Phosphatidylserine (PS) is a compound that could become a key weapon in the battle against mental aging, perhaps helping to restore memory and learning capacity in older people. Phosphatidylserine is found on the surface of membranes in brain cells and synapses (the connections between nerve cells). Among the most important of its many effects is activation of protein-kinase C, an important enzyme whose brain levels are known to decline with age. It also stimulates the production of acetylcholine, a brain messenger chemical that helps regulate memory.

Scientists have been conducting animal experiments with phosphatidylserine since the mid-1970s. These tests show that the substance increased the availability of glucose in the brain, stimulated the production of a number of important brain chemicals (including protein-kinase C, acetylcholine and dopamine). More recent tests show that phosphatidylserine protected against stress-induced behavioral changes and improved learning and memory in old rats.

Perhaps the most eye-opening evidence regarding phosphatidylserine comes from studies of human patients with Alzheimer’s disease. In a 1988 Italian trial in which scientists gave phosphatidylserine to 70 Alzheimer’s patients for three months, the researchers found that memory improved in all patients, and the improvement was maintained three months after the drug was withdrawn. In a more recent American test at the National Institute of Mental Health, 150 otherwise healthy people who suffered from age-related memory impairment showed memory improvement of 15 to 20 percent, perhaps indicating that even healthy people can reap the restorative benefits of this drug. As further evidence, a previously unreported 1991 study by an international team of researchers showed that people who took the drug scored better on memory and concentration tests than people who didn’t. “The results,” concluded the study’s authors, “suggest that phosphatidylserine may be a promising candidate for treating memory loss later in life.”

No serious side effects have been noted. Phosphyatidylserine is often prescribed in Europe for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of cognitive impairment.

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