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What Is Phosphatidylserine? (Top 6 Benefits & How to Use It)

Phosphatidylserine - Dr. Axe

Have you ever heard of phosphatidylserine? Most people haven’t, but would you believe it’s actually present in every single human cell?

Yes, it’s true. Phosphatidylserine has many vital functions throughout the body’s tissues and organs, but most importantly, it’s a key building block for the billions of cells in your brain.

Phosphatidylserine is produced by the body, but we get most of our intake from food. When food isn’t enough or we have a greater need for this vital molecule, supplements are another option.

It’s used as a natural treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and also age-related cognitive decline, depression, ADHD and improving athletic performance.

What Is Phosphatidylserine?

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid that contains both amino acids and fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA work synergistically with PS to provide the building blocks for healthy cell membranes.

The human body can make phosphatidylserine, but it obtains most of what it requires from foods.

Phospholipids, which surround all of our cells, are essential molecules that provide cellular structure and protection. As a phospholipid molecule, phosphatidylserine structure is made up of four components:

  • fatty acids
  • a platform to which the fatty acids are attached
  • a phosphate
  • an alcohol attached to the phosphate

Phospholipids line up and arrange themselves into two parallel layers known as a phospholipid bilayer. This is the layer that makes up your cell membranes and is critical to each of your cells’ ability to function.

What is the main phosphatidylserine function in the human body? Phosphatidylserine is critical to the maintenance of all cellular activity, especially in the brain.

Research also shows that it’s important to:

  • bone matrix formation
  • cell repair and removal by the immune system
  • heartbeat coordination
  • hormone secretion by the adrenal glands
  • testicular function

Top 6 Benefits

1. May Improve Alzheimer’s Disease Symptoms

Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that can rob people of the ability to think clearly, perform everyday tasks and, ultimately, remember who they even are.

Phosphatidylserine nootropic supplements may increase levels of brain chemicals involved with memory and improve brain cell communication. Although it’s not a cure, taking phosphatidylserine can improve the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia for some.

In a double-blind, crossover study, people with Alzheimer’s disease who took 300 milligrams of PS per day for eight weeks had greater improvement in overall well-being than those who took a placebo, but there were no significant differences in mental function tests.

PS seems to be most effective in people with less severe symptoms. However, it appears that phosphatidylserine is less effective with extended use.

It’s also important to note that most clinical studies have used PS from cow brains so it’s unclear if PS made from plant sources has the same positive effects for Alzheimer’s disease.

2. Aids the Slowdown of Age-Related Cognitive Decline

A study published in the journal Aging evaluated the effect of six months of PS supplementation on 494 elderly patients with cognitive impairment. Researchers found that the PS produced statistically significant improvements in behavioral and cognitive parameters after three months and again after six months.

In addition, the phosphatidylserine was well-tolerated by subjects.

In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition, 78 elderly people with mild cognitive impairment took soy-derived phosphatidylserine supplements or a placebo for six months. After six months, subjects with relatively low memory scores at the beginning of the study demonstrated a significant improvement in memory while the scores of the placebo group were unchanged.

3. Combats Depression

Studies show that patients with depression have compromised blood flow to a number of brain regions.

Having an omega-3 deficiency is a health condition that can decrease normal blood flow to the brain. Omega-3 deficiency also causes a 35 percent reduction in brain PS levels.

When someone is depressed, he or she is typically low in omega-3s as well as PS. It makes sense that an increase in PS intake through food and/or supplementation can help combat depression.

Phosphatidylserine also affects the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain related to mood, and research has shown it can decrease the severity of depression.

In a study published in 2015, researchers evaluated the effects of PS on 18 elderly subjects with major depression who experienced insufficient improvement from antidepressant therapy for at least six months. The subjects took a supplement containing 100 milligrams of PS, 119 milligrams of DHA and 70 milligrams of EPA three times a day.

After 12 weeks, all of the depressed subjects taking the supplement significantly improved their scores on the 17-item Hamilton depression scale.

Some research also points toward phosphatidylserine decreasing anxiety and stress by dampening the body’s cortisol response.

Phosphatidylserine benefits - Dr. Axe

4. Helps Parkinson’s Disease Symptoms

Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative illness of the nervous system that results in loss of intentional movement. Generally, those with Parkinson’s lose the ability to speak properly, have difficulty walking and may also experience tremors.

There is no specific known cause, but people with Parkinson’s experience a die-off of the brain cells that produce dopamine, which is responsible for signaling to areas of the brain that deal with  movement. When these brain cells die, the brain starts to lose the ability to tell the body when and how to move, resulting in Parkinson’s symptoms.

Phosphatidylserine is key to proper brain function, and people with Parkinson’s often have low levels of phosphatidylserine. In one study, taking 100 milligrams of PS three times per day improved mood and brain function in people with Parkinson’s.

The phosphatidylserine used in this trial was derived from cow brain.

In 2018, research using animal subjects demonstrates how adding phosphatidylserine to the diet of a Parkison’s patient may help with symptoms, such as poor sleep. Using a model of Parkinson’s disease in fruit flies, the researchers saw an improvement in sleep in the animal subjects in a matter of days after supplementation with PS.

For some Parkinson’s patients, when taking phosphatidylserine sleep trouble may improve, but questions still remain about the ideal dosage for humans.

5. Improves ADHD Symptoms

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. Children with ADHD typically have difficulty focusing and controlling impulsive behaviors, and they are overly active.

ADHD can also affect adults. Scientific research has revealed a link between phosphatidylserine and cortisol regulation that may be especially beneficial for people with ADHD.

For people diagnosed with ADHD, phosphatidylserine has been shown to help by increasing mental focus, promoting memory and cognition, boosting the mood, and relieving stress through a reduction of cortisol levels.

PS has been shown to encourage increased brain activity through the neurotransmitters, thus improving the ability of ADHD sufferers to focus, control impulses better and learn without becoming easily fatigued.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics wanted to figure out whether or not supplementing with soy-derived phosphatidylserine can improve ADHD symptoms in children. This randomized, double-blind study had 36 children, 4 to 14 years of age, who had not previously received any drug treatment for ADHD take either a placebo or 200 milligrams of PS each day for two months.

The researchers found that supplementing with PS significantly improved ADHD symptoms as well as short-term auditory memory. They conclude that PS might be “a safe and natural nutritional strategy for improving mental performance in young children suffering from ADHD.”

6. Boosts Athletic Performance

Improved athletic performance is another one of the many possible phosphatidylserine benefits. It’s also been shown to decrease muscle damage while improving endocrine response to exercise-induced bodily stress.

A 2007 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition evaluated the effect of oral PS supplementation on golf performance in healthy young golfers. Although findings weren’t statistically significant, it was concluded that six weeks of PS supplementation improved perceived stress levels in golfers and significantly improved the number of good ball flights during tee-off.

Another study looked at the effects of daily supplementation of 750 milligrams of soybean-derived phosphatidylserine for 10 days on active male cyclers. The main finding of the study was that PS supplementation significantly increased exercise time to exhaustion by 85 percent V̇O2 max.

VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilize during intense exercise. It’s a factor that can determine an athlete’s capacity to perform sustained exercise and is linked to overall aerobic endurance.

This study demonstrates phosphatidylserine’s potential to enhance physical performance.

Side Effects and Interactions

Phosphatidylserine is considered safe when taken by mouth in appropriate dosages. In most studies, it has been used for up to six months.

Possible phosphatidylserine side effects, especially at doses over 300 milligrams, include insomnia and upset stomach.

You should not take phosphatidylserine if you take any type of blood thinner. You should also use caution when combining it with natural blood-thinning supplements like ginkgo biloba.

How to Increase Levels Naturally

Four things are known to decrease phosphatidylserine levels:

  • aging
  • stress
  • modern diets
  • modern food production

Aging naturally increases the brain’s need for phosphatidylserine, but it also creates digestive and metabolic inefficiency so it’s simply not possible to get enough phosphatidylserine in your diet. Stress simultaneously increases phosphatidylserine requirements and decreases your phosphatidylserine levels.

Modern production of fats and oils decreases their natural phospholipid content, including phosphatidylserine. Modern low-cholesterol and low-fat diets lack up to 150 milligrams per day of dietary phosphatidylserine, while a vegetarian diet may undersupply as much as 200 to 250 milligrams per day.

How can you obtain phosphatidylserine benefits naturally with food? The highest dietary source is soy lecithin, which is derived from soybeans.

Cow brain is the next highest source, but I don’t recommend consuming it due to the risk for mad cow disease.

Here are some of the top phosphatidylserine sources (measured in milligrams of PS per 100 grams): 

  • Soy lecithin: 5,900
  • Bovine brain: 713
  • Atlantic mackerel: 480
  • Chicken heart: 414
  • Atlantic herring: 360
  • Tuna: 194
  • Chicken leg, with skin, without bone: 134
  • Chicken liver: 123
  • White beans: 107
  • Chicken breast (with skin): 85
  • Mullet: 76
  • Veal: 72
  • Beef: 69
  • Turkey leg (without skin or bone): 50
  • Turkey breast (without skin): 45
  • Atlantic cod: 28
  • Anchovy: 25
  • Whole grain barley: 20
  • Sardine: 16
  • Trout: 14
  • Rice (unpolished): 3
  • Carrot: 2
  • Sheep’s milk: 2
  • Cow’s milk (whole, 3.5 percent fat): 1
  • Potato: 1

Supplement and Dosage Info

Previously, phosphatidylserine supplements for memory and other health concerns were made from cow brains, but there were concerns that these animal-derived supplements could cause mad cow disease in consumers so bovine PS is not currently available in the United States.

Phosphatidylserine is now available as a dietary supplement derived from soy lecithin. It can also be made from cabbage or sunflower.

This is a much safer way to reap potential phosphatidylserine benefits.

PS supplements can be found at your local health store or online. Opt for a reputable brand.

More expensive brands of phosphatidylserine supplements do tend to be better than cheaper versions.

PS100 or PS 100 is a phosphatidylserine supplement that contains 100 milligrams of PS per serving or capsule. Phosphatidylserine complex supplements typically have at least 500 milligrams of PS in just one capsule and also contain additional phospholipids.

Cognitive improvement is one of the many potential phosphatidylserine benefits, which is why PS is often marketed as one of the best memory supplements. However, there are currently no standardized or optimal doses of PS for any condition.

For Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related thinking or memory impairment, scientific research supports a dosage of 100 milligrams of phosphatidylserine three times daily for up to six months.

Some research has shown that PS seems to work best in people with mild Alzheimer’s symptoms but may stop working after around 16 weeks.

For mood, PS is typically taken with at least 200 milligrams of EPA and 200 milligrams of DHA.

Top phosphatidylserine foods - Dr. Axe

Precautions

If you have a chronic medical condition or if you’re trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, under the age of 18 or taking other medications, speak with your doctor before taking PS.

Talk to your health care provider before combining PS with any other medications or supplements, especially blood thinners, anti-inflammatory drugs, performance-enhancing drugs or supplements, acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors, anticholinergic drugs, and cholinergic medications used for glaucoma, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions.

Final Thoughts

  • What is phosphatidylserine? It’s a phospholipid that contains both amino acids and fatty acids.
  • Phosphatidylserine is crucial to cellular function, especially in our brains, which is why it’s one of the most popular memory supplements, especially in the elderly.
  • Phosphatidylserine is made in our bodies, but we get most of our PS from food.
  • If you follow a low-fat or low-cholesterol diet or are under chronic stress, it’s easy to be low in PS.
  • Cow brain is the best animal source of PS — though not available in the U.S. due to mad cow disease concerns — while soy lecithin is the best plant source.
  • PS supplementation has been shown in scientific studies to improve Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, age-related cognitive decline, ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, depression and sports performance. Other phosphatidylserine benefits may also include a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression.

Read Next: Alpha GPC: the Supplement that Can Boost Memory, Learning & More?

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