When you think "supplements", you probably don't immediately think of Phosphatidylserine.
Something like Fish Oil or Creatine probably comes to mind instead. After all, each of those supplements has literally hundreds of studies backing their use.
If you want to learn about those types of supplements, there are about a million other blogs where you can do just that. I prefer to cover supplements that are less talked about.
Phosphatidylserine has actually been studied fairly extensively, especially considering how annoying to pronounce!
It's been investigated by researchers all around the world for a variety of potential benefits. Some of these studies have had some pretty encouraging results.
In this article we'll answer just about every question you might have pertaining to PS, including:
- What Is Phosphatidylserine?
- Why Do People Use It?
- What Are The PROVEN Benefits
- Is It Safe?
- What Sources Are Reliable?
And a whole lot more!
Let's begin, shall we?
What Is Phosphatidylserine?
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a phospholipid, meaning it's a component of cell membranes. It plays a wide array of roles throughout the body, from cell signaling to blood clotting.
Phosphatidylserine has a structure similar to a Triglyceride, but rather than 3 fatty acids, it has 2 fatty acids connected to a Phosphatidic Acid molecule and a Serine molecule.
If that looks complicated to you...You're probably a normal person.
It IS complicated! But you don't need to worry much about that. Just know that Phosphatidylserine owes it's unique benefits to it's unique chemical structure...
It's found virtually everywhere in the body, including your:
- Muscle Tissue
- Even Your Blood
Out of all the tissues and organs in your body though, your brain contains by far the highest concentration of Phosphatidylserine.
And when it comes to supplementing with Phosphatidylserine, the brain is where the action is...
Why Do People Supplement With Phosphatidylserine?
Phosphatidylserine, despite the hard to pronounce name and complicated chemical structure, has actually become pretty popular as a general health supplement in recent years. It's used mostly by people looking to:
- Reduce Stress/Cortisol
- Improve Exercise Performance
- Enhance Cognitive Function
Of course, there may be other uses. It's just that most of the research pertains to one of those.
What Are The Proven Benefits Of Phosphatidylserine
Phosphatidylserine isn't necessarily as well known as other supplements that are supposed to improve brain function or reduce stress, but it actually has a fair amount of research surrounding it.
Phosphatidylserine Reduces Stress
The most common reason people take Phosphatidylserine supplements is to reduce mental stress.
In one study, Phosphatidylserine supplementation (at 200mg/day) reduced stress response in the brains of normal, healthy subjects who were exposed to a random acute stressor.
Similar findings have been observed elsewhere, with one study showing a combination of Fish Oil and PS (60mg) reduced stress in chronically stressed individuals.
Interestingly, another study found that PS supplementation actually increased drive accuracy in young, healthy male golfers. The researchers in this study attributed the performance improvement with an observed trend toward reduced stress.
So Phosphatidylserine clearly combats stress, with highly stress people being the most likely to benefit (of course). What about the physical indicates of stress though?
Phosphatidylserine Helps Maintain Healthy Cortisol Levels
Originally, the reduction in stress was thought to be due to a reduction in Cortisol. However, some of the studies which have noted a stress reduction or reduced stress response have found no decrease in Cortisol.
Other studies HAVE found a decrease (or blunting) of Cortisol.
In one study, Phosphatidylserine (800mg/day) was shown to blunt the Cortisol increase that generally occurs during exercise.
Similar results were obtained in a separate study as well using 600mg/day.
Here's the graph from that second study. It shows the difference in Cortisol response to exercise between the subjects taking PS and the subjects taking nothing.
As you can clearly see, PS supplementation blunted the massive spike in Cortisol that generally accompanies exercise.
The researchers in the second study concluded that PS supplementation might be useful for athletes because Cortisol breaks down muscle tissue, so reducing is seen as favorable by most athletes. This would be especially useful for minimizing muscle loss during fasted cardio.
So, oddly enough...
Some studies show a reduction in Cortisol and some show nothing...What's going on!?
Well, to be honest with you...Nobody really knows. It's possible that the dose required to achieve a noticeable drop in Cortisol is so different for each individual that the results are mixed.
Its also possible that it only reduces Cortisol in certain individuals, based on unknown factors.
I'm not one to cherry pick studies to try to make my case, so I'll leave it at this
Phosphatidylserine can definitely reduce both mental and physical stress. How effective it probably depends mostly on how stressed (either mentally or physically) you are in the first place.
Phosphatidylserine Improves Exercise Performance
In a 2006 study out of the Department of Sports Science at the University of Wales Swansea, researchers sought to determine whether Phosphatidylserine supplementation (750mg/day) had any impact on exercise performance.
Subjects consumed either 750mg of Phosphatidylserine or the Placebo for 7 days before performing the exercise protocol (four rounds of cycling at 45%, 55%, 65%, and 85% of VO2Max).
This study was a double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study. The holy grail of study structures.
What the researchers found was that Phosphatidylserine supplementation actually increased time to exhaustion at 85% of VO2Max. They concluded that PS supplementation may be an effective ergogenic (performance enhancer).
Unfortunately, this is currently the only study we have on Phosphatidylserine and exercise performance. Sure, the results are encouraging, but the study size was small. Beyond that, you should never draw conclusions based on only one study.
Even just one more corroborating study would be enough to say "okay, it looks like PS enhances exercise performance". But, until that happens, it's best to reserve judgement.
Phosphatidylserine Improves Cognitive Function
Given that Phosphatidylserine is found in high concentrations in the brain where it is believed to play a critical role in general brain health, it makes sense that studies would focus on the cognitive aspect of the supplement.
Unfortunately, most of this research is geared toward individuals with cognitive impairments (such as old age, dementia, alzheimers, etc.). Not many studies have investigated whether PS can improve brain function in healthy individuals.
In one study, PS supplementation significantly improved learning capacity and immediate recall in elderly subjects (at 300mg/day).
Subjects performed several cognitive tests, including:
- Memory Recognition
- Memory Recall
- Executive Function
- Metal Flexibility
These test were performed on three separate occasions. Once before supplementation, once after 6 weeks of supplementation, and once after 12 weeks of supplementation.
The subjects were people who claimed to have memory issues but hadn't been diagnosed with any brain-diminishing illnesses such as Dementia or Alzheimer's.
PS has also been studied in combination with Fish Oil since Fish Oil is also believed to improve cognitive function. That combination also appears to be beneficial for improving memory in older folks.
In one study, the combination of Phosphatidylserine and Fish Oil supplementation resulted in a 42% improvement in the ability of subjects to recall words during a memory test.
So, we have a bunch of studies showing that PS boost brain function in people who feel like they can't remember things, but...
What About Young People With Normal Functioning Brains?
While there hasn't been much research conducted in younger, healthy people, one study found that 400mg of PS per day increased processing speed and test accuracy in college-aged subjects.
Now, when we step back and take a look at the research on PS and cognitive enhancement all together, it's pretty clear that there is something to it. Yes, most of the studies have focused on people who claim to have memory problems but there are two things to keep in mind here...
- Whether someone has "memory problems" is extremely subjective. If asked, most old people who probably say they do.
- The small amount of research conducted in young, healthy people suggests it does do something.
Future studies should of course focus more on young, healthy people. One or two of those types of studies and we'll be able to draw some solid conclusions.
Is Cortisol Really The Enemy?
Cortisol become known as "the most catabolic hormone" because it breaks down muscle tissue, but it exists for a reason.
Evolutionary speaking, it helped avoid stressful situations by:
You may be wondering "how are any of those things beneficial? They sound horrible!", but you need to keep in mind that 100,000 years ago, when humans began walking the earth, things weren't so great...
At any given money you could be chased by a predator, attacked by another group of humans, or go without eating for days (even weeks).
Given those types of circumstances, Cortisol is partly responsible for keeping us alive.
It provided instant glucose (from muscle tissue) for energy, stored any ounce of fat it could, and shutdown any processes that weren't directly linked to survival in that moment (like bone formation and immune function).
If you were running for your life from a pack of Hyenas, you most likely wouldn't be concerned about losing a little muscle or storing a little fit.
Fast forward to 2017 where the liklihood of being in a fight or flight situation is close to zero, and all the sudden Cortisol seems more like the enemy than a lifesaver.
Still, not eating for long periods of times increases Cortisol levels and unless you're getting chase by a predator, it's best to limit it as much as possible.
So, is Cortisol the enemy? No, it's a hormone that's vital for our survival.
The enemy is too much Cortisol.
Luckily, that's exactly what Phosphatidylserine can help manage. It doesn't "decrease" Cortisol, it just keeps it in towards the lower end of the normal range where it belongs.
What To Expect From Phosphatidylserine
A lot of supplement companies that sell Phosphatidylserine tend to exaggerate the benefits. They make it seem like some sort of miracle brain pill that also combats stress and makes you perform better.
While there is certainly some truth to these claims, the benefits are usually pretty subtle. You're not going to take Phosphatidylserine and instantly feel smarter, less stressed, and better at sports!
With prolonged use, however, you may notice that you:
- Remember More
- Think More Clearly
- Perform Better (Mental And Physical Tasks)
- Are Generally Less Stressed
Of course, you're more likely to notice a difference if you currently have trouble in one or more of these areas. If you're stressed, you'll be less stressed. If you can't remember anything, you'll remember more.
If you already remember everything, are amazing at everything you do, and never get stress...Then why are you even reading this? Moving on...
When it comes to any supplement, dosing is everything.
The "clinical dose" of any supplement is the dose at which it has been shown to be effective in studies.
While it is true that studies tend to use the same dose of a given supplement as prior studies once an effective dose has been identified, that's not really the case with Phosphatidylserine.
Studies have used a wide range of different doses, from 60mg to 800mg/day. For Cortisol-blunting effects, 600-800mg is probably a good place to start. For cognitive enhancement, it's usually around 200-400mg/day.
Some experimentation may be required to find your ideal dose. There's also the matter of individual factors. Current stress levels, mental abilities, and so on...
Does Phosphatidylserine Have Any Side Effects?
Out of all the studies involving Phosphatidylserine, no subjects have ever reported any sort of adverse reaction or side effect.
Phosphatidylserine is considered entirely safe.
In fact, one study which tracked blood pressure as a safety measure found that PS supplementation actually decreased blood pressure.
Source Matters Most
When it comes to Phosphatidylserine supplements, source really does matter.
It's true that SOME branded ingredients are kind of pointless because the generic forms are just as good.
For example, Creatine is very easy to produce so an off-brand form can easily be just as pure and high quality as, say CreaPure branded Creatine.
Phosphatidylserine, on the other hand, is quite difficult to produce and if you're getting cheap, off-brand PS from some lab in China, it's pretty likely that it's either not pure or contaminated in some way.
So, it's really best to just stick with a branded form of Phosphatidylserine such as SerinAid® by ChemiNutra.
The Best Phosphatidylserine Supplement
Because the source matters so much with Phosphatidylserine, you want to be particularly careful when determining which PS supplement to purchase.
SerinAid® can be found in plenty of supplements, but most manufacturers use an off-brand form. Ideally, you want to choose a product with a Supplement Facts panel like this:
The label above is from Singular Sport Phosphatidylserine which contains SerinAid® 70P. This is the purest form of Soy-Derived (vegan friendly) PS you can find.
We take it a step futher by Third Party Testing every batch, so you can rest assured that it contains:
- Only the stated ingredients
- No fillers
- No heavy metals or contaminants
There are certainly other brands that use SerinAid® in their Phosphatidylserine products, but without Third Party Testing, you can't actually be sure that the manufacturer of the product put the right amount in.
So, if you're looking for a Phosphatidylserine supplement that you can actually trust, Singular Sport PS is really the way to go.
My Personal Experience With Phosphatidylserine
I first encountered Phosphatidylserine several years ago while researching supplements. This was before Momentum Nutrition and Singular Sport.
I was immediately intrigued by PS and did a ton of research before eventually trying it. Originally, I was drawn to the cognitive enhancement properties of the substance but building a company has really given me a chance to put the stress-relief properties to the test.
I would definitely consider myself "highly stressed". Rarely unhappy and never depressed, but definitely stressed out much of the time. That's just something that comes with running a company where your job is to do EVERYTHING at the same time and you only have 24 hours a day to do it (if you don't sleep).
A think a little stress is good, but there's no doubt about it...Too much is a VERY BAD thing. Research shows that chronic stress can lead to a ton of health problems, both mental and physical.
Sleeping Better With Phosphatidylserine
I personally have a VERY hard time sleeping through the night. Not that I'm not tired (trust me, I'm often VERY tired). It's just that as soon as I wake up I have a million things rattling around in my brain and getting back to sleep can be extremely difficult.
It's not unusual for me to sleep 6-7 hours and only fee like I got 2-3 hours of quality rest. Needless to say, this was becoming a problem for the company and for me personally.
I've tried a few different brands of Phosphatidylserine over the years and found it to be moderately effective for reducing stress and subtly improving my memory, but it wasn't until ChemiNutra sent me some SerinAid® to try that I realized just how wonderful this stuff really is.
The first time I took 400mg of Phosphatidylserine before bed, I slept like a rock. The second time, same thing. Third time, same thing...
I'm happy to say that Phosphatidylserine, though not necessarily even marketed as a sleep-aid, is my favorite sleep-aid. I take 400-600mg before bed and once I'm asleep, I'm asleep. Then, about 6-7 hours later, I wake up feeling refreshed, relaxed, and ready to take on my day.
I attribute the massive improvement in sleep quality to the stress-reducing effects of Phosphatidylserine. Based on everything I've read (and I've read everything there is to read on PS), it's the only mechanism that makes sense.
In other words, if you're not stressed out, you may not notice a difference in sleep quality. But WOW, I never realized how much stress actually interfered with my sleep until I took SerinAid® and go my first good nights sleep in years.
I still take it every night, now in the form of Singular Sport PS, and sometimes with my morning Caffeine/Theanine as well.
The Bottom Line On Phosphatidylserine
Research shows that Phosphatidylserine can optimize and maintain optimal brain function. It has also been proven to reduce stress (and Cortisol) and may improve exercise performance as well.
If you're like me, you may notice some improvements in other areas as well (such as sleep) which are the result of a better functioning brain and less stress (or both).
Just make sure you go with a clinically dosed Phosphatidylserine supplement from a reliable source.
Got Anything To Add About Phosphatidylserine? Comment Below...
Matt Theis is the Co-Founder and CEO of Momentum Nutrition. Among other things, he is chiefly responsible for product formulation and has spent years researching, testing, and developing supplements.