The Components of Phosphatidylethanolamine
Thank you for joining us for Part 3 of our exciting blog series! In this blog, we will learn more about the components of phosphatidylethanolamine.
Phospholipids, including phosphatidylethanolamine, might sound like scary toxic chemicals, but every single cell in your body requires phospholipids to function.
Phospholipids are present in nearly all foods too, so you eat them daily!
Continue reading to learn about phosphatidylethanolamine and the building blocks your body needs to produce this essential phospholipid.
Review from Part 1 – What is Phosphatidylethanolamine?
Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) is the second most abundant phospholipid in your cells. It comprises approximately 15–25% of the total fat content in cell membranes.1 PE is also an important nutrient that is present in most foods, including eggs, wheat, nuts, and flaxseeds.2-5
Phosphatidylethanolamine is a precursor for other important phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine.6
- Assists in the production and folding of proteins
- Powers the activity of cellular complexes that produce energy
- Supports optimal membrane structure and dynamics
- Promotes cell and organelle membrane fusion
- Facilitates the production of new mitochondria, which are cellular batteries that generate energy
- Plays a key role in cell autophagy1,7
Phosphatidylethanolamine is essential for life, and if impairments in the pathways that produce PE are present, life is not possible. Even slight pathway impairments that lead to changes in PE levels are associated with health issues. So, phosphatidylethanolamine is not only safe but required for a healthy life!1
The structure of phosphatidylethanolamine consists of a phosphorylated ethanolamine head group, a glycerol backbone, and two fatty acid tails.
The Components of Phosphatidylethanolamine
What is ethanolamine?
Essential for life, ethanolamine is present in every cell in your body as phosphatidylethanolamine and other important fatty molecules. Free ethanolamine is also present at varying concentrations in many bodily fluids.1
For example, the approximate average concentration of ethanolamine in the blood is 2 μM (normal range <12 μM), and the concentration in breast milk is over 20 times higher at 46 μM. There is also a high concentration of free ethanolamine in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract due to the breakdown of phosphatidylethanolamine in ingested food.1
Humans cannot synthesize free ethanolamine; therefore, it must be obtained from your diet or supplements.1,7 The proliferation of your cells requires ethanolamine since it is incorporated into the lipid bilayer of every cell membrane. So, your healthy liver, lung, intestinal, and other types of cells require ethanolamine.1,8
What does ethanolamine do?
In addition to being a component of phosphatidylethanolamine, a recent animal study determined ethanolamine could affect the health of the gut microbiome. The effect of ethanolamine was tested by supplementing the drinking water of the animals with 0, 250, 500, or 1000 µM of free ethanolamine. Supplementing the drinking water with 500 and 1000 µM of ethanolamine significantly shifted the bacteria present in the gut microbiome.9
Ethanolamine supplementation of the drinking water also improved stress tolerance, boosted intestinal antioxidant capacity, and increased intestinal cell differentiation. Free ethanolamine is naturally present in robust quantities in breast milk. Therefore, the authors of the study speculate it may support the development of the gut microbiome and intestinal lining in infants.9
Another recent animal study suggests ethanolamine could be beneficial for the treatment of prion diseases. Prion diseases are a group of fatal brain disorders that include Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mad cow disease, and kuru disease. To date, no effective therapies for prion diseases have been discovered. So, this development is potentially ground-breaking and could save lives.10
Indeed, ethanolamine does cross the blood-brain barrier and has an affinity for the brain. Therefore, researchers are attaching it to some medications to increase the concentration of the medication in the brain. So far, the results show the medications modified with ethanolamine-related structures target the brain effectively, which is a wonderful discovery.11
Is supplemental ethanolamine safe?
The answer is yes if:
- The supplement has an ethanolamine-containing compound rather than concentrated, pure, free ethanolamine
- The amount of ethanolamine consumed is a reasonable, recommended dose
- The supplement is purchased from a reliable company
But, it is reasonable to be concerned!
Pure, free ethanolamine is manufactured and processed in industrial settings. In these industrial settings, it can be hazardous if it enters the air as a vapor and someone inhales it into their lungs.
According to animal studies, pure ethanolamine can also cause harm if a large dose is consumed orally or a concentrated amount is applied to the skin or the eyes. But, small amounts of pure ethanolamine are safely added to many moisturizing lotions and creams as an emulsifier, and ethanolamine is known to protect the skin against chemical warfare agents.12
Fortunately, pure concentrated ethanolamine is not readily available for purchase. Most of the ethanolamine in dietary supplements is either phosphorylated ethanolamine, a chelated or salt form of ethanolamine attached to a mineral such as calcium or magnesium, or phosphatidylethanolamine.13,14
Ethanolamine is present in every cell in your body and in most foods. At suggested doses, ethanolamine-containing compounds tend to be safe and well-tolerated.
Fun fact –
- Ethanolamine exists in outer space! It has been detected in the Almahata Sitta meteorite and the molecular cloud located in the SgrB2 complex in the Galactic Center. Since ethanolamine forms efficiently in space, it could have contributed to the evolution of primitive membranes and, therefore, life on Earth.15 WOW!
What is phosphoethanolamine?
Phosphoethanolamine is also known as ethanolamine phosphate and phosphorylated ethanolamine. Phosphoethanolamine is a naturally occurring molecule produced via multiple metabolic pathways in the body. The pathways include the Kennedy pathway and the Sphingosine Phosphate Lyase pathway.7,16
As a compound that can be used for the synthesis of several cell membrane phospholipids, including phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylcholine, and phosphatidylserine, phosphoethanolamine is present in all cells.7,17 As a source of inorganic phosphate, phosphoethanolamine is also present in robust amounts in mineralizing cells, such as bone cells, and cartilage.18
What does phosphoethanolamine do?
As mentioned above, phosphoethanolamine serves as a precursor, or building block, for the synthesis of several critical cell membrane phospholipids.7,18 Phosphoethanolamine also plays a significant role in the mineralization and strengthening of bone. Like calcium and magnesium, the phosphorus that is present in phosphoethanolamine is crucial for optimal bone health.13,19-22
Animal and in vitro studies provide additional insight into the many functions of phosphoethanolamine. According to the medical literature, phosphoethanolamine may support:
- Improved mitochondrial function
- Optimal phospholipid balance in cell membranes when cortisol is elevated
- Healthy cholesterol levels23-27
Is phosphoethanolamine safe?
Phosphoethanolamine supplements have been available for years and are generally well-tolerated at suggested doses. According to safety data, concentrated, pure phosphoethanolamine can damage the skin and eyes when applied topically. And, intravenous (IV) administration of a high dose of pure phosphoethanolamine can be harmful, according to animal studies.28
But, phosphoethanolamine is present in every cell in your body and in most foods. Therefore, at suggested doses, supplemental phosphoethanolamine tends to be very safe.
What is glycerol, and is it safe?
Glycerol is naturally present in the human body and acts as the backbone structure in phospholipids. The phosphoethanolamine and fatty acid tails attach to the glycerol backbone to form the phospholipid phosphatidylethanolamine.1
Ingestion and intravenous (IV) infusion of glycerol have been performed safely for over 60 years. Glycerol is prescribed in research settings and as a treatment for several health conditions. Since 1987, a clever technique called glycerol hyper-hydration has been prescribed to athletes. The glycerol increases the amount of water stored in the body, which improves exercise tolerance in hot environments.29
Glycerol, also known as glycerin, is “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” as a food additive by the FDA.30,31
What are fatty acids, and are they safe?
Fatty acids are the building blocks required to produce lipids, which are fats. Fatty acids have many diverse functions in cells. Their functions include supporting the structure of cell membranes, storing and supplying energy, and acting as signaling molecules.32
Fatty acids are present in all food that contains fat, and fatty acids are essential for life.
Increased intake of omega-3 fatty acids via diet or supplementation does increase their incorporation into the phospholipids in your cell membranes. Omega-3 fatty acids are less inflammatory than other fatty acids, and their incorporation into phospholipids is one way your daily diet can directly affect your cellular health and overall well-being.33
As part of healthy whole foods like fish and walnuts, fatty acids are essential and safe when consumed in optimal amounts.
Thank you for joining us for our blog series about phospholipids. We hope we answered all your questions about phospholipids and their components!
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Phospholipids, including phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethanolamine, sound like scary toxic chemicals, but every single cell in your body requires phospholipids to function. Phospholipids are present in nearly all food too, so you eat them daily!
Thank you for joining us as we learn more about the components of phosphatidylserine and continue our exciting blog series about the safety and benefits of phospholipids!
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- Sun N, Chen J, Bao Z, et al. Egg Yolk Phosphatidylethanolamine: Extraction Optimization, Antioxidative Activity, and Molecular Structure Profiling. J Food Sci. 2019;84(5):1002-1011. doi:10.1111/1750-3841.14512
- González-Thuillier I, Salt L, Chope G, et al. Distribution of Lipids in the Grain of Wheat (cv. Hereward) Determined by Lipidomic Analysis of Milling and Pearling Fractions. J Agric Food Chem. 2015;63(49):10705-10716. doi:10.1021/acs.jafc.5b05289
- Zhang D, Guo X, Wang Q, et al. Investigation on lipid profile of peanut oil and changes during roasting by lipidomic approach. LWT. 2022;154(15):112594. doi:10.1016/j.lwt.2021.112594
- Zhang D., Li X., Duan X., et al. Lipidomics reveals the changes in lipid profile of flaxseed oil affected by roasting. Food Chemistry. 2021;364:130431. doi:10.1016/j.foodchem.2021.130431
- Vance JE, Tasseva G. Formation and function of phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethanolamine in mammalian cells. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2013;1831(3):543-54. doi:10.1016/j.bbalip.2012.08.016
- Gibellini F, Smith TK. The Kennedy pathway--De novo synthesis of phosphatidylethanolamine and phosphatidylcholine. IUBMB Life. 2010;62(6):414-28. doi:10.1002/iub.337
- Yang H, Xiong X, Li T, et al. Ethanolamine enhances the proliferation of intestinal epithelial cells via the mTOR signaling pathway and mitochondrial function. In Vitro Cell Dev Biol Anim. 2016;52(5):562-7. doi:10.1007/s11626-016-0002-8
- Zhou J, Xiong X, Wang KX, et al. Ethanolamine enhances intestinal functions by altering gut microbiome and mucosal anti-stress capacity in weaned rats. Br J Nutr. 2018;120(3):241-249. doi:10.1017/S0007114518001101
- Uchiyama K, Hara H, Chida J, et al. Ethanolamine Is a New Anti-Prion Compound. Int J Mol Sci. 2021;22(21):11742. doi:10.3390/ijms222111742
- Li Y, Zhou Y, Jiang J, et al. Mechanism of brain targeting by dexibuprofen prodrugs modified with ethanolamine-related structures. J Cereb Blood Flow Metab. 2015;35(12):1985-1994. doi:10.1038/jcbfm.2015.160
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- Min H, Youn E, Kim J, et al. Effects of Phosphoethanolamine Supplementation on Mitochondrial Activity and Lipogenesis in a Caffeine Ingestion Caenorhabditis elegans Model. Nutrients. 2020;12(11):3348. doi:10.3390/nu12113348
- Perianes-Cachero A, Lobo MVT, Hernández-Pinto AM, et al. Oxidative Stress and Lymphocyte Alterations in Chronic Relapsing Experimental Allergic Encephalomyelitis in the Rat Hippocampus and Protective Effects of an Ethanolamine Phosphate Salt. Mol Neurobiol. 2020;57(2):860-878. doi:10.1007/s12035-019-01774-8
- Rivilla VM, Jiménez-Serra I, Martín-Pintado J, et al. Discovery in space of ethanolamine, the simplest phospholipid head group. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2021;118(22):e2101314118. doi:10.1073/pnas.2101314118
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- Horibata Y, Ando H, Sugimoto H. Locations and contributions of the phosphotransferases EPT1 and CEPT1 to the biosynthesis of ethanolamine phospholipids. J Lipid Res. 2020;61(8):1221-1231. doi:10.1194/jlr.RA120000898
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