What is phosphatidylserine? Well, we all consume phosphatidylserine every day, but unfortunately, most of us are still short of it. Phosphatidylserine is available in a number of foods, including soy (which is the main source), white beans, egg yolks, chicken liver, and beef liver. Unfortunately, it’s difficult for our bodies to absorb sufficient amounts from dietary sources. In this article, we are going to explain what is phosphatidylserine and is this really the most effective natural nootropic?
What is Phosphatidylserine?
Phosphatidylserine is a cell membrane phospholipid, it is a component of the cell membrane of every one of our 20 trillion cells. In the body, it makes up around 2-15% of our cell membranes, but the highest concentration levels of phosphatidylserine are found in the brain where it’s especially important, and where it comprises 10–20% of the total phospholipid pool (1).
The basic units of the brain and nervous systems are called neurons (nerve cells). The output part of the neuron is called axon (nerve fiber); when a neuron wants to talk to another neuron, it sends an electrical message through the axon. Axons are covered by a layer called myelin sheath. This myelin sheath protects and insulates the axon, allowing electrical signals to transmit quickly and efficiently between neurons.
Myelin sheath is especially rich in phosphatidylserine. Lately, it has been found that phosphatidylserine improves neuronal function, and helps in functional regeneration and restoring normal function to injured neurons (2).
Phosphatidylserine in the Brain
The recent discovery of the critical role of Phosphatidylserine in activating important signal transmission and modulating key neurotransmitters release (Acetylcholine, Norepinephrine, Serotonin and Dopamine) and receptor function, have renewed the interest in phosphatidylserine in relation to brain function (3-5).
Here’s an image depicting the phospholipid bilayer of cell membranes:
Acetylcholine (Ach) is often referred to as the ‘smart’ neurotransmitter, and is vital for learning, memory and increasing our attention span through ‘Cholinergic’ transmissions (Acetylcholine Synapses). It’s made from acetyl-CoA and choline which is why choline is often included in Nootropic stacks. Norepinephrine (aka Noradrenaline) is associated with mental energy, focus, and alertness. Dopamine is associated with motivation and concentration. Serotonin is associated with good mood and improved sleep, a lack of serotonin is strongly associated with depression and poor concentration.
It’s these neurotransmitters’ effects that make people who take phosphatidylserine notice a very definite difference, where they feel their brains are sharper and clearer. They can more easily focus, concentrate, remember names and places from the past, form clearer and more fluent sentences, in addition to good mood and improved sleep.
Recent studies showed that oral administration of phosphatidylserine improves memory impairment that occurs during normal aging (6).
Another key benefit of phosphatidylserine is its effect on the hypothalamus and hippocampus areas of the brain. Both of these areas work together to regulate the release of cortisol, which is the major stress hormone of the body released from the adrenal cortex. Cortisol works on a feedback loop so that when enough is released, the hypothalamus and hippocampus sense it and reduce the amount of CRH (Corticotropin-releasing hormone) released from the hypothalamus, which triggers the pituitary gland to produce less ACTH (Adrenocorticotropic hormone), which tells the adrenals to produce less cortisol.
However, when cortisol levels are chronically raised, for example, if we are chronically stressed, the hypothalamus and hippocampus lose sensitivity to cortisol, so CRH and ACTH release is not turned down, and so cortisol production in the adrenals isn’t switched off. This means we end up with chronically high cortisol levels. Phosphatidylserine can re-sensitize the cells of the hypothalamus and hippocampus to cortisol so that they ‘hear’ the feedback message again and reduce CRH and ACTH, which reduces cortisol production (5,6,7).
The level of phosphatidylserine in the body decreases with aging and reduced phosphatidylserine is associated with cognitive impairment and pathogenesis of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) (10, 11).
Research Evidence For Phosphatidylserine Effects as a Nootropic
The latest study in 2020, found that dietary supplementation with phosphatidylserine significantly increased resistance to oxidative stress, diminished the aging response, and may have a preventive effect on age-related diseases in addition to extending lifespan expectancy (12).
Oxidative stress plays a key role in the development of age-related diseases including arthritis, diabetes, dementia, cancer, atherosclerosis, vascular diseases, obesity, osteoporosis, and metabolic syndromes, which has been proven by several studies (13,14).
Another recent study to assess the roles and importance of phosphatidylserine found that supplementing with (300-800 mg per day) safely slows or reverses alterations and deterioration in nerve cells and supports cognitive functions. This includes the formation of short-term memory, the consolidation of long-term memory, the ability to create new memories, the ability to retrieve memories, the ability to learn and recall information, the ability to focus attention and concentrate, the ability to reason and solve problems, language skills, and the ability to communicate. It also supports locomotor functions, especially rapid reactions and reflexes (15).
A study in 2011 tested 18 college-age men after 14 days of supplementation with 400mg of phosphatidylserine on a serial subtraction test, (i.e counting backward from 100 by 7’s or 6’s or 3’s etc). They found that the group who was supplemented with phosphatidylserine reduced the time needed for a correct calculation by 20%, reduced the total amount of errors by 39% and increased the number of correct calculations by 13% over the placebo group (16).
Two open-label trials on older participants suffering from mild cognitive decline, (a loss in memory caused by aging in people who are otherwise clinically healthy), found that supplementing with 300mg of phosphatidylserine a day improved cognitive performance on tests of verbal learning, verbal recall, verbal fluency, visual learning, attention, communication skills, initiative, socialization and self-sufficiency (17,18). A similar study that ran for 90 days found the same results, but also found the study participants improved their ability to recall names and faces (19).
Further studies on memory and phosphatidylserine found that elderly subjects who felt their memory was getting worse had a 42% increase in their ability to recall words (20), as well as achieving a significant improvement in memory recognition, memory recall, executive function, and mental flexibility (21), after supplementing with 300 mg per day.
In 2015, supplementation with phosphatidylserine was found to reduce major depression symptoms in elderly individuals by reducing cortisol basal concentrations (22).
In 2016, a study showed associations between dietary supplements, cortisol regulation, sleep and possible implications for the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, and that phosphatidylserine supplementation help with restoring cortisol concentrations, thus may ease sleep disorders and regulate sleep quality which facilitates brain clearance and positively preserve or increase brain functions and consequently reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and dementia (23).
Additionally, phosphatidylserine supplementation was associated with feeling less stressed and having a better mood in young adults, when taking of 300mg each day for a month (24).
Findings also suggested that phosphatidylserine is an effective supplement for combating exercise-induced stress and preventing the physiological deterioration that can accompany too much exercise. Phosphatidylserine supplementation promotes a desired hormonal status for athletes by blunting increases in cortisol levels (25,26).
Phosphatidylserine can also help symptoms associated with ADHD. For example, a 2014 study in Japan found that children aged between 4-14 years who supplemented with 200mg a day of phosphatidylserine significantly improved their short term memory, inattention problems and impulsivity (27).
Because of all these nootropic benefits, we’ve added 100mg of Phosphatidylserine (made from sunflower lecithin) to our Seneca Nootropic supplement. In addition to Phosphatidylserine, there are 17 natural ingredients found in Seneca, such as B-complex vitamins, amino acids, and herbal nootropic compounds!
Related article: What are nootropics?
What’s the Best Phosphatidylserine Dosage?
The recommended dosage for phosphatidylserine is 100mg taken 3 times a day with meals. This dosage has been shown to help people suffering from cognitive decline and people looking to improve their cognitive function (28).
However, with any supplement it’s important to judge supplementation levels based on your own personal requirements, there is no one size fits all. This is especially true for people looking for phosphatidylserine to help reduce high cortisol levels to help with stress. In scientific studies, we’ve found that people with high cortisol levels may need more than 300mg a day to make a difference, and may need up to 800mg per day (15).
However, once the body builds up phosphatidylserine levels, and cortisol levels return to normal, this high phosphatidylserine dose can be reduced to normal. The key thing is common sense and being aware of any changes in your symptoms. Start at 100mg per day and slowly build up by adding 100mg per day every 4-5 days. If at any time after increasing the dose you find yourself becoming more ‘wired’ or agitated, or if your sleep is affected, it’s a sign you’ve gone past the right dosage level for you, and you should decrease the dose.
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