Omega-3 DHA and Phosphatidylserine: Two Are Better Than One

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

October 24, 2018

Omega-3 DHA and Phosphatidylserine: Two Are Better Than One
Omega 3 fish oil (DHA) and phosphatidylserine (PS) are two types of fat great for brain function, structure and health. They are essential components of cell membranes and support electrical function, mitochondrial activity, and receptor site activity in the brain. Both fats have separate duties, but when they are taken together, it becomes “two are better than one” for cognitive function, healthy brain aging, and stress tolerance.

DHA and PS Help Stress Tolerance

A recent research study reflects the ability of DHA and PS to help stress management. In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, men ages 30-60 years were measured for stress levels. The men were either given a placebo or a combination of phosphatidylserine and omega-3 fish oil for a period of 12 weeks.

Results were analyzed and were based on responses with the amount of stress and hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis function. The best outcomes for brain support were found in men who had the greatest level of chronic high stress. The combination of the omega-3 and PS helped bring homeostasis back to the HPA axis.

Phosphatidylserine – A Powerhouse Phospholipid

Phosphatidylserine is the primary, most abundant negatively charged phospholipid of inner nerve cell membranes. (Each phospholipid consists of two fatty acids, a phosphate group, and a glycerol molecule which is the main component of the cell membrane.) Phosphatidylserine is vital to the function and release of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, dopamine, and noradrenaline. Phosphatidylserine activates protein kinases which are signals used for memory and learning activities in the brain.

Phosphatidylserine helps support nerve stability, function, memory, and healthy aging in daily function including the hippocampus or memory center of the brain. Phosphatidylserine also supports the brain and mood with season changes and the winter blues. It is vital to nerve cell structure and function and other cells depend upon it too. Phosphatidylserine is easily absorbed and able to cross the blood brain barrier.

Omega-3 DHA – Building Blocks for the Brain

Omega-3 oils, especially DHA, are essential to both white and gray matter structure and volume in the brain. High amounts of DHA are critical for executive functions and are especially needed by the temporal (language comprehension, visual memory, emotion association), parietal lobes (language processing, spatial sense and navigation, sense of touch), and limbic system (emotion, behavior, motivation, long-term memory, and olfaction/smell) of the brain.

Omega-3 DHA oil also helps the function of brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF needed for daily nerve tissue repair. Research shows that intake of 2.2 grams per day of omega-3 fish oil in adults 50-75 years old for 26 weeks positively helped a healthy aging brain.

DHA and Phosphatidylserine Team Effect

High levels of brain omega-3 DHA helps phosphatidylserine (PS) build-up and expand in the nerve membranes. We need adequate amounts of DHA in the brain in order for PS to do its best job. Alcohol, oxidative stress, traumatic brain injuries, vegan diets or modern, nutrient poor diets, and aging increase the need for these essential brain fats.


DHA is an essential fatty acid, which means that we must obtain it in the diet every day. Food content of DHA is often limited in modern diets. Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and other cold-water fatty fish provide the best food sources. Algae, eggs from grass-fed, free-range chickens also provide small quantities of DHA and EPA. Plant-based omega-3 oils that contain alpha-linoleic acid (flax, walnut, soybean, and canola) can be converted to omega-3 but it is an inefficient process and often fails to provide adequate amounts.

Other tissues in the body need DHA besides the cell membranes. This includes the retina (still part of the brain) and sperm cells, heart, lungs, blood vessels, immune system, and endocrine system. Adult omega-3 recommended intake is 1000-2000 mg per day for basic health needs.


Phosphatidylserine is primarily found in meat and fish. Very small amounts of it are found in white beans and soy lecithin. Chicken heart contains 414 mg per 100 grams, chicken leg with skin and without bone 134 mg per 100 grams, Atlantic cod 28 mg per 100 grams. Supplement doses often range from 100-900 mg per day.

Anything that we can do to help make our brain more stress resilient and tolerant is essential for healthy aging. We may not be able to avoid life demands and crises. However, we can ensure that we provide our brain critical fats necessary for function and to give it the best possible nutrition through growth and maturity.

The brain is a fatty organ. Its function depends on omega-3 oils like DHA and phospholipids like phosphatidylserine. Just like stress “eats up” B vitamins and magnesium, stress demands also increases the need for DHA and PS.

Dietary DHA and PS intake supports healthy mood, focus, cognitive skills, memory, and stress. This makes them a powerhouse duo for the brain. Adequate daily intake of omega -3 DHA and phosphatidylserine (PS) allows the brain electrical pathways and communication systems to optimally run. Just like highway systems and roads need to be in good shape for traffic to run smoothly, your brain needs DHA and PS for its traffic management!

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