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Phosphatidylserine (PS) - The Essential Brain Nutrient

September 2002


Health headlines have preached about the necessity of calcium for bones, folic acid for the heart, and lutein for the eyes. Likewise, a number of nutrients such as ginkgo, SAMe and choline have been deemed helpful for the brain. One that's absolutely vital, though, is phosphatidylserine (PS). What makes experts so sure that we need phosphatidylserine is that the brain actually produces it. Aging slows the production of phosphatidylserine to sub-optimal levels that preclude us from functioning at full mental capacity. This is where supplementation with phosphatidylserine comes into play. A growing body of scientific findings supports the vital role of phosphatidylserine in improving and reversing the damage that age and/or disease have set in motion.

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that is found in all cells, but is most highly concentrated in the walls (membranes) of brain cells, making up about 70% of its nerve tissue mass. There it aids in the storage, release and activity of many vital neurotransmitters and their receptors. Phosphatidylserine also aids in cell-to-cell communication.

Phosphatidylserine is involved in the upkeep and restoration of nerve cell membranes. Among its list of functions, phosphatidylserine stimulates the release of dopamine (a mood regulator that also control physical sensations, and movement), increases the production of acetylcholine (necessary for learning and memory), enhances brain glucose metabolism (the fuel used for brain activity), reduces cortisol levels (a stress hormone), and boosts the activity of nerve growth factor (NGF), which oversees the health of cholinergic neurons.

Research has shown that dietary supplementation with phosphatidylserine can slow and even reverse the decline of learning, mood, memory, concentration, word recall related to dementia or age-related cognitive impairment in middle-aged and elderly subjects.1

Age-related cognitive decline


Left to its own devices, the brain will succumb to the insults of age, starting by about the fourth or fifth decade of life. Putting your finger on a name, face, car keys, a phone number or a word, can become increasingly challenging and annoying with each passing decade. The net result of mental aging is cognitive decline, including a gradual loss of the ability to learn, reason, concentrate and remember-basically, a decrease in the higher brain functions. But, as scientists are discovering, phosphatidylserine can help prime the brain back to a more youthful level of activity in a number of ways.

In a multicenter Italian study, researchers assessed the effects of phosphatidylserine on senile mental deterioration and compared it to placebo. In the study, 87 test subjects, aged 55 to 80, with moderate cognitive deterioration, received either 300 milligrams of phosphatidylserine or a placebo for a 60-day period. Results from follow-up evaluation done at 60 days and then at 90 days, revealed improvements in the treatment group with regards to cognitive functions such as attention, concentration and short-term memory. Behavioral measurements also showed improvement such as in socialization aspects, daily living, and of being more engaged with one's environment and self-sufficiency.2

A Belgian study that examined the effects of phosphatidylserine in 35 hospitalized senile demented patients, aged 65 to 91, with mild to moderate cognitive and memory impairment, suggests an improved quality of life for such patients, as it helped to alter several behaviors. In this study, 17 patients received phosphatidylserine at 300 milligrams per day, while the other 18 were given a placebo, over the course of six weeks. Using three different evaluation scales, the researchers measured 49 items relevant to daily living, which they subdivided into 10 categories. Items included things such as dressing, feeding, bowel and bladder control, ability to go to the toilet unaided, interpersonal relations, relationship to the environment, behavioral problems and verbal expression. Results indicated an improvement in all 10 parameters.3

Meanwhile, U.S. scientists at the Memory Assessment Clinics in Bethesda, MD, found that, compared to placebo, a 12-week regimen of phosphatidylserine (300 milligrams) improved learning and memory related to daily living, such as the ability to learn and recall names, faces and numbers. The study involved 149 patients, aged 50 to 75, with age-associated memory impairment. The patients were assessed prior to treatment with phosphatidylserine or placebo, then at week 3, 6, 9, 12 and 16 (four weeks after treatment ended). While improvements in three out of five evaluation criteria were noted at three weeks (learning and recalling names and faces, and facial recognition), the benefits seemed to fall off as the study continued. However, a subgroup of 57 test subjects with more severe cognitive impairment and lower daily functioning showed improvement on both computerized and standard neuropsychological performance tests and also on clinical global ratings. Improvements included name-face recall and recognition, remembering telephone numbers, misplaced objects, test paragraphs, as well as increased concentration. These effects seemed to last beyond the study period. In terms of name-face recognition, the authors report that the subgroup improved to a point that their brains returned to a much younger cognitive age, resembling the mind of a 52-year-old rather than someone who is 64.4

In a large, multicenter study of geriatric patients (494 patients, aged 65 to 93 years), from 23 geriatric or general medicine units with moderate to severe age-related cognitive decline, those who received phosphatidylserine treatment (300 milligrams per day for six months) showed significantly improved behavior, such as increased motivation, initiative and socialization, compared to the placebo group. Patients were examined just before starting therapy, and three and six months thereafter. The authors suggest that, "These results are clinically important since the patients were representative of the geriatric population commonly met in clinical practice."5

Alzheimer's dementia


In Alzheimer's disease, phosphatidylserine has been said to influence changes in the brain that can help alleviate the symptoms of senile dementia related to this disease,6-7 such as increasing acetylcholine availability8 and significantly enhancing brain glucose metabolism.9

In one study, 40 patients with probable Alzheimer's disease were assigned to four groups: The first group received social support, the second cognitive training only, the third cognitive training with pyritinol, and the fourth cognitive training with phosphatidylserine. The patients followed their respective program for six months, and underwent neuropsychological testing and brain imaging (namely positron emission tomography, or PET) to measure cerebral glucose metabolism, prior to and after treatment ended. Results indicated that the treatment group with cognitive training combined with phosphatidylserine showed a significant enhancement of glucose uptake during the stimulation tasks in various brain regions-meaning that more brain activity was occurring-and an improvement in cognitive functioning, which translated into better test performance, compared to the other groups.9

In 51 patients with Alzheimer's disease, a 12-week treatment with 300 milligrams of phosphatidylserine resulted in significant improvement in several cognitive functions for the treated group, compared to placebo. Differences were more dramatic among patients with less severe cognitive impairment, suggesting that phosphatidylserine may be useful in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.10

Meanwhile, another study involving 33 patients with early Alzheimer's dementia demonstrated a small but significant improvement with phosphat-idylserine in regards to global enhancement of mental function, as revealed using electroencephalography (EEG) mapping of brain activity.11