When a predator such as a fox goes out for their nightly hunt, they approach their meal very differently than the human carnivore. While we prize the muscle (or “meat”) of the animal, our four-legged brethren are more likely to start with their prey’s internal organs, namely the brain, kidneys and liver.
Like all things in nature, there is a very good reason for this. Organ meats are one of the richest sources of a critical compound that has been found to be critical for brain health and adrenal function.
What is Phosphatidylserine?
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid fatty acid that plays a key role in cell cycle signaling, specifically in relationship to cell death. It is necessary for building cell membranes—especially in neurons—and forming acetylcholine, a key neurotransmitter that plays an integral role in short-term memory.
Specifically, phosphatidylserine helps to maintain the flexibility and permeability of your cell membranes, allowing nutrients to move into cells, while also working to eliminate waste products from the cells.It tends to be more abundant in our younger years, with levels declining as we age. This can lead to more rigid cell membranes and a less efficient movement of nutrition and waste out of the cells.
It is a very well-researched nutrient, with much of this research centering on brain health, as high levels of phosphatidylserine are needed by brain cells to maintain healthy cognitive function.
Food sources of phosphatidylserine are found in organ meats such as the liver and brain, with smaller amounts found in dairy products and some vegetables, such as soy and cabbage.
Early research of phosphatidylserine for various aspects of brain health were first conducted using molecules derived from the brains of cows. However, as the risk of mad cow disease began to surface, most research switched from a bovine source to one derived from soybeans.
While these two sources are similar, their chemical structures are not identical. Fortunately, animal research shows that PS from soy is as effective as that derived from bovine sources1-2—and without the fear of infection.
Conditions Supported by Phosphatidylserine
- Brain health
What Does the Research Say?
A pilot study in 2006 found that PS supplementation may be beneficial for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).3 Researchers found that children age 6-12 with diagnosed ADHD who took 200 mg of PS daily for two months enjoyed significantly improved ADHD symptoms, particularly in areas of inattention, hyperactivity, impulsiveness and visual perception.
Eight years later, the same authors published a clinical trial that further supported these findings.4 The researchers randomly assigned 36 children between four and 14 years of age that had not previously been treated with ADHD medications to receive 200 mg phosphatidylserine or placebo daily for two months. The investigators assessed the children at the beginning of the study and again after the intervention period for ADHD symptoms, short-term auditory memory and working memory using the Digit Span Test of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and mental performance to visual stimuli.
The investigators found that phosphatidylserine supplementation significantly improved ADHD symptoms, short-term auditory memory and inattention and impulsivity. Additionally, phosphatidylserine supplementation was well tolerated and did not show adverse effects.
The study authors concluded, “Phosphatidylserine significantly improved ADHD symptoms and short-term auditory memory in children. Phosphatidylserine supplementation might be a safe and natural nutritional strategy for improving mental performance in young children suffering from ADHD.”
In May 2003, the FDA granted “qualified health claim” status to phosphatidylserine.5 This status allows manufacturers of PS to state on their labels “consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia and cognitive dysfunction in the elderly.” The label must also include the following disclaimer, which reads “very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly.”
Given the research behind PS, this is not a surprise. Phosphatidylserinehas been shown toaid in brain energy protection and cellular interaction. It improves learning and memory—basically cognitive function.
One study published in 2010 found that PS derived from soybean lecithin improved cognitive function in elderly Japanese patients.6 Researchers divided adults aged 50-69 years into three groups: 100 mg/day; 300 mg/day or placebo.
At the end of six months, researchers found that those taking the PS enjoyed significantly improved memory scores, particularly in terms of verbal recall.
A similar study published in 2013 also found that phosphatidylserine supplementation improves cognitive function in the elderly.7 Thirty elderly subjects between 50-90 years of age with memory complaints received 300 mg per day of soy-derived phosphatidylserine for 12 weeks. The researchers evaluated cognitive function using a computerized test battery and by the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test at the beginning of the study and again after the supplementation period. The subjects also underwent physical exams to assess safety parameters.
The investigators found that phosphatidylserine supplementation improved memory recognition, memory recall, executive functions and mental flexibility. The Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test showed improvement in total learning and immediate recall after phosphatidylserine supplementation. The physical exams revealed a reduction in blood pressure with supplementation as well.
Phosphatidylserine seems to reduce cortisol in response to stress. According to a study published in 2008, men with exercise-induced stress who took 600 mg of PS daily enjoyed reduced cortisol levels.8
In a similar study published in 2001, researchers gave 300 mg of PS daily to young adults who were considered to be “slightly neurotic.”9 After one month, researchers found that the participants felt less stressed and had a better mood.
How to Use Phosphatidylserine
Phosphatidylserine is a remarkable nutrient for improving a variety of conditions related to hormone and brain health, namely cognitive function, memory, ADHD and stress.
If you are interested in using PS for brain health, aim for 300 mg per day. The dosage most commonly used for children with ADHD is 200 mg daily. Adults with the condition can increase this dosage to 300 mg a day.
For stress and/or anxiety, aim for 300-600 mg per day.
Note: One study found that fluoride exposure could reduce your levels of phosphatidylserine.10 If you live in an area with fluorinated water, you may want to talk with your physician about supplementing with phosphatidylserine to protect brain health.
- Blokland A, et al. Nutrition. 1999 Oct;15(10):778-83.
- Crook TH and Klatz RM (ed) (1998). Treatment of Age-Related Cognitive Decline: Effects of Phosphatidylserine in Anti-Aging Medical Therapeutics. Chicago: Health Quest Publications. P. 20–9.
- Hirayama S, et al. Agro Food. 2006 Sep-Oct;17(5):32-6.
- Hirayama S, et al. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2014 Apr;27 Suppl 2:284-91.
- Kato-Kataoka A, et al. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2010 Nov;47(3):246-55.
- Richter Y, et al. Clin Interv Aging. 2013;8:557-63.
- Starks MA, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008;5:11.
- Benton D, et al. Nutr Neuorsci. 2001;4(3):169-78.
- Guan ZZ, et al. Neurotoxicol Teratol. 1998 Sep-Oct;20(5):537-42.