What Are They?
Essential phospholipids align themselves in a tail-to-tail formation with their heads facing outward, which creates a double layer membrane. This bilayer structure is used by cells throughout the body for outer membranes and structures inside each cell.
Essential phospholipids are the primary building blocks of cellular membranes. These membranes are the "containers" that hold the living matter within each cell. They also give definition, shape, and protection to many of the substructures (organelles within the cell like the nucleus and mitochondria) within our cells.
In addition to functioning as a skin for each cell — keeping the insides in and the outsides out — phospholipid membranes provide protection from chemicals and pathogens that can derail or destroy the necessary life functions within each cell. While performing this function, phospholipid membranes are subject to constant attack from free radicals (oxidants), pathogens, and toxins.
To repair the structural damage caused by the continual barrage of toxic substances and pathogens, your body requires a constant phospholipids supply. The body can synthesize some phospholipid compounds, but the diet must supply others. Phospholipids that can only be obtained through dietary intake are called "essential phospholipids."
At the basic level, phospholipids are a phosphate group (phospho) attached to fatty acids (lipids) using a glycerol group.
Unlike phosphates, which are attracted to water (hydrophilic), fatty acids are repelled by water (hydrophobic). This very love/hate relationship with water allows phospholipids to form cellular membranes — and liposomes
As phospholipids are exposed to water-based solutions, they automatically align themselves in a double-layer (bilayer) configuration — phosphates toward the water and fatty acids away from the water.
One of the most important and prominent phospholipids in cell membranes is phosphatidylcholine (PC) [pronounced FOSS-fah-tide-al-KOH-lean]. At birth, up to 90% of cellular membranes are made up of PC. As humans age, the percentage of PC in their cellular membranes can decrease to about 10%. This fact leads many to recommend consistent supplementation with these essential phospholipids.