remove it out from the body.

A normal healthy liver consists of around 300 billion of the liver cell or hepatocytes. The total surface of all cellular (external) and sub-cellular (internal) membranes take up to about 33,000 square meters, a surface area which is 5 times larger than a football field. Here is the place where many biological reactions take place.

What is fatty liver?

‘Hepar’ is the Greek term for the liver. Most liver-related medical terms usually start with ‘hepatic’ or ‘hepato’. There are over 100 different forms of liver diseases that affect men, women and children. Fatty liver or hepatic steatosis is one of the common liver diseases. In Malaysia, 60% of the population are at risk of dying due to fatty liver. A fatty liver is the result of the excess fat in liver cells. Fatty tissue slowly builds up in the liver, and a person has a fatty liver when fat makes up at least 5% of the liver.

Fatty liver can be divided into 2 types, which are alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Alcoholic fatty liver starts with fat accumulation in the liver with excessive alcohol consumption, while the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is strongly associated with metabolic syndrome (obesity, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia). In general, people with fatty liver disease have no symptoms. However, some of the people might experience vague abdominal discomfort or fatigue. Fatty liver is a reversible condition that can be overcome through lifestyle and dietary modification. If it is left untreated, liver inflammation due to peroxidation might happen. The untreated inflamed liver will start to scar and become liver fibrosis. When the liver becomes seriously scarred that it can no longer heal itself, the damage cannot be reversed and eventually cause cirrhosis.

Phospholipid in liver cell

Phospholipids are the essential components of all cellular and sub-cellular membranes, with phosphatidylcholine (PC) and phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) being the most abundant, together they can form lipid bilayers. Besides phospholipids, cholesterol, glycolipids, and integral and peripheral proteins are also incorporated into the membranes. The integrity of the cellular and sub-cellular membrane systems depends on their composition and on the integrity of their phospholipid structure. Membranes are selectively permeable structures, which are essential for effective separation of a cell from its surroundings.

The selectively permeable membrane is formed through the unique structure properties of the phosphatidylcholine. Each phosphatidylcholine particle consists of a hydrophilic (water-friendly) head and a two-pronged hydrophobic fatty acid tail. Due to this special structure, the hydrophilic head will align together and face the aqueous medium, while the hydrophobic fatty acid tail turns inward, facing each other. This ended up forming a phospholipid bilayer barrier that separates internal and external environment.

Regardless of the origin, liver diseases result from phospholipid damage to cell membranes linked to depleted phospholipid levels, altered phospholipid composition and/or reduced membrane fluidity. Once the liver cell structural damage exceeds the liver’s ability to regenerate, membrane fluidity is lost, excess collagen accumulates, promoting fibrosis and eventually cirrhosis.

Essential phospholipid (EPL) in promoting liver cell growth and repair

The phospholipids of cell membranes are partially unsaturated, and they are highly vulnerable to oxidative attack from free radicals, pathogens, and toxins. Any phospholipid damage that makes the membrane more porous endangers the life of the cell. Any damage or dying cell must be replaced in a timely manner.  

Essential phospholipids (EPL) contain a highly purified extract of polyenylphosphatidylcholine (PPC) molecules from soybean, with standardized contents of 76% to 94% of PC. The mode of action of EPL in liver disease includes restored membrane structure, increase membrane fluidity, and enhance membrane-associated metabolic functions. Besides, the intake of EPL fortified with B vitamins and vitamin E also shows antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antifibrotic, apoptosis-modulating, cell-signaling and receptor-influencing, and lipid-regulating effects.

According to clinical studies, PC was very well tolerated at oral intakes that ranged up to 4.6 grams per day, and was found to be more effective the earlier it was administered. There is no doubt that PC is an important nutrient for the liver. Dietary supplementation with PC significantly speeds recovery of liver damage.

  1. Gundermann, K. J., Gundermann, S., Drozdzik, M., & Prasad, V. M. (2016). Essential phospholipids in fatty liver: a scientific update. Clinical and experimental gastroenterology, 9, 105.
  2. Gundermann, K. J., Kuenker, A., Kuntz, E., & Droździk, M. (2011). Activity of essential phospholipids (EPL) from soybean in liver diseases. Pharmacological Reports, 63(3), 643-659.
  3. Kidd, P. M. (1996). Phosphatidylcholine, a superior protectant against liver damage. Altern Med Rev, 1(4), 258-74.
  4. PubMed Health. 2016. How does the liver work. [Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0072577/ , 16 June 2017].



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