Phosphatidylserine is a specialized lipid that occurs naturally in the body. While it is a necessary component to regulate the function of all cells, it is found in the highest concentration in the brain. In fact, phosphatidylserine plays a key role in neurotransmission and synaptic function. As such, researchers began to investigate the potential of this cellular nutrient in the prevention and treatment of cognitive disorders, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Positive response in study subjects participating in early clinical trials led to this substance being promoted as a dietary supplement to enhance memory and cognitive performance.
Since aging adults can lose as much as 50 percent of their ability to perform ordinary tasks that are dependent on memory recall and cognitive skill, a phosphatidylserine supplement seemed to be the answer to deterring age-related mental decline. However, study results have remained inconclusive, even contradictory. While many study subjects have shown significant improvement during the course of a trial, similarly constructed trials have shown that the supplement becomes less effective within months, even weeks. In addition, the most benefit was observed in subjects with the lease severe symptoms of impaired cognitive functioning.
This doesn’t mean that phosphatidylserine is no longer considered a prospective therapeutic agent in the future. It just means that the current body of medical literature doesn’t yet support a clear relationship between phosphatidylserine supplementation and cognitive dysfunction. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a qualified health claim for this nutrient in a May 2003 decision letter, however. Therefore, U.S. manufacturers are permitted to include the following statements on product labels: “Consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly," and "Consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly."
Phosphatidylserine may have other applications. For example, more recent research has demonstrated that this nutrient may also help to reduce stress and improve physical endurance. A few studies involving young adults indicate that supplementation improves mood while undergoing mental or emotional stress. Other studies have shown that athletes may be able to better regulate fluctuations in cortisol levels induced by exercise and muscle stress. Most impressive are findings that indicate phosphatidylserine may shorten recovery time for sports-related injuries.
With the exception of mild stomach upset, few phosphatidylserine side effects have been reported. However, due concerns over Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (Mad Cow Disease), supplements are no longer derived from bovine cortex. Instead, this nutrient is now extracted from soy. There are also natural food sources of phosphatidylserine. Those with the highest concentration include mackerel, herring, tuna, soft-shelled clams, chicken liver, and white beans.