Spotlight on Phosphatidylserine and Phosphatidylethanolamine
Phospholipids, including phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethanolamine, sound like scary toxic chemicals, but every single cell in your body requires phospholipids to function. Phospholipids are present in nearly all food too, so you eat them daily!
Decades of medical research also show supplementation with phospholipids could offer several significant health benefits.
This is part 1 of a series of fascinating blogs about phospholipids, so let’s dive in to learn more about the benefits and safety of phospholipids!
What are phospholipids?
A phospholipid is a type of lipid or fat that forms the fundamental structural matrix of all cell membranes in your body. This cell membrane structural matrix is known as the phospholipid bilayer, and phospholipids are essential for the function of all cells.1
Yes, every cell in your body requires and is surrounded by fat!
Some nerve cells, or neurons, are wrapped in many layers of Schwann cells that form a myelin sheath. Therefore, neurons can require hundreds or even thousands of layers of phospholipids to function.2
The tiny organelles in cells also have membranes composed of phospholipids. For example, up to 95% of a mitochondrial membrane could be made of phospholipids.3 Mitochondria are the crucial organelles in your cells that produce your cellular energy.
What do phospholipids do?
In addition to being essential for the structure and stability of every cell membrane in your body, phospholipids play a role in cellular communication and are a source of energy for many critical processes in your body. The insulating layers of phospholipids that surround your neurons are required for the nerves to send and receive signals.4 Indeed, the presence and optimal function of phospholipids is vital for life.
Fun fact –
The fats present in your cell membranes change based on the type of fat in your diet, so it is important to eat, digest, and absorb plenty of healthy fats every day!5
What are phospholipids made of?
Phosphatidylserine (PS) and Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) are two phospholipids found in the cell membranes in your body. The structure of PS consists of a phosphorylated serine head group, a glycerol backbone, and two fatty acid tails. Phosphorylated serine is also known as phosphoserine.1,6
PE includes a phosphorylated ethanolamine head group, a glycerol backbone, and two fatty acid tails. Phosphorylated ethanolamine is also known as phosphoethanolamine.6
Here is a picture of Phosphatidylethanolamine:
Are phospholipids safe?
Lecithin is primarily made of phospholipids and is derived from many foods, including soy, eggs, and sunflower seeds. Phosphatidylcholine, phosphatidylinositol, phosphatidylserine, and phosphatidylethanolamine are some of the phospholipids present in lecithin.7,8 Lecithin is the most common source of supplemental phospholipids and has been granted “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” status by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).8,9 So, yes – phospholipids are considered safe and are present in most food.
What is phosphatidylserine?
Phosphatidylserine (PS) is an essential phospholipid. Up to 10% of the phospholipid content present in your cell membranes is phosphatidylserine, and PS is necessary for proper cell-to-cell recognition and communication. PS is known to enhance cellular metabolism and the transfer of biochemical messages by regulating the function of membrane proteins and influencing the fluidity of the cell membrane. PS regulates cell receptors, enzymes, ion channels, and signaling molecules to directly affect the function of your hormones and intellectual abilities.1
PS is most concentrated in the cells of your organs that have high metabolic demand, including your brain, heart, lungs, liver, and skeletal muscles.1
PS is also a dietary nutrient found in high concentrations in fish, meat, and egg yolks. Smaller amounts of PS are present in many other common foods. The average daily PS intake from a Western diet is estimated to be approximately 130 mg, but a diet high in animal foods provides roughly 180 mg PS, while a vegetarian diet only supplies around 50 mg PS per day.1
What does phosphatidylserine do?
Results of numerous clinical trials indicate that supplemental phosphatidylserine (PS) provides metabolic support for cognitive functions that tend to decline with age, including memory, learning, language skills, concentration, reasoning, and decision making. Indeed, PS is the only dietary supplement that boasts FDA-qualified health claims for reducing the risk of cognitive dysfunction and dementia.1
According to medical research, supplemental PS also enhances mood, immunity, and the capacity to cope with stress. Many consider supplementing with PS to modulate aspects of the stress response and improve stress adaptation, especially those with circadian rhythm disorders.1
One clinical trial determined a supplement with a combination of PS, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants was effective at improving mood, balancing high cortisol levels, and normalizing the daily circadian rhythm in a subset of elderly patients with major depression. Additional clinical studies in middle-aged and younger adults note similar benefits of supplemental PS in reducing perceived stress and optimizing the cortisol response during demanding mental tasks.1
Several additional clinical trials confirm supplemental PS modulates the stress response during strenuous exercise training. In an early study, bovine-derived PS effectively blunted the rise of cortisol in response to strenuous exercise in healthy young men. Likewise, a soy-derived PS supplement decreased the cortisol response to intensive resistance training by 20 percent, reduced muscle soreness, and improved the perception of well-being in young male athletes participating in intensive exercise training.1
Another recent study confirmed and elaborated on these results, finding that soy-derived PS lowers resting cortisol levels before exercise, reduces overall cortisol output during physical activity, and increases the testosterone to cortisol ratio after exercise. So, supplementation with PS may improve exercise capacity, antioxidant protection, cognitive function, hormone balance, and overall performance related to athletic training.1
Overall, phosphatidylserine supplements appear to effectively improve memory, support adaptability to stress, moderate the perception of stress load, and enhance actual performance and recovery in a variety of stressful situations, including intensive exercise training and demanding mental and emotional tasks.1
Is phosphatidylserine safe?
Yes. According to the FDA, phosphatidylserine (PS) is “generally recognized as safe (GRAS).” The FDA granted GRAS status to PS many years ago.10,11
Toxicity-related studies on phosphatidylserine were included in the FDA GRAS notice to support the safety of PS. The FDA panel of experts concluded these studies were suitable to firmly establish the safety of phosphatidylserine.10,11
What is phosphatidylethanolamine?
Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) is the second most abundant phospholipid in your cells and comprises approximately 15–25% of the total lipid content of the cell membrane.12 PE is an important nutrient that is present in most foods, including eggs, wheat, nuts, and flaxseeds.13-16
What does phosphatidylethanolamine do?
Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) has many diverse cellular functions and is a precursor for other critical phospholipids, including phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylserine.17 Additionally, PE assists in the production and folding of proteins, powers the activity of several of the cellular respiratory complexes that produce energy, supports optimal membrane topology and dynamics, promotes cell and organelle membrane fusion, facilitates mitochondrial biogenesis, and plays a key role in the initiation of cell autophagy.12,18 Cellular autophagy is a vital process that allows the body to “clear out” any damaged cells or cellular components.19
Is phosphatidylethanolamine safe?
Phosphatidylethanolamine (PE) is a component of and derived from lecithin, which is “generally recognized as safe (GRAS)” by the FDA.9
Phosphatidylethanolamine is essential for life, and if impairments in the pathways that produce PE are present, life is not possible. Even slight impairments in the pathways that result in a change in the PE levels in the body are associated with Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. Also, an abnormal phosphatidylcholine to phosphatidylethanolamine ratio in the liver could be a contributing factor to liver disease and affect sugar metabolism.12
So, phosphatidylethanolamine is not only safe but required for a healthy life!
Now you know phospholipids, including phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylethanolamine, are required by every single cell in your body and present in nearly all foods. Phospholipids are very safe and essential for a happy, healthy, and active life.
Stay tuned for part 2 of our blog series, where we will discuss the components of phosphatidylserine in more detail!
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