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Effects Of Phosphatidylserine On The Aging Brain

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Phosphatidylserine plays a key role in keeping your mind and memory sharp as you get older, especially for those who are 50 years+.

Phosphatidylserine – A Brain Healthy Fat

Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a fat in which one of the usual three fatty acids isreplaced by the amino acid, serine. It is found in the membranes of every cell of your body, but is particularly abundant in the brain, making up to 15% of phospholipids in human cortical gray matter. It increases membrane fluidity so it can modulate many cellular functions. PS increases neuronal growth and survival, including growth of the neurites which connect nerve cells. PS directly increases the release of the chemicals that neurons use for communication. These include acetylcholine, which is important in memory circuits, dopamine, important in reward circuits, norepinephrine and serotonin, important for mood control.

PS has the distinction of being the only brain health supplement which has received some degree of recognition from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The claims which FDA allows supplements are typically limited to general statements like “helps to maintain brain health.” Based on the scientific evidence, FDA has allowed more specific qualified claims that PS “may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly” and “may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly.” There is a caveat that “there is little scientific evidence supporting this claim.” The FDA typically requires highly rigorous clinical trial data on thousands to tens of thousands of patients to approve a prescription drug. Some of the PS trials were the gold standard randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study, but others were just observational. The studies were small, often less than 100 people, though these studies did produce statistically significant findings which were quite consistent and repeatable. The FDA rightly points out that there is less data for PS than for a prescription drug but nonetheless the qualified health claim is meaningful recognition of the existing science regarding the potential benefits of PS. 

Effects of PS on Memory and Cognition in the Elderly

PS has been studied in multiple clinical trials in “the elderly” starting in the 1990’s. Elderly was typically defined as 65 years or older, but ages actually ranged from 50’s to 90’s, with an average in the 70’s. Dose levels were 100- 300 mg daily and treatment duration was at least 6 weeks.  

Some studies focused on people with mild problems, just subjective complaints or some errors on formal psychology tests. These could be consistent with typical aging changes. Statistically significant improvements were most consistently reported in verbal learning and recall. Sometimes also for visual learning, attention, concentration, vigilance, vocabulary skills and communication skills. One study using a more real-world approach reported improved memory for names, faces, telephone numbers and misplaced objects. 

Studies in people with severe disabling cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s disease reported improvements on tests of verbal learning, immediate memory, attention span, concentration, vigilance and vocabulary skills. Apathy and withdrawal lessened, and socialization increased. Significant improvements were reported in self-sufficiency and performance of activities of daily living.  

In addition to these clinical studies, PS has been directly shown to increase brain utilization of glucose on PET scans. This is a direct demonstration of increased neuronal activity.  

How Safe is PS

Since PS is found in most foods, it would be expected to be well tolerated. No clinically significant changes in weight, vital signs like blood pressure, or on standard blood tests have been reported. Some people have complained of gastrointestinal distress or headache. There have not been any serious safety events. Overall, it appears to be safe and well tolerated.

Summary

PS is a nutrient and a component of your cells. Your body can synthesize PS and it is in the foods you eat. The brain has a high concentration of PS, and it increases with aging. The body’s ability to synthesize PS, however, declines with aging, suggesting that obtaining PS from food or other sources becomes more important over time. Brains from people with Alzheimer’s disease contain less PS than usual. The existing scientific evidence supports that PS nutrient supplementation may improve memory and thinking in older people with a range of memory complaints from mere annoyance to frank dementia. 

 

By Patricia Ann Walicke MD, PhD