Phospholipid or phosphorylation deficiency, potential symptoms

Phospholipids are essential within membrane structures within and around cells and form the walls of blood vessels and organs including our largest organ – the skin itself. Phosphorylation is chemical process that is essential for building phospholipids and also critical within mitochondria for releasing energy from molecules of sugar (glucose). Severe problems in the ability to make phospholipids or phosphorylate other chemicals would likely lead to severe symptoms and death.

Symptoms of moderate severity might include infertility for females (implantation of the fertilized egg might not occur normally) and for males (sperm motility may be impaired), however too much of some forms might also impair fertility. Often chemicals within biology have a U shape toxicity, too little or too much can be detrimental to health.

Symptoms associated with genetic problems with phospholipid metabolism have been identified that can be grouped in three main types, symptoms affecting the Central Nervous System (the brain), peripheral neuropathies (numbness beginning with the fingers, hands and feet), and symptoms affecting muscles or cardiovascular health. (1)

Choline deficiency and metabolism is also critical for fertility and other functions including nerve and brain cell communication and energy metabolism. Phosphatidylcholine and acetylcholine are needed as messenger chemicals, for DNA production, and in converting sugar to usable energy. (2) Inadequate choline leads to reduced methylation, and epigenetic changes or DNA breaks may be more likely to occur. Liver cancer may occur due to DNA changes in tumor suppressor genes that normally would repair cancerous changes. Choline is required for folate metabolism. (9) So lack of choline prenatally also increases risk for neural tube defects more typically associated with folate deficiency. Egg yolk and other animal food products contain choline, a vegan diet could include nutritional yeast flakes as a source of choline and vitamin B12 (among other B vitamins and nutrients that may also be found in a variety of vegan foods) or peanuts, (Choline/Linus Pauling Institute), beans, seeds, and some vegetables, (see Table 1, choline food sources).

Adequate amounts of various fatty acids (fats) and other vitamins and minerals are also important for the body to be able to make phospholipids, Vitamin A and E and the B vitamin called folate are necessary in addition to trace metals magnesium and zinc. Polyunsaturated fats including the omega 3 fatty acid DHA are also necessary for optimal phospholipid production. Vegetarian sources of ALA, a potential precursor for DHA, may not be converted to EPA and then to DHA by many people. (3) (Magnesium sources)

Supplementing diets with phospholipids (glycerophospholipids, GPLs, and shingoyelin, SM) has been found beneficial without severe side effects for some health conditions and when used along with some types of medications. Arthritis damage due to inflammation was reduced in an animal study. Cachexia, severe weight loss and muscle breakdown, associated with cancer and other inflammatory conditions, may also be reduced with increased intake of phospholipid sources. Krill oil, a marine source of DHA bound to phospholipids, was found helpful in a study of premenstrual syndrome in comparison to fish oils with DHA as free fatty acids. Use of phospholipid sources along with NSAIDs painkillers found reduced problems with GI side effects associated with the pharmaceuticals (such as aspirin and ibuprofen). Ulcerative colitis sufferers may also benefit from increased intake of phospholipid sources. Use for treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, and cognitive conditions has also been studied. (4)

Problems with health or lifestyle that increase nutrient demands due to oxidative stress or toxin load such as alcoholism, (6), increased physical or emotional stress, or aging might lead to problems in complex metabolic pathways including lipid metabolism. “Aging, heart failure and Barth Syndrome [98]” have been associated with decreased glycerophospholipid (cardiolipin, CL) formation in the inner membrane layer of mitochondria which are the main organelle for providing energy within cells. (5) (Barth Syndrome is a rare genetic condition causing weak muscle development, heart problems, low tolerance for exercise, growth delay, increased risk for infections, mitochondrial deficit in production of tetralinoleoyl-cardiolipin.

Animal Food Sources of Phospholipids:

  • Egg yolk;
  • Organ meats;
  • Krill oil and other fatty fish or fish derived oils;
  • Bovine milk extracts.

Plant Food Sources of Phospholipids and other phospho-nutrients:

  • Hemp seed kernels and oil;
  • cocoa beans and cocoa powder, baker’s chocolate, dark chocolate and to a lesser amount milk chocolate and chocolate syrup; beans/legumes;
  • soy lecithin & other soy oil extracts, (4) ;
  • carrots; celery stalks and leaves; parsnip root;
  • coconut;
  • cardamom seeds and powder; cumin seed/powder; fennel seed, flax seed, pine nuts; sesame seeds, pumpkin seed kernels, squash seeds;
  • butternut squash and pumpkin; sweet potato or yam;
  • grapefruit and orange juice with the pulp;
  • Jerusalem artichoke (this is a root vegetable rather than a green artichoke);
  • asparagus; avocado fruit or the inner kernel, dried and powdered; Artemisia turanica/wormwood leaf; lettuce, spinach and mustard leaves and other leafy green vegetables and herbs; rosemary;
    gingko leaf; okra seeds;
  • nuts/peanuts, cashews, walnuts;
  • onion root, leek leaves, garlic; 
  • pomegranate seeds and pomegranate peel extract;
  • amaranth seed; oats; rice, white or brown but the bran is the best source; sorghum;  buckwheat (a seed botanically that is not wheat and is gluten free); wheat. (G.26)   

More information about phospholipids/cannabinoids during implantation of a newly fertilized egg.

During the first few days after conception the level of anandamide, an internally produced cannabinoid, has to be at just the right level for the fertilized egg to successfully implant somewhere along the uterine lining. Too much of the natural cannabinoid, anandamide, or too much of a synthetic or plant derived source of a similar cannabinoid can cause the fertilized egg to fail to implant properly. (7) The uterus and placenta both have above average amounts of Type 1 cannabinoid receptors which are the type more prevalent within the brain and are also found within the developing fetal brain. Type 1 cannabinoid receptors are activated by anandamide which is chemically similar to the euphoric cannabinoid, THC, found in marijuana, so prenatal use of marijuana may be a risk to fetal brain development. (8)

The identification of cannabinoid receptors (CBRs) in the uterus and placenta, and the high densities of CB1Rs, functionally coupled to G protein in prenatal developmental stages throughout the human brain, suggest the involvement of the cannabinoid system in neural development (Mato et al., 2003). It has also been suggested that the high expression of CB1 mRNA in the human fetal limbic structures may render such brain structures more vulnerable to prenatal cannabis exposure (Wang et al., 2003).” (8, Ch. 3, page 91)

This means that too much or too little cannabinoids could cause problems with implantation for a female or might negatively effect the developing fetus. So external sources such as marijuana or chemically similar analogs would be something to avoid using for women during times when conception is desired or might occur (which might be up to four or five days after having unprotected sex as sperm may survive a few days) or prenatally for the safety of the developing fetal brain. However, potentially, if a woman had a genetic defect in her ability to make cannabinoids internally or some other health problem effecting the metabolic pathways, then she might only be able to become pregnant successfully when using an external source of cannabinoids/phospholipids. 

Disclaimer: This information is being provided for educational purposes within the guidelines of Fair Use. While I am a Registered Dietitian this information is not intended to provide individual health care guidance. Please seek an individual health care provider for individualized health care guidance.


  1. Lamari, Foudil & Mochel, F & Sedel, F & Saudubray, Jean-Marie. (2012). Disorders of phospholipids, sphingolipids and fatty acids biosynthesis: Toward a new category of inherited metabolic diseases. Journal of inherited metabolic disease. 36. 10.1007/s10545-012-9509-7.
  2. Phospholipids and Choline Deficiency, SpringerLink,
  3. Gimenez MS, Oliveros LB, Gomez NN. Nutritional deficiencies and phospholipid metabolismInt J Mol Sci. 2011;12(4):2408-33.
  4. Daniela Küllenberg, Lenka A Taylor, Michael Schneider and
    Ulrich Massing, Health effects of dietary phospholipids, Lipids in Health and Disease, 2012 11:3
  5. Daisuke Hishikawa, Tomomi Hashidate, Takao Shimizu, and Hideo Shindou, Diversity and function of membrane glycerophospholipids generated by the remodeling pathway in mammalian cells,
    May 2014 The Journal of Lipid Research, 55, 799-807.
  6. Sozio M, Crabb DW. Alcohol and lipid metabolism. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008;295(1):E10-6.
  7. B. C. Paria, et al., Dysregulated Cannabinoid Signaling Disrupts Uterine Receptivity for Embryo Implantation, June 8, 2001 The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 276, 20523-20528.[]
  8. Endocannabinoids: The Brain and Body’s Marijuana and Beyond; Edited by E. S. Onaivi, T. Sugiura, and V. Di Marzo, Chapter 15, Neuropsychiatry: Schizophrenia, Depression, and Anxiety, by Ester Fride and Ethan Russo, p 373, Chapter 3 Endocannabinoid Receptor Genetics and Marijuana Use, by E. S. Onaivi, et al., pp 91-92 (CRC Press, Taylor and Francis, 2006)
  9. Zeisel SH. Dietary choline deficiency causes DNA strand breaks and alters epigenetic marks on DNA and histonesMutat Res. 2011;733(1-2):34-8.