Physiologic Actions of Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is present in the membrane that surrounds each cell, and it can alter the fluidity and functional state of these cell membranes. Stabilizing cell membranes may shield the nerve cell from injury and death.

Phosphatidylserine indirectly increases the production and release of several neurotransmitters, including epinephrine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. These neurotransmitters, especially norepinephrine and dopamine, are known to improve attention, concentration, and alertness.

In aged mice, phosphatidylserine prevents, and partly reverses, age-related neurochemical changes. Mice receiving this com-

pound do not show the expected age-related decline in the ability to learn new information, such as figuring out how to traverse a maze.

Phosphatidylserine is a lipid, or fatty, substance and hence it crosses smoothly into the brain, unlike most water-soluble medications. This fat solubility makes it easy to navigate the blood-brain barrier, which is a natural boundary in capillaries or small blood vessels that prevents many substances in the bloodstream from entering the brain. After radioactively labeled phosphatidylserine is taken by mouth, it can be detected in the brain with high concentrations in the hippocampus and frontal cortex, areas responsible for memory.

Clinical Studies

Italian researchers evaluated phosphatidylserine in small-scale uncontrolled clinical trials, each in approximately thirty volunteer subjects who had minimal memory deficits. Phosphatidylserine showed memory-enhancing properties in these subjects. Later, several placebo-controlled trials were conducted, some by European researchers and a few by Dr. Thomas Crook, an American psychologist who has worked closely with the pharmaceutical companies in trying to find a treatment for ''age-associated memory impairment." This narrow diagnostic category is defined by poor performance on a few neuropsychological tests, and represents only part of the population with age-related memory loss. In several studies of people with age-associated memory impairment, phosphatidylserine was superior to placebo on specific neuropsychological measures. If you tend to forget names, take heart: phosphatidylserine has been shown to be helpful for that very symptom. In these studies, the consistency, more than the size, of the cognitive improvement was impressive. Hence I place phosphatidylserine near die top of my list of medications that you can take for age-related memory loss, and to prevent the onset of age-related memory loss.

A Few Words of Caution

A few words of caution before you jump headfirst onto the phosphatidylserine bandwagon: nearly all studies so far have involved fewer than fifty people, meaning that fewer than twenty-five people received phosphatidylserine and fewer than twenty-five people received placebo. Also, the duration of these clinical trials was usually six to twelve weeks. We don't know if these people would have maintained cognitive improvement on phosphatidylserine over a period of several months to years, but this is quite possible.

Phosphatidylserine Products and Content

The amount of phosphatidylserine available in your diet, primarily through fish, soy beans, and green vegetables, is too little to have a significant promemory effect. The health food product derived from cow brains has given way to soy-based phosphatidylserine (mad cow disease was not responsible for this change), which should be of some comfort to those of you who are vegetarians. The content of phosphatidylserine varies among health food products. The label "Leci-PS" indicates that the product's contents have been tested by a standard laboratory to ensure that it contains adequate amounts of phosphatidylserine, as claimed by the manufacturer of that particular brand. "Brain gum," which contains phosphatidylserine, has gained popularity during the last few years.

Phosphatidylserine: Dosage and Side Effects

Phosphatidylserine (PS) 300 mg daily for six to eight weeks should be followed by 100 mg daily for maintenance therapy, based on the notion that a smaller dose is sufficient after the neuronal cell membranes have been saturated with phosphatidylserine. Astonishingly, the research studies indicate virtually no side effects. This makes the physician in me slightly nervous, because the medication without any side effects has yet to be invented. In particular, the possible side effects of long-term daily intake have not been properly assessed. If phosphatidylserine is used by tens of thousands of people, it is likely that we will hear more about its side effects, especially side effects that occur in only a small subgroup of vulnerable individuals.

Given the fair amount of information available on the use of PS to treat mild memory loss, it is somewhat surprising that it has not caught the public's attention. A large proportion of patients with mild memory loss who come to our Memory Disorders Center take vitamin E or ginkgo biloba, but hardly anyone takes PS. One reason may be that there has been no large-scale clinical trial in Alzheimer's disease, which is necessary for any compound to reach the headlines as a treatment for memory loss. But the fact that most phosphatidylserine studies were conducted in people who had mild memory loss, and not clinical disorders like Alzheimer's disease, is an added plus for your purposes.

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