Phosphatidylserine improves DHA’s bioavailability to your brain
Scientists have long known that the omega 3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is vital to proper brain development and maintenance. In fact most quality infant formulas in the United States contain this vital nutrient to support infant brain development.
And phosphatidylserine (PS), approved by the FDA for two health claims related to cognitive function, is a critical constituent of brain membranes and brain-related biochemical pathways.
Combining PS & DHA supplements could quite possibly be the answer for those concerned about age-related dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The natural process of PS delivering DHA is fairly straightforward. But before we get into that, let’s look at each of these compounds individually.
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is crucial for normal brain activities and functions
The main function of PS is to help maintain proper membrane permeability, which has implications on most brain membrane functions. PS protects the integrity of brain cell membranes, facilitates the efficient transport of energy-producing nutrients into cells (including DHA), and enhances brain cell energy metabolism. Another related function of PS is its role in controlling the normal balance of stress hormones and assist in maintaining adequate glucose utilization in the brain.
Soy versus bovine-based PS
PS derived from soy has been shown to be safe1 and effective. Because of the global concerns about mad cow disease, commercial sources of PS, once derived from cows, are now made from soy. A study back in 2000 compared the results of soy PS with bovine-derived PS, and found that 18 elderly volunteers with age-related cognitive decline experienced a significant improvement from the soy-based PS.2 Although this is significant because most of the studies indicating the effectiveness of PS on cognitive decline have been done using bovine-derived PS, the scientific community is eager for the results of a larger double-blind study. In the meantime, PS has been sanctioned by the FDA and they have approved two claims that state:
- 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.3
Human clinical studies
PS has been the subject of numerous human clinical trials of memory loss, mood, and cognitive performance such as learning ability, concentration, and processing. Many of the studies show that PS can be helpful for those with age-related memory impairment. It can even enhance cognition and mental function in those with no cognitive impairment. PS plays a crucial role in many membrane-associated nerve cell processes and by increasing the number of neurotransmitter receptor sites.4 The increased number of receptor sites may explain why the memory-enhancing effects last for up to a month even after the supplement is discontinued.
“It can even enhance cognition and mental function in those
with no cognitive impairment.”
Improvement in normal, healthy people
Thomas Crook and his colleagues studied 149 individuals who suffered from age-associated memory impairment. These people had no overt illnesses, but showed signs of memory loss that normally occurs with aging. Those who took PS showed improvement in memory and learning. As with many other studies of this kind, the people who functioned the worst in the beginning were the most likely to improve. The researchers concluded that “the compound may be a promising candidate for treating memory loss in later life.”5
Treating depression and senility in the elderly
In a study at the University of Milan, Italy, 10 elderly women with depressive disorders were given placebos for 15 days, then 300 mg of PS for 30 days. The study showed that PS alleviated depression and improved memory and general behavior. No adverse effects were noted in any of the patients.6Other studies have found similar, positive results. PS has also proved effective in treating early and mild Alzheimer’s disease7 and senility.8
The importance of the omega 3 fatty acid DHA
The human brain is rich in long chain omega 3 fatty acids. DHA, the major omega 3 fatty acid found in the brain, is highly enriched in neuronal cells. There is a growing body of evidence to support the essential role of DHA in neuronal functions. Studies have shown various neurological diseases to be associated with a deficient DHA status, implying the influence of this fatty acid in neuronal function.9
It is well known that DHA is essential for visual and neurological development in infants. Supplementation appears to be helpful for premature infants’ brain development. DHA supplementation is especially important for premature infants who are not breastfed, as breast milk has DHA and many of the commercial infant formulas do not. Deficiencies are most often found in formula-fed premature infants.
“The study showed that PS alleviated depression and improved memory and general behavior.”
The usefulness of DHA does not end with infancy, however. It has also been shown to decrease aggressiveness in adolescent males. Other patients who exhibit DHA deficiencies include children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)10 and Alzheimer’s patients.11
DHA and other omega 3 fatty acids are also required for maintenance of normal brain functions in adults. The enrichment of diets with omega 3 fatty acids has been shown to improve learning abilities, whereas deficiency has been associated with learning deficits. DHA is taken up by the brain in preference to other fatty acids. And, as it turns out, PS is the natural delivery system for getting DHA into the brain.
How PS & DHA work together?
Like all phospholipids, PS is built on a molecule with a backbone in which one position is occupied with a phosphate group to which is attached the amino acid—L-Serine, hence the name phosphatidylserine. The other two positions contain a variety of fatty acids. The fatty acid composition is controlled by the source of the phospholipids and its physiological function.
In order for DHA to exert its full cognitive and mental benefits, it must be delivered to the brain and cross the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB). The phospholipid PS acts as delivery platform, enabling improved bioavailability of DHA to the brain.12
“The enrichment of diets with omega 3 fatty acids has been shown to improve learning abilities, whereas deficiency has been associated with learning deficits.”
Many brain-health conditions result in a reduction in the sufferer’s quality of life. These conditions can affect all age groups. Such brain-health conditions include learning disorders like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which affects many young and older children. Others include depression and conditions related to the aging process of the brain which leads to the reduction in cognitive abilities, also known as dementia.
“Furthermore, chemical drugs do not offer solutions to all the
brain-health conditions, especially those related to brain aging.”
In recent years there is a growing demand for natural active ingredients that address such brain-health conditions and that promote cognitive and mental quality of life.
Although the pharmaceutical world has offered drugs to address brain-health issues, many of these solutions have severe side-effects which affect the quality of the patient’s life. Furthermore, chemical drugs do not offer solutions to all the brain-health conditions, especially those related to brain aging.
PS & DHA supplementation just might be the natural solution for preventing cognitive dysfunction. If you are concerned about your long-term brain health and protecting yourself from Alzheimer’s or age-related dementia, you should consider combining PS & DHA to maximize benefits.
- Jorissen BL, Brouns F, Van Boxtel MP, Riedel WJ. Safety of soy-derived phosphatidylserine in elderly people. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Oct;5(5):337-43.
- Schreiber S, Kampf-Sherf O, Gorfine M, Kelly D, Oppenheim Y, Lerer B. An open trial of plant-source derived phosphatydilserine for treatment of age-related cognitive decline. Isr J Psychiatry Relat Sci. 2000;37(4):302-7.
- Klinkhammer P, Szelies B and Heiss WD. Effect of phosphatidylserine on cerebral glucose metabolism in Alzheimer’s disease. Dimentia (Switzerland) 1(4): 197-201, 1990.
- Crook TH, Tinklenberg J, Yesavage J, Petrie W, Wells C, Nunzi MG and Masari DC. Effects of phosphatidylserine in age-associated memory impairment. Neurology 41 (5) : 644-9, May 1991.
- Maggioni M, Picotti GB, Bondiolotti, GP, Paneral A, Cenacchi T, Nobile P and Brambilla F. Effects of phosphatidylserine therapy in geriatric patients with depressive disorders. Acta Psychiatr Scand81(3): 265-70, March 1990.
- Engel, RR, Satzger W, Gunther W, Kathmann N, Bove D, Gerke S, Munch U and Hippius H. Double-blind cross-over study of phosphatidylserine vs. placebo in patients with early dementia of the Alzheimer type. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol (Netherlands) 2(2): 149-55, June 1992.
- Dean W, Morgenthaler J, Fowkes SW. Smart Drugs II: The Next Generation, Petaluma, CA 1993, pp. 77-80.
- Horrocks L, Yeo YK. Health benefits of docosahexanoic acid (DHA).Pharmacological Res 1999: 40 ; 211-225.
- Burgess JR, Stevens L, Zhang W, Peck L. Long- chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Am J Clin Nutr 2000; 71: 327-330.
- Soderberg M, Edlund C, Kristensson K, et al. Fatty acid composition of brain phospholipids in aging and in Alzheimer’s disease. Lipids 1991;26:421–25.
- MozziR, Buratta S, Goracci G. Metabolism and functions of phosphatidylserine in mammalian brain. Neurochem Res. 2003 Feb;28(2):195-214.