How Phosphatidylserine Benefits Memory & Cognitive Decline

Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC | Written by Deane Alban

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As a supplement, phosphatidylserine can boost memory, relieve stress, and help cognitive decline and ADHD. Learn about its many benefits for your brain.

Phosphatidylserine is a type of fat that occurs naturally in every cell in the body.

It’s found in particularly high concentrations in the brain.

In fact, half of your body’s total phosphatidylserine resides in your brain.

However, phosphatidylserine is rare in the diet and, consequently, people of all ages may benefit from phosphatidylserine supplementation.

6 Ways Phosphatidylserine Enhances Brain Health and Function

Phosphatidylserine is one of the few brain supplements that’s been proven safe and effective for people of all ages, from children to seniors.

It has shown potential for treating a wide range of conditions including stress and memory-related issues, attention disorders, age-related cognitive decline, and even dementia.

Here are the main ways that phosphatidylserine works to support brain health and function.

1. Phosphatidylserine Is Essential for Healthy Brain Cells

Phosphatidylserine, which is often called simply PS, is an essential nutrient for healthy, optimally functioning brain cells.

It is a phospholipid, a type of fat with a structure that makes it both hydrophilic (attracted to water) and hydrophobic (repelled by water).

These properties allow phospholipids to neatly arrange themselves into two parallel layers called a phospholipid bilayer

This layer is a major component of human brain cell membranes.

The cell membrane acts as a gatekeeper, regulating the flow of what gets in and out of brain cells. 

It lets in nutrients, water, and oxygen while letting out metabolic waste.

By supporting brain cell membrane integrity, phosphatidylserine helps keep toxins, pathogens, and other unwanted invaders out of the brain.

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There are other ways phosphatidylserine supports a healthy brain.

" Phosphatidylserine is the only brain supplement to receive a qualified stamp of approval from the FDA for treatment of age-related cognitive decline and dementia in seniors.

Neurons need phosphatidylserine to conduct nerve impulses

It is essential for preserving neuroplasticity, your brain’s ability to repair existing brain cells and create new ones. 

Phosphatidylserine increases brain cell fluidity, enabling cells to stay adaptable and effectively respond to stressors. 

2. Phosphatidylserine Increases Levels of Important Brain Chemicals

Neurotransmitters are chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other.

They share some responsibility for just about every aspect of your life.

They help determine how happy you are, how well you sleep, relax, and handle stress, how effectively you concentrate, learn, and remember, your libido, and much more.

It’s believed that the majority of us have low levels of these brain chemicals

Phosphatidylserine encourages the release of four major neurotransmitters — serotonin,  norepinephrine, dopamine, and acetylcholine. 

Additionally, phosphatidylserine speeds up communication between brain cells for faster thinking

3. Phosphatidylserine Reduces the Stress Hormone Cortisol

For many of us, life seems to be one crisis after another.

If this sounds like you, you may well be experiencing the deleterious effects of a continual flow of cortisol.

Chronically elevated levels of this stress hormone can have some serious health implications.

By increasing inflammation, excess cortisol contributes to diabetes, obesity, heart disease, immune system suppression, and digestive disorders. 

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It also wreaks havoc with your brain and mental well-being.

Brain fog, anxiety, depression, mood swings, memory loss, concentration problems, schizophrenia, and mental disorders of all kinds are linked to high cortisol levels. 

Phosphatidylserine reduces the effects of both physical and mental stress by lowering cortisol levels. 

Phosphatidylserine Reduces Stress While Increasing Physical Performance

Numerous studies have been conducted with phosphatidylserine as it relates to the stress experienced by athletes, including Olympians, runners, and golfers

Research confirms that phosphatidylserine not only reduces cortisol, but also increases physical performance, speeds recovery, and reduces post-exercise muscle soreness

This is a win-win for anyone who exercises regularly since physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your brain!

4. Phosphatidylserine: Proven Protector Against Age-Related Mental Decline

Phosphatidylserine supplements can be safely used by young and old alike for memory enhancement.

It’s a favorite supplement used by students for boosting memory, concentration, and improving exam performance.

It’s suspected that phosphatidylserine levels naturally decline with age and that taking supplements can be of particular benefit to seniors.

Thomas Crook, PhD, former chairman of the National Institute of Mental Health, studied memory impairment extensively. 

He found in his research that phosphatidylserine can improve the brain’s ability to remember by many years, even in Alzheimer’s patients.

Phosphatidylserine is protective against age-related mental decline and shows promise for treating Alzheimer’s, dementia, and the accompanying depression often experienced by seniors. 

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One of the responsibilities of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is to prevent manufacturers from making false claims about their products.

But, in an unusual move, the FDA has granted phosphatidylserine manufacturers the right to make these qualified claims on the bottle label and in their marketing materials:

  • “consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly”
  • “consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly”

Phosphatidylserine is the only brain supplement that’s been granted FDA permission to make any qualified brain health claims.

5. Phosphatidylserine Reduces Symptoms of ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental disorder characterized by impulsiveness, inattentiveness, and excessive activity.

It affects nearly 10% of school-age children

The standard medical treatments are medication and psychotherapy

But few people would disagree, medical professionals included, that treating kids with prescription stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin is not an ideal solution and should be used only as a last resort.

Phosphatidylserine supplementation may be a safe and effective natural alternative for treating ADHD.

So far, study results are very encouraging, with phosphatidylserine providing significant improvement in ADHD symptoms in children, especially when paired with omega-3 supplementation

These findings led to the development of Vayarin, a medical food prescribed for children with ADHD.

It consists of phosphatidylserine plus small amounts of two omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). 

One study found that 60% of the children who took Vayarin for three months reported some benefit. 

Vayarin is no longer available in the US but the raw ingredients — PS and omega-3s — are readily available as supplements. 

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Lack of energy and drive?

Struggle to learn and make decisions?

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6. Phosphatidylserine Enhances Other Brain Supplements

One serendipitous benefit of phosphatidylserine is that it works synergistically to enhance the effects of some other notable brain supplements.

Curcumin, the active compound found in the spice turmeric, is one of the best all-around brain enhancers.

It increases blood flow to the brain, reduces inflammation, and boosts production of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine

Curcumin helps protect your brain from aging and breaks up brain plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. 

However, there’s a big problem with taking either curcumin or turmeric supplements.

Curcumin is poorly absorbed with up to 85% of it passing through the intestines unused. 

One way to increase the bioavailability of curcumin is to take it with phosphatidylserine

You can either take these two supplements individually or find a curcumin supplement that contains phosphatidylserine.

Other noteworthy brain supplements that work synergistically with phosphatidylserine are fish oil and Ginkgo biloba

Why Phosphatidylserine Is Rare in the Modern Diet

Most of us get our first serving of phosphatidylserine when we are infants, since it’s a natural component of human breast milk.

Unfortunately, the average modern diet now contains only a third of the phosphatidylserine of 100 years ago. 

Phosphatidylserine is found in many foods, but mostly in animal foods that few of us eat — top sources are cow brains, Atlantic mackerel, chicken hearts, eel, and offal. 

There are only a few commons foods with appreciable amounts of phosphatidylserine. 

Tuna, chicken legs, and white beans contain 194 mg, 134 mg, and 107 mg per 3.5-ounce serving respectively.

The average diet contains 130 mg of phosphatidylserine daily, but a therapeutic dosage is thought to be 300 mg per day. 

Unless you regularly eat phosphatidylserine-rich foods, you almost certainly could benefit from taking supplemental phosphatidylserine.

The Best Source of Phosphatidylserine Supplements

Initially, phosphatidylserine supplements were derived from cow brains.

But due to concerns with mad cow disease (Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease), bovine phosphatidylserine is no longer sold in North America.

Bovine phosphatidylserine is available to researchers and often used in clinical trials, but is not available for public use.

(For the record, there are no recorded cases of humans contracting mad cow disease from phosphatidylserine supplements.) 

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Most phosphatidylserine supplements are derived from soy with a few brands being made from sunflower oil.

There’s an ongoing debate as to whether soy phosphatidylserine is as effective as bovine for enhancing mood, memory, and cognition since animal and vegetable-based phosphatidylserine have slightly different chemical structures. 

Phosphatidylserine Supplement Dosages

There is no RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for phosphatidylserine, nor have optimal doses for specific conditions been established.

The general recommended dosage for memory impairment is 100 mg taken 3 times a day. 

However, dosages of twice that have been deemed safe in seniors

Phosphatidylserine is one of the few brain supplements with dosages determined for children.

A typical dose for children and young teens is 200 mg per day. 

Phosphatidylserine Side Effects and Interactions

The most common side effects of phosphatidylserine supplements are digestive upset and insomnia, particularly when daily doses are higher than 300 mg.

Phosphatidylserine should be avoided if you take blood thinning or anti-inflammatory drugs.

It should not be taken along with certain anticholinergic drugs — antihistamines and antidepressants — as it may decrease their effectiveness.

If you take any medications that increase acetylcholine, talk to your doctor before taking phosphatidylserine.

These drugs are usually prescribed for treatment of Alzheimer’s disease and include Aricept, Exelon, and Razadyne. 

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Since phosphatidylserine also increases acetylcholine, it can alter these drugs’ effectiveness and amplify their side effects.

Lastly, since there’s no reliable data on the safety of phosphatidylserine for pregnant or breastfeeding women, these groups should avoid PS supplements.

Phosphatidylserine Benefits: Take the Next Step

Phosphatidylserine is an integral part of healthy brain cell membranes and normalizes the levels of important neurotransmitters and stress hormones.

It is one of the few brain supplements with proven benefits for the most vulnerable populations, seniors and children.

And it is the only brain supplement to receive a qualified stamp of approval from the FDA for treatment of age-related cognitive decline and dementia in seniors.

For these reasons and more, phosphatidylserine qualifies as a very effective brain and memory supplement.

You can take phosphatidylserine on its own, but it’s often included in supplement formulas where it works synergistically with other ingredients.

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