Phosphatidylserine, or PS, is a nutrient that is a key building block for all forms of life. The highest concentrations of PS are found in the human brain. Brain cells require PS to properly manage the complex, high-energy electrical activity and information processing that makes the human brain function properly.
What Is Phosphatidylserine?
Phosphatidylserine, pronounced fos-fa-tie-dil-see-reen, and often referred to simply as PS, is a phospholipid — a type of substance that is a major component of a cell’s membrane.
Cell membranes are thin sheets of very dynamic structures — a kind of “skin” that surrounds cells. Membranes keep cells intact, but they also drive the functions in all living things, including in every human cell.
Phosphatidylserine is crucial for the cell membrane to function properly, but it is especially vital in brain cell membranes. PS is responsible for facilitating key cell activities such as:
- Allowing oxygen and nutrients to enter brain cells
- Removing waste products from brain cells
- Preventing toxins from entering brain cells
- Assisting in the synthesis of neurotransmitters
A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that is released by a neuron (nerve cell). It’s job is to cross the synapse — the microscopic space between two neurons — to transmit signals from one neuron to another neuron. The ultimate purpose of a neurotransmitter is to influence the function of the neuron receiving the neurotransmitter. The influence is either excitatory or inhibitory — the receptor neuron’s action will either be amplified or inhibited.
The type of action of a neuron depends on the specific type of neuron receiving the neurotransmitter. As an example of an action, consider dopamine. Dopamine functions both as a hormone and a neurotransmitter. A neuron might receive a signal that tells the neuron its action should be to either amplify (increase) or inhibit (decrease) the release of the hormone dopamine. Dopamine is known to greatly influence a person’s feelings of motivation or pleasure.
Phosphatidylserine is key in supporting the release of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the body, and is the neurotransmitter largely responsible for memory. Increased levels of acetylcholine help to enhance memory, and may help in other areas of brain function, including functioning with greater accuracy, enhancing recall, mental sharpness and improved learning. Research also shows that PS helps with symptoms of cognitive decline.
Phosphatidylserine obviously plays a crucial role in keeping the mind and memory sharp. Though the human body produces some PS on its own, most comes from diet. Today’s modern diet typically doesn’t include enough PS, which makes PS a superb candidate for a nootropic supplement (any substance that can be taken to improve mental performance).
Phosphatidylserine Brain Function Benefits
Phosphatidylserine is an essential part of keeping cell membranes (and thus cells) healthy. PS plays a key role in brain health, and PS supplements provide many benefits to anyone looking to improve their cognition.
Reduces Risk of Dementia and Cognitive Decline
PS supplements are often recommended to try to slow age-related memory loss. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, elderly people with cognitive impairment were given PS supplements or a placebo for six months. In post-trial testing participants with low memory scores at the beginning of the study experienced significant improvements in memory.
Numerous studies provide strong evidence that there is a link between low levels of PS and dementia. A 3-month phosphatidylserine double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed positive results for memory and mood in elderly people with memory problems.
One randomized controlled trial gave 96 subjects with Alzheimer’s disease either 300 mg of PS or a placebo daily. Subjects were tested at the start of the study and after the two month study concluded. Subjects taking PS had no to very moderate improvement, but subjects who taking the placebo experienced significant declines — indicating that while PS may not have reversed memory-related issues, it may have prevented advancement of these issues.
An interesting side note on phosphatidylserine and supplement manufacturers’ claims regarding its usefulness comes from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). One of the many roles of the FDA is to stop manufacturers from making false or exaggerated claims about their products. In a very unusual move, the FDA has authorized manufacturers of phosphatidylserine the right to make the following two claims on phosphatidylserine bottle labeling and in phosphatidylserine marketing materials:
“Consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly”
“Consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly”
Phosphatidylserine is the only brain supplement granted these claims by the FDA.
Improves Learning and Memory at Any Age
As illustrated above, PS holds great promise for treating memory issues such as dementia and cognitive decline in the elderly. Additionally, dietary supplementation of PS has also demonstrated positive memory and cognitive results in younger people as well — people not suffering from age-related brain functioning issues.
In one double-blind study of almost 150 people with memory loss but not dementia, PS supplements produced significant benefits compared to subjects treated with a placebo. Subjects showing the most improvement were those who started the trial with the most severe memory loss.
PS is known to have neuroprotective properties. Neuroprotective properties are aspects that protect neurons — electrically excitable cells that communicate with other cells by way of neurotransmitters. Protecting neurons results in enhancing cognition — mental process or action of acquiring understanding and knowledge from experiences, thought, and the senses. Cognition includes problem solving, memory, knowing, thinking, and decision-making. One study demonstrated that with daily PS supplements people were able to increase their rate at making calculations and improve their accuracy in getting information right.
Studies have demonstrated that PS supplements positively affect the transmission of chemical information in the brain, and help brain cells better read and store data. PS increases the number of synapses in the brain and encourages glucose metabolism in brain cells, resulting in brain cells that are more active and enhanced reasoning and thinking abilities. This implies that PS is very important in maintaining brain response, memory, and healthy emotions.
Leads to a Healthier Brain Neurotransmitter System
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that brain cells use to communicate with one another. They regulate sleep, libido, energy, cravings, motivation, and mood. This article is about phosphatidylserine and its effects on brain health, so here we’re most interested what impact PS might have on neurotransmitters associated with brain function: neurotransmitters also control the ability to remember, learn, concentrate, and focus.
There are over 200 known neurotransmitters, with the assumption that there are many more yet to be discovered. Of these many neurotransmitters, only a handful are responsible for the vast majority of work. It turns out that PS influences the release of most of these few neurotransmitters workhorses, including: dopamine, acetylcholine, norepinephrine and serotonin.
Dopamine is often referred to as the motivation molecule. Dopamine is responsible for the focus and drive a person needs in order to do what needs to get done.
Acetylcholine is essential for memory and learning. What’s sometimes referred to as a senior moment — struggling to come up with the right words, follow movie plots, focus, and remember — are usually symptoms of acetylcholine deficiency. One doesn’t have to be elderly to have so-called senior moments, though — anyone deficient in acetylcholine may experience these cognitive issues. Because it’s so vital for memory, attention and learning, acetylcholine is sometimes referred to as the smart neurotransmitter.
Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is associated with alertness, focus and mental energy.
Serotonin has a well-known association with mood and sleep. A shortage of serotonin can lead to mood disorders and sleep problems, and is strongly linked with poor concentration and depression.
Phosphatidylserine is key to controlling all four of the above neurotransmitters, and it’s the effect these neurotransmitters have on brain functioning that make people who take PS notice a clear, positive improvement in cognition — they feel like they are clearer, sharper thinkers, with better concentration, focus, recall powers, and learning ability.
Phosphatidylserine, or PS, is a substance that is a major part of a cell’s membrane. A cell’s membrane is more than simply a structural part of a cell — it also contributes to the very functioning of the cell.
PS is especially important in brain cell membranes. PS is a major factor in brain cell health, and contributes to cognitive functions such as recall, memory, attention, alertness and mood. This makes PS one of the most important and effective nootropics, or brain enhancers, available as a supplement.
The average diet includes little more than 100 mg of phosphatidylserine, and PS levels naturally decline with age. When taken as nootropic to improve mental function, 100 mg taken two or three times daily, with or without meals, is recommended for maximum effect.