Are you worried about your memory? Do you often find yourself looking for your keys or wallet? Do you walk into a room to fetch something and then forget why you’re there? You’re not alone. According to a 2011 CDC report, the number of people with mild cognitive impairment in the US was more than 16 million - equal to twice the population of New York City. And these numbers are steadily growing.
What exactly is cognitive impairment? Cognitive impairment is when a person has trouble remembering, learning new things, concentrating, or making decisions that affect their everyday life. The onset is subtle, but you, your family, or close friends might notice that your memory or mental function has “slipped.” And the scary thing is, cognitive impairment may increase your risk of later developing dementia, Alzheimer’s or other neurological conditions.
The causes of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) are multi-factorial and include diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and lack of exercise. Luckily, there are ways to combat this insidious problem - Stop smoking. Get more exercise. Lose weight. Eat well. Take appropriate supplements.
One such supplement is phosphatidylserine (PS). PS is an “orthomolecular” by Dr. Pauling’s definition. For those of you who don’t know about Dr. Pauling or what orthomolecular medicine is, the following should help clear things up. A molecular biologist by trade, the two-time Nobel Prize winner, Linus Pauling, Ph.D. was the founder of orthomolecular medicine. Dr. Pauling believed that maintaining good health and preventing disease was easily achieved with the right molecules in the right concentration. Dr. Pauling first coined the term orthomolecular in his 1968 article Orthomolecular Psychiatry and spawned a new field of medicine. Today Orthomolecular medicine is the practice of preventing and treating disease by furnishing the body with optimal amounts of substances which are naturally occurring in the body.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid nutrient found in all mammalian cells. Every cell in your body is wrapped in a lipid bilayer made of two layers of fatty acids. Proper cell membrane health is essential - when cell membranes become damaged, chronic disease can arise. PS helps maintain healthy cell membranes.
PS is an extraordinarily active and protective part of cell membranes. Proper amounts of PS are essential for healthy cell membranes. PS plays a crucial role in cell signaling and apoptosis - programmed cell death necessary to rid the body of old worn out cells and replace them with healthy new cells. Unfortunately, studies have shown that PS decrease with age possibly leading to many age-related conditions.
PS is most highly concentrated in brain cells enabling the brain’s electrical activity. Taken as a dietary supplement is has shown clinical benefits in brain-related functions including improved short-term memory function, enhanced stress-management, and improved mood. In fact, in a move rarely seen by the FDA regarding natural supplements, it gave PS a "qualified health claim" status. This action in 2003 allows labels to state "consumption of phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of dementia, and cognitive dysfunction in the elderly" along with the disclaimer "very limited and preliminary scientific research suggests that phosphatidylserine may reduce the risk of cognitive dysfunction in the elderly."
Multiple randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trials (the gold-standard in research) have shown that PS consistently improves memory, word recall, and learning. A 2015 paper by Glade et al., reported “Exogenous PS (300-800 mg/d) is absorbed efficiently in humans, crosses the blood-brain barrier, and safely slows, halts, or reverses biochemical alterations and structural deterioration in nerve cells. It supports human cognitive functions, including the formation of short-term memory, the consolidation of long-term memory, the ability to create new memories, the ability to retrieve memories, the ability to learn and recall information, the ability to focus attention and concentrate, the ability to reason and solve problems, language skills, and the ability to communicate. It also supports locomotor functions, especially rapid reactions and reflexes.”
Another study on healthy subjects with mild cognitive impairment showed that supplementation with PS at the earliest stages of MCI seemed to reverse the decline in the subgroup that had the worst symptoms at the beginning of the trial.
Given the fact that the FDA has given PS it’s seal of approval for brain health and the most abundant clinical applications of PS are to improve mentation and cognition in the middle-aged and elderly, multiple studies have focused on Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Many of these studies have shown statistically significant improvements in early and full-blown AD. One small study showed vocabulary and picture matching scores in the two treatment groups increased after treatment with PS and the scores in the treated group were significantly higher than the untreated group.
After supplementation with PS in patients with advanced AD, the most pronounced benefits seen have been improved verbal expression, better sociability, and improvement in activities of daily living. One of the most extensive studies involving advanced AD showed statistically significant improvements in memory, learning, withdrawal, and adaptability to the environment. Anyone with a family member suffering from AD can tell you that any improvement in the last 2 (withdrawal and adaptability to the environment) would make an enormous impact in quality of life indicators.
Besides improving MCI, phosphatidylserine has shown improvements in mood and anxiety as well. Multiple studies clearly show improvements in depression and anxiety across all spectrums of society. The studies have even been shown to help alleviate situational depression associated with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or other significant life stressors. PS supplementation also helps young, healthy subjects cope with and overcome stressful situations. It was also noted in these studies that the levels of the stress hormones adrenocorticotropic and cortisol were significantly lower in the patients receiving PS versus the patients receiving a placebo.
The bad news is we’re all gonna age. The good news? PS is readily available and safe to use. And, after more than 20 years of use as a dietary supplement, PS has no evidence of adverse effects or drug interactions at dosages up to 800 mg/day. The standard recommended dosage for optimal results is 100-300 mg/day.