How could I have forgotten the name of the play I saw just last night?! Randi Levine Miller scolded herself. She was so embarrassed: A year and a half earlier, she’d begun noticing that her memory was not as razor sharp as it had once been, but lately, it seemed to be getting worse. Words didn’t come as quickly as she felt they should, and more and more, she was forgetting to stay on topic during conversation and had difficulty focusing.
What if these aren’t just senior moments? she feared, worried that her memory lapses were a sign of some sort of serious cognitive decline. Hoping to preserve her brainpower, she began taking ginkgo biloba, which she’d read could help, but it didn’t seem to work.
Soon, Randi found herself longing for the days when her nickname among friends had been “Rain Woman” after Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie Rain Man, who was known for a steel-trap memory. But after an embarrassing incident when she went to visit a neighbor with her beloved dog, Hamlisch, Randi became seriously concerned. As she was walking home, Randi heard her neighbor call to her and turned to see her neighbor chasing her down the block…with Hamlisch in tow. “I can’t believe I forgot him!” Randi sputtered, her anxiety swelling. I have to do something, she thought as she sped home, ready to consult a neurologist. But suddenly, a book she’d read years earlier sprang to mind — and held the key that would make all the difference.
What is phosphatidylserine?
Back in the 1990s, Randi had read a book called The Memory Cure by Thomas H. Crook and Brenda Adderly (Buy on Amazon, $6.36), which discussed the role of phosphatidylserine (PS) in enhancing memory.
Researching it further, Randi discovered that phosphatidylserine is a fatty substance called a phospholipid, which covers and protects brain cells and carries messages between them. PS plays an important role in keeping the memory sharp, but it decreases with age. Luckily, Randi also found multiple studies showing people who took PS supplements scored higher on memory, mood, and concentration tests and had faster and more consistent recall.
It can’t hurt to try! Randi thought, and she began taking one phosphatidylserine capsule (Buy on Amazon, $19.95) daily. Within a couple of weeks, words and names were coming more easily for Randi, but she had even more dramatic results in her long-term memory. For years, she’d been trying to remember the name of her mother’s first husband so she could contact his family. Recently, his name miraculously popped into her head, allowing her to track down his children and learn precious information about her mom’s background. “My memory lit up like a Christmas tree!” the now-72-year-old says with a smile. “My memory is better than ever! PS has been a life-changer. And best of all, I don’t forget my dog anymore!”
How does it work?
Phosphatidylserine is a type of fat that’s a key component of cell membranes, but it’s most abundant in brain cells, says psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD. “PS increases acetylcholine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that help reduce risk of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease,” he asserts, adding that acetylcholine improves function in the hippocampus, the part of the brain that absorbs and retains new information, while norepinephrine increases brain activity to enhance memory retrieval and focus. “But as we age, PS levels drop, interfering with the process that helps us store memories.”
The good news: you can boost PS levels naturally by eating foods rich in the compound, like fish, soy, cabbage, and white beans. And British researchers found that supplementing with 200 milligrams of PS daily significantly enhances memory. Dr. Amen says there are no known long-term side effects of taking PS, but always check with your doctor before supplementing.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.