What is Phosphatidylserine?

Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid with widespread functions in the body. Its large phospholipid molecule is linked to an amino acid diglyceride via a phosphate molecule. It is part of the cell structure and is critical for maintaining cellular function, especially in the brain. Phosphatidylserine is found in high concentrations in cells with high metabolic activity such as those in cardiac, hepatic, and skeletal tissue.

The body can make phosphatidylserine on its own, but for supplementation purpose, the products are obtained from cabbage and soy (mostly). Initially, phosphatidylserine supplements were made from cow brain, but a change was necessary as there was overwhelming concern that products made from animal sources may cause infections such as mad cow disease. (1)

How Does it Work?

As an amino acid derivative with a phospholipid group, phosphatidylserine is fat soluble and hence can be transported to most tissues including the brain. Once in the cells, phosphatidylserine is involved in a number of membrane-related functions. Some of the tasks include cell signaling, regulation of hormones, and response to inflammations. In the brain specifically, phosphatidylserine plays a role in cell communication and control of neurotransmitter secretion (dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine). (2)

In the skeletal tissue where it is of more interest to the athlete, it has an effect on cortisol production after exercise. Chronically elevated levels of cortisol are associated with immune suppression and tissue breakdown- which is never a good thing for any bodybuilder. Moreover, when phosphatidylserine is bound to phosphatidylserine receptors, it signals myoblastic fusion, which has implications on muscle development and repair. (3)

Why Take Phosphatidylserine?

3.1 Reduces Cortisol

Cortisol is a hormone that is mainly released in times of stress. It is secreted by the adrenal gland, an organ that sits on top of each kidney. When released into the bloodstream, it helps the body respond to stress or danger, increases metabolism of glucose, inflammatory responses and assists with memory formulation. (4) Cortisol is therefore very important during fight or flight responses and perceived threats.

Having the right amounts of cortisol is critical, as it is essential for human survival. Cortisol levels should remain low all day long and at night just when one is about to fall asleep. In the morning hours, they spike in order to boost energy levels that are needed throughout the day. If the levels remain consistently high (when the stress response is continuously triggered), these levels not only throw off the sleep cycle but also promote weight gain, anxiety, depression, and constant fatigue. (5)

Some of the highest surges occur during and after exercise, and therefore, endurance athletes are exposed to more cortisol than other people. The short bursts may not look like they can really damage anything, but they contribute to long-term cortisol exposure. What results are counterproductive effects of the accumulation of body fat, constant fatigue, sleep disturbances and mental fogginess. This myriad of unpleasant effects is most often due to adrenal fatigue. (6)

Taking phosphatidylserine regularly regulates the amount of cortisol present and neutralizes it when in excess, making it a perfect stress fighter. In lowering cortisol, phosphatidylserine works by creating a neurotransmitter function that helps maintain the integrity of the cellular structure and plasticity of neurons. Basically, what it does is to tell the brain to protect healthy neurons by getting rid of extra cortisol. (7)

When cortisol is balanced, the adrenal gland cells get time to rest, recover and normalize. The overall effect is that one feels energetic, less fatigued, calm, and falling asleep becomes easy.

3.2 Muscle Recovery and Endurance

Phosphatidylserine is not only useful in combating exercise-induced stress by lowering cortisol, but it also prevents physiological deterioration that accompanies heavy training. During early days of overtraining, muscles become sore, the submaximal and resting heart rates increase, and testosterone levels fall. The body gets difficulties with adjusting, but in few days when given time to recover, everything goes back to normal. However, for chronic overtraining, that is not the case.

There is usually a disturbance in anabolic-catabolic balance which is manifested as decreased performance, injury, lowered immunity and psychological depression. Phosphatidylserine possesses the ability to speed up recovery, improve well being and even has ergogenic effect in cycling, weight trainers, and endurance runners. (8)

In a double-blind, placebo-controlled and crossover study (9) published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, ten healthy male subjects were given 600mg phosphatidylserine for ten days. The participants were then subjected to a 15-minute moderate intensity exercise protocol.

Serial venous blood samples were then taken at rest and assessed for cortisol, growth hormone, testosterone, and lactate. For the placebo group, there was no effect on these parameters. For those who received phosphatidylserine, there was blunting of lactate and cortisol while testosterone was slightly elevated. All these factors promote muscle recovery and regeneration.

3.3 Improves sleep

Phosphatidylserine provides relief from sleep issues through regulation of chemical causes of mental and physical stress. Higher levels are conducive for a relaxed and peaceful state of mind without uncontrollable spikes of hormones that accompany insomnia. Insomnia in physically active individuals is not a new thing as it is potentiated by anxiety, overtraining, competitions and not to forget the ever-demanding schedules. When the body detects all these stressors, it instructs the glands to secrete stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine.

To prove the effectiveness of phosphatidylserine in improving sleep quality, researchers from the University of Tsukuba, Japan, administered it to study participants who were dissatisfied with their sleep. The supplement was given 30 minutes before sleep, and at the end of the study, they reported improvement in sleep initiation time, sleep maintenance and reduced number of awakenings. (10)

Suggested Dosage, Synergies & Administration of Phosphatidylserine

Most people consume on average, 75 to 185 mg of phosphatidylserine daily in their regular diet. Although this is enough for meeting dietary requirements, most of the benefits above can only be reached through supplementation. A standard dosage of phosphatidylserine is 100mg, taken three times daily, to make a total of 300mg. This dosage is useful for preventing cognitive decline. (15) For lowering cortisol in response to intensive resistance training, doses of up to 800mg are more effective. Doses from 300mg to 750mg significantly reduce creatinine levels and increase the time to exhaustion. (16) Therefore, for athletes focusing on reducing cortisol levels, improving endurance and promoting recovery, doses between 600 and 800mg daily, are appropriate.

These doses may be taken as split doses throughout the day, and can also be consumed once per day. For improving sleep, phosphatidylserine is best taken 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. To protect muscles from damage and increase endurance, it can be taken as a pre or post-workout. Because phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid, consuming it alongside fats significantly helps with absorption.

Phosphatidylserine is considered safe when taken orally, in appropriate doses. Study participants have used the supplement for up to six months with no negative experiences. However, some people may experience some abdominal discomfort side effects. These effects are infrequent and are mostly experienced with doses above 300mg.   

Final Thoughts on Phosphatidylserine

Phosphatidylserine is one nutritional supplement that is becoming widely accepted both in the athletic world and general population.

It is a fat-soluble phospholipid found in all single cell membranes with higher concentrations in the brain.

It can be synthesized in the body, consumed through food sources and can also be taken as a supplement.

Dietary sources include mackerel, tuna, cod, egg yolks, organ meat (beef and chicken liver to be precise), bovine brain, soy and white beans.

Phosphatidylserine functions by regulating the entry of substances (primarily nutrients, water, and oxygen) and removal of metabolic waste from the cells. In the brain, it also takes part in cell signaling and communication between neurons.

The most renowned benefits of phosphatidylserine include lowering cortisol levels, promoting muscle recovery and endurance, improving sleep and focus, and reducing anxiety.

For athletes, the most effective doses are between 300mg and 800mg daily.