Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a naturally occurring phospholipid that is located within the internal layer of the cell membrane and plays various distinctive roles [1].  If you’re familiar with PS, then you know it is commonly marketed as a “mental health” supplement… oh but it is so much more…

Although the FDA finds the evidence insufficient [4], various studies have shown PS to improve memory and other cognitive functions against age-related mental illness [2,3].

What is much more intriguing about Phosphatidylserine is that supplementation has been shown to elevate mood, improve focus, reduce stress, improve athletic performance, and speed up recovery.

Phosphatidylserine may reduce mental stress and enhance your mood

PS derived from cow brains has been shown to reduce the cortisol response to physical stress in early studies.  More recent studies investigated whether soy-lecithin-phosphatidylserine could enhance mood, reduce mental stress, and affect heart rate.

Benton and his team were the first to investigate in a controlled environment whether PS had any impact on stress and mood in young adults suffering from neurotic disorder, and published their findings in 2001.  PS supplementation of 300mg per day for a month was observed to be associated with a better mood and significantly reduced feelings of stress [5].

A few years later, Hellhammer and his team divided 80 subjects into four groups of 20.  For three weeks each group was treated with daily doses of either 400mg phosphatidylserine complex (PAS), 600mg PAS, 800mg PAS, or a placebo.  Subjects were then exposed to a social stress test.  Interestingly, the 400mg group experienced a significant reduction of cortisol and other stress markers when compared with the placebo group, while the larger dose groups did not [6]!

Ralf Jäger et al. published in 2007 results from a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study performed to evaluate golf accuracy in healthy young golfers with handicaps of 15 - 40, following phosphatidylserine supplementation.  Perceived stress, heart rate, and ball flight accuracy were assessed two times, separated by a 42-day 200mg PS supplementation period.  The placebo group experienced no change in perceived stress and accuracy, while the PS group reported about a 25% decrease in stress, and experienced a near 20% increase in the number of good ball flights [7].

1550-2783-4-23-2

1550-2783-4-23-3


Phosphatidylserine may increase physical performance, stamina, and recovery

PS has also been studied for its ability to improve athletic ability as well as assist with resistance-training performance, recovery, and progression.  Exercise-induced stress leads to an excessive cortisol response, which is linked to a “negative training state,” known as overreaching or overtraining [8].

Early stages of overtraining results in muscles becoming too sore, an elevated heart rate, and decreased testosterone, but with a few days of rest the body tends to recover.  More long-term overtraining can result in much more adverse effects, such as decreased performance, injury, a weaker immune system, and even clinical depression [9].

Leave it to Ralf Jäger and his team to publish an extensive review on PS supplementation in sports in 2007.  Their findings validated PS to be an effective supplement for speeding up recovery time, preventing muscle soreness, improving overall well-being, and even enhancing physical performance and stamina [10].

One of the more recent studies Jäger referenced was done by Kingsley et al., and published in 2006.  It was a double-blind placebo-controlled experiment that examined what would happen to active males during cycling, following a 10-day 750mg PS supplementation.   Results showed a massive increase (30% average) of exercise time to exhaustion in the PS group while the placebo group did not experience a change.  Contrary to other reports, however, they did not observe, in either group, any change for cortisol levels, perceived feelings, and other overtraining markers [11].  A year earlier, this same group ran a very similar trial, except this time with sprints, and found the same ergogenic results from PS supplementation [12].

1550-2783-4-5-9 copyThese more recent trials showed no effects on cortisol and other muscle-recovery markers after 10-14 days of PS supplementation, but earlier studies in the 1990’s did. Those earlier studies were different in that they were using doses of 800mg, and lower exercise intensity - however they also observed no effect from doses at 400mg daily [10, 13, 14].  All this information suggests that there is a dose and exercise-intensity dependent effect on cortisol levels and muscle recovery.



With respect to moderate intensity exercise, Michael A. Starks, Stacy L. Starks, Kingsley, Jäger, and others all teamed up to see what happens to cortisol, lactate, growth hormone, and testosterone, following 10 days of 600mg PS supplementation.  They published their findings in 2008 [1]:

-          Significant decrease in blood cortisol levels for the PS group

-          No difference in lactate response for the PS group

-          Statistically insignificant increase in growth hormone and testosterone for the PS group

-          Significant increase to testosterone:cortisol ratio for the PS group

-          When compared to the placebo group, following an Area Under Curve (AUC) analysis, a huge decrease in cortisol and a huge increase in testosterone were observed for the PS group

1550-2783-5-11-1

1550-2783-5-11-2


Conclusions, Safety, and Dosing

First and foremost, phosphatidylserine has really not been studied for more than 6 months in trials with humans.  600mg daily of soy-derived PS supplementation has not been observed to produce any kind of negative consequences for up to 12 weeks [15].  The FDA concludes that soy-derived PS is “safe and lawful under 21 C.F.R. § 101.14 [4].”

Based on available data:

  1. Low doses of 200mg – 400mg daily supplementation of PS may result in reduced stress/cortisol, enhanced mood, and even higher levels of growth hormone.  The same was not observed for doses above 400mg.  This has to be investigated much more thoroughly.  Further, no impact on athletic performance, recovery, or stamina has been observed.
  2. Moderate dosing of around 600mg – 750mg daily is very strongly associated with increased stamina (i.e. longer sprints) and overall training performance.  Recovery from moderate exercise seems to improve, but not from very intense overtraining/overreaching.
  3. Daily dosing of up to 800mg daily is seemingly safe.

Currently, PS is fairly expensive and more studies clearly need to be done in order to find out how to optimally use this supplement. At the moment, seems that you would need to choose between using it as a better mood supplement, or instead for enhanced exercise stamina. Given this choice, cortisol reduction would seemingly be dependent on exercise intensity.



References:

1. The effects of phosphatidylserine on endocrine response to moderate intensity exercise [Pubmed Link]
2. Effects of phosphatidylserine in Alzheimer's disease [Pubmed Link]
3. Effects of phosphatidylserine in age-associated memory impairment [Pubmed Link]
4. Phosphatidylserine and Cognitive Dysfunction and Dementia (Qualified Health Claim: Final Decision Letter) [FDA Link]
5. The influence of phosphatidylserine supplementation on mood and heart rate when faced with an acute stressor [Pubmed Link]
6. Effects of soy lecithin phosphatidic acid and phosphatidylserine complex (PAS) on the endocrine and psychological responses to mental stress [Pubmed Link]
7. The effect of phosphatidylserine on golf performance [Pubmed Link]
8. Overtraining in elite athletes. Review and directions for the future [Pubmed Link]
9. Resistance exercise overtraining and overreaching. Neuroendocrine responses [Pubmed Link]
10. Phospholipids and sports performance [Pubmed Link]
11. Effects of phosphatidylserine on exercise capacity during cycling in active males [Pubmed Link]
12. Effects of phosphatidylserine on oxidative stress following intermittent running [Pubmed Link]
13. Blunting by chronic phosphatidylserine administration of the stress-induced activation of the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis in healthy men [Pubmed Link]
14. Stress and the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal axis: acute, chronic and immunological activation [Pubmed Link]
15. Safety of soy-derived phosphatidylserine in elderly peoplee [Pubmed Link]