What Is It?
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid, a type of fat found in every cell in the body. It is particularly concentrated in the brain, where it has the important task of keeping cell membranes fluid, flexible and primed for nutrient absorption. PS also plays a critical role in supporting nerve tissue; it aids proper release and reception of neurotransmitters in the brain, for example. In short, PS helps to keep memory-related pathways functioning smoothly.
Research indicates that when PS levels naturally decline with age, so too does the ability to learn, remember things and stay alert. Depression may also develop as a result of age-related PS insufficiency. PS supplements have been proposed as a partial solution to such developments. Rapidly absorbed into the brain, these supplements may compensate for low PS levels and thus prevent or even reverse age-related declines in brain function. PS actually appears in numerous foods, including rice and green leafy vegetables, but only in small amounts. Commercially prepared supplements, on the other hand, offer a concentrated source.
Up until a few years ago, PS supplements were manufactured from animal sources, specifically from cows’ brains. But because of concerns about the potential for cross-species infection (“mad cow” disease), supplements are now derived from a plant source, soy lecithin.
Studies in animals and older adults (age 50 plus) indicate that PS supplements may revitalize age-impaired brain function. However, healthy individuals who take PS to boost mental performance may be disappointed: There is no solid research evidence to indicate that adding PS supplements to the diet in this way will make any difference.
Specifically, phosphatidylserine may help to:
• Lessen age-related decline in brain functioning. Several studies, some of them quite well-designed, have been conducted in the United States and Europe to examine the effect of PS on preventing or reversing a decline in higher mental functions (memory, concentration, abstract thought and judgment ) in older adults already experiencing difficulties in these areas. In one 12-week study of 149 adults ages 50 to 75, those who took 300 mg PS a day were better able to learn and recall names, faces and numbers than those taking a placebo. All the participants had been diagnosed with age-associated memory impairment. The greatest benefit was observed in participants who had been most impaired when the study started. PS supplements were also more effective than a placebo in a six-month study involving 494 individuals between ages 65 and 93. All suffered from moderate to severe senility. When compared to those who took a placebo, those assigned to the PS treatment had marked short-term improvements in their ability to memorize, concentrate, and learn new material.
• Slow brain function decline in Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies indicate that taking PS during the early stages of this devastating disease will boost cognitive skills. Many of the improvements seen with PS for general age-related decline in brain function may also apply to Alzheimer’s disease.
• Combat depression. Reports from clinical trials of depressed older adults taking PS supplements indicate that the nutrient had a positive influence on mood and behavior, minimizing such reactions as apathy, withdrawal and loss of initiative. In one study, depressive symptoms lifted after 30 days of treatment. PS is also taken by younger people struggling with depression, although few if any studies on the subject have been done. Parkinson’s disease sufferers may also find PS useful for relieving depression.
• Increase ability to handle stress. When under stress, the body’s adrenal glands set up their output of cortisol, a hormone that can, among other things, decrease immunity, interfere with wound healing and produce mood swings when present at chronically elevated levels. Supplemental PS may reduce cortisol levels, helping to enhance a person’s sense of well-being. Cortisol output is also greater during intense exercise. Interestingly, a recent study of 12 male athletes found that when they took PS supplements, cortisol levels fell and their sense of well-being rose. Compared with their time on a placebo, the participants also had less muscle soreness while they were taking PS.
–Read the label carefully. Some PS products are sold in the form of a PS complex and should be taken only according to the manufacturer’s directions.
–Look for a product that is standardized to contain at least 90 mg of serine phosphate per capsule.
• For age-related mental decline, Alzheimer’s, depression and stress: Take l00 mg three times a day. After a month, reduce the dose to 100 to 200 mg a day for maintenance purposes.
Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for PS, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.
Guidelines for Use
• Take PS 20 to 30 minutes before meals with a 6- to 8-ounce glass of water or juice. Try starting with two (90 or 100 mg) capsules before breakfast and one capsule before lunch.
• If you notice an unwanted energy boost or mild insomnia in the evenings, lower your overall dose. Eliminate any afternoon doses. Then slowly build up to the recommended dosage over the course of several days or weeks.
• It will probably take a minimum of three months (and a maximum of nine months) to notice any improvements, especially in stress-related conditions.
• Everyone should be sure to get sufficient amounts of vitamin B12, folic acid, essential fatty acids and SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine, found in protein-rich foods) through a sound diet. The body uses these nutrients to produce sufficient amounts of PS.
• Don’t take PS with alkaloid stimulants (amphetamines) or adrenergic agonists (methyldopa or dopamine).
Note: For information on interactions with specific generic drugs, see our WholeHealth Chicago Drug/Nutrient Interactions Chart.
Possible Side Effects
• In studies done so far, participants complained of no major side effects, although nausea developed in some cases.
• An unwanted energy boost or mild insomnia may develop.
• Few studies are available to confirm that soy-based PS–the form currently available–will yield the same results as PS supplements made from cows’ brains. (The cow-based products are no longer recommended because of the theoretical risk of mad cow disease.)
• Avoid PS if you have kidney problems (reduced kidney function or kidney failure).
Aging 100 mg twice a day
Alzheimer’s Disease 100 mg 3 times a day
Depression 100 mg 3 times a day
Fibromyalgia 100 mg twice a day
Memory Loss/Impairment 100 mg twice a day before meals
Stress 100 mg twice a day.
Stroke 100 mg twice a day
David Edelberg, M.D.
Phosphatidylserine, commonly called “PS,” is a type of fat-soluble substance called a phospholipid already found in everyone’s brain tissues. It’s a substance that helps the brain conduct nerve impulses and release neurotransmitters (the chemicals that transmit signals between nerve cells).
HOW IT HELPS DEPRESSION
Like other key chemicals in the body, levels of PS decline as we get older, and sometimes depression may be a result of this deficiency. In addition, there are plenty of good studies showing PS’s positive effect on age-related memory impairment as well as on stress reduction and improving mood. Handily, no side effects from using phosphatidylserine have ever been reported. A good partial solution for depression-related symptoms, PS supplements are rapidly absorbed and may compensate for any natural deficiency that has occurred.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
All brands are pretty similar. Look for: A reliable manufacturer A fresh product (expiration date should be a year ahead) A good price
Remember, phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid combined with serine, an amino acid, so it should be taken on an empty stomach for best absorption. If you’re taking SAMe, you can take PS at the same time.
David Edelberg, MD