Phosphatidylserine. In addition to being difficult to pronounce, this amino acid derivative is believed to influence cognitive abilities. The buzz around it hails it as a memory enhancer, Cortisol controller, and all-around neuroprotective agent. Proponents say it can help with depression, stress, athletic performance, ADHD, and a wide range of neurological conditions. Studies only support some of the claims, however. Could the hype surrounding its supposed abilities be overblown? Let’s explore.
Phosphatidylserine is a naturally occurring phospholipid that is produced in the body, The majority of human supply, though, comes from food sources. When supplemented, it is believed that Phosphatidylserine provides protection against age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s. Some believe, however, that because of its function within the body (cell-to-cell communication, among other things) and prevalence in neural tissue might grant it some other abilities as well.
Proponents argue that in otherwise healthy brains, it can add a cognitive boost akin to many popular nootropics. Those looking for mood enhancement believe its effects on cortisol reduce stress and promote a happier mood. Some athletes believe it can boost their performance by helping with blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle soreness. The list goes on, as there are at least twenty separate health benefits that have been ascribed to this chemical.
Evidence supporting many of them, though, is scant. Currently, the only well-researched effects of Phosphatidylserine are on cognition, cognitive decline, cortisol, and ADHD. Some others have mixed results from studies, and many more have no evidence backing their claims whatsoever.
It’s legal to obtain, and those that have tried it say a 200-400 milligram dose is usually the best way to achieve its acute effects. The preventative effects are believed to result from daily supplementation in the amount of approximately 300 milligrams.
I’ll be honest, I’m going in skeptical that Phosphatidylserine provides anything beyond some slight long-term benefits, and the acute effects people rave about are likely the placebo effect working in full force. Still, I’ve been wrong before, so I decided to give this one a go.
The list is extensive and includes entries such as BC-PS, Phosphatidyl Serine, PS, and PtdSer.
At last, the moment of truth. I obtained a bottle of 100-milligram capsules and decided to start with a low dose, just one cap. Half an hour passed. Then an hour. Then two. Nothing. I decided to up the dosage, going straight to the high-end (400 milligrams). Still no effect. Perhaps my initial assumption was correct, and acute cognitive enhancement wasn’t something I’d be experiencing with this supplement.
Before giving up, though, I decided to do some more digging. It turns out there are several varieties of Phosphatidylserine, each derived from different sources. I had received a soy-based supplement, and the wild speculation I read suggested that animal-based supplements might have more of a mental boost than the plant types. “Might as well give it a shot,” I thought, so I tried to track down some of the animal-derived capsules and prepare myself for round two. Nothing, unfortunately, as you can’t get them in the US.
So, to sum things up: I didn’t feel any different trying to work. I didn’t feel different while exercising. I couldn’t even beat my little sister in a game of chess. If there are any short-term mental boosts to be gained from supplementing with Phosphatidylserine, I certainly did not experience them.
Had it worked as intended, I’m told I would have felt a sharp burst of mental energy coupled with a calm confidence. I’d have been able to work out without getting terribly sore, push the limits of my normal routine, and get this write up done in half the time. The reality, for me at least, left much to be desired. Based on what I’ve read, though, I’m still convinced there are long-term benefits to be gained for those trying to stave off age-related cognitive decline.
It seems at least part of the internet has shared my experience:
“I’ve been taking the soy version of this supplement at a 600mg dose every day for about a month. It is definitely doing something, but I can’t really tap my finger on it. Since I’ve taken it feels like I’ve become dumber.”
As did I, though perhaps not for the same reasons? Perhaps I should have upped the dosage. Still, there were those that sang the praises of Phosphatidylserine. Perhaps there’s something to it after all? Time to delve into what qualified scientific inquiry has revealed on the matter.
I never said this stuff was completely useless, after all! There are actually several promising aspects to Phosphatidylserine that have some research to back them up:
Phosphatidylserine is supposed to be able to improve your ability to think, and while there isn’t a definitive answer on whether or not this is directly applicable to healthy persons, there is some evidence to suggest the chemical provides at least some benefit.
One study showed that supplementation with 400 milligrams of Phosphatidylserine daily “was able to increase the speed of calculations (20%) and improve accuracy (13% more right answers, 39% less wrong) despite not influencing mood state or fatigue.” The researchers concluded that “PS supplementation significantly increased cognitive function prior to exercise,” and that “Improved cognitive function could benefit athletes and non-athletes alike.”
Promising results, and ones that suggest that long-term Phosphatidylserine use might be the way to go to achieve its greatest benefits.
One study that looked at the way soy-based Phosphatidylserine could affect cognitive decline in elderly Japanese test subjects noted that “6 months of Soy-PS supplementation could improve the memory functions of the elderly with memory complaints.” Which sounds good, but is offset by a second study, which came to slightly different conclusions.
This second group of researchers noted that with their subjects “there were also no significant interactions between treatment and ‘severity of memory complaints’.” Coming to a different conclusion: “a daily supplement of S-PS does not affect memory or other cognitive functions in older individuals with memory complaints.”
Still, the current thinking is that using animal-based Phosphatidylserine may confer greater effects in this area, and that plant-based supplements are not ideal for this particular benefit.
Again, researchers believe this benefit comes solely from animal-based Phosphatidylserine. The chemical can reduce the buildup of cortisol, particularly that generated by exercise-related stress. This study found that a dose of 800 milligrams daily was enough to achieve the desired effect. Soy-based supplementation of the same amount provides no such benefit.
There are plenty of claims about how supplementing Phosphatidylserine will reduce depression, ADHD, and other conditions. Unfortunately, the data to back up the claims just isn’t there at present.
Current scientific understanding of Phosphatidylserine is that it increases the levels of acetylcholine and dopamine in the brain. Acetylcholine assists with cell-to-cell communication, hence it can improve normal cognitive abilities, along with memory and focus. The neurons that may decline with age are regenerated by supplemented amounts of acetylcholine, which is kept in high supply by Phosphatidylserine. Once repaired, neurons can send and receive messages faster. Hence, an overall brain boost is experienced. The dopamine effects are what are believed to cause the mood enhancement and antidepressant effects. The chemical also has a number of widespread physical functions within the body, including blood coagulation and cell signaling.
As mentioned, it occurs naturally in the body but comes mostly from food sources. Primarily animal flesh and organ meats provide the highest Phosphatidylserine content. Acute effects are supposed to take place within an hour and last for several. The long-term benefits generally begin to manifest after approximately ten days of continual use.
Studies with Phosphatidylserine have ranged from doses as low as 300 milligrams daily (for neuroprotective effects). Though higher doses, such as the aforementioned study that used 800-milligram doses, show that additional benefits may come with higher amounts. There may be some differences with dosing between plant and animal-based supplements, though to what degree is not completely understood.
As with most supplements, different amounts will affect individuals differently. If you’re thinking about using Phosphatidylserine, start low and work your way up gradually to see what amount works best for your body.
Thankfully, the number of side effects that come with using this chemical are fairly limited. There are some reports of insomnia and perhaps an upset stomach when supplementing at higher doses. The fear with Phosphatidylserine comes from the animal-based supplements, which are derived from cow’s brains. The supposed danger is the transmission of mad cow disease. Though no cases from supplementation have ever been documented, staying on the safe side would require you to stick with the plant-based varieties.
Since Phosphatidylserine is a lipid, taking them with fat blockers will defeat the purpose. You should also avoid anticholinergic drugs (drying medications), Alzheimer’s medications, and some glaucoma medications as well.
People swear by several nootropic stacks that include Phosphatidylserine. The mental benefits are said to be enhanced by Piracetam, which simultaneously provides a concentration boost and increased focus. Typically, users will go with a lower dose of Phosphatidylserine along with a standard dose of Piracetam for the best effect. Other cognitive enhancing stacks include Rhodiola to improve mood, Tyrosine to add a mood boost, or good old-fashioned caffeine to gain a big burst of energy followed by a greater motivation to get some work done.
There are plenty of pre-mixed blends that include Phosphatidylserine in lower doses, including AlphaBrain and MindLab Pro. You could, hypothetically, gather these ingredients yourself and mix them on your own if you’re feeling frugal, by the way.
There are legions of other compounds that affect the mind and confer cognitive enhancement in similar, or even increased fashion. Be sure to check out these options:
Another naturally occurring brain compound that also comes from various food sources. DMAE boosts neurotransmitter levels in the brain, sharpening focus, increasing reasoning skills, and enhancing memory. People will use it for a cognitive boost, though it is also supposed to grant some anti-aging, skin rejuvenating, and athletic benefits as well. Some reports note that use of DMAE will induce states of increased creativity, and might also cause users to experience lucid dreaming.
Citicoline is a potent brain supplement that is used to boost memory, learning, and focus. It occurs naturally in the liver, but evidence suggests that supplementing with Citicoline has vast clinical benefit—protecting neurons from damage and thereby helping the brain stay strong. Dosages vary, though most agree that anywhere from 250-2000 milligrams daily works well. There are some minor possible side effects when using Citicoline, but there are few known drug/supplement interactions, making it generally safe to use.
This third nootropic supplement with some connections to DMAE. As such, it can help boost the brain in a similar fashion, providing greater memory, learning, focus, etc. This chemical is believed to enhance something known as “fluid intelligence,” or the ability to problem solve and reason in a logical manner.
Studies on Centrophenoxine have shown it grants significant benefit to Alzheimer’s patients and could be used for other age-related mental disorders as well. Doses ranging from 250-1500 milligrams daily are usually enough to achieve the desired effects.
There’s something about Phosphatidylserine. There’s research showing that it can definitely help provide certain benefits in certain situations. For those experiencing cognitive decline, for instance, might find the neuroprotective effects of this compound quite helpful. The cortisol reduction as well could be a useful benefit for those under stress.
The effects don’t seem to present themselves to all individuals, however, making Phosphatidylserine difficult to recommend as a short-term booster. This is complicated by the fact that some benefits seem only to come from animal-based derivatives of the supplement, which are difficult to acquire.