A common natural food supplement sold in pharmacies and health stores has been shown to improve the functioning of genes involved in Parkinson’s disease and other degenerative brain disorders such as familial dysautonomia (FD).
The supplement — phosphatidylserine, derived from beef, oysters, and soy — is a popular treatment for older people for memory loss, and has been shown to improve cognition and the ability to remember.
In new research involving people with FD — a rare genetic disorder that impacts the nervous system and appears almost exclusively in the Ashkenazi Jewish population — Tel Aviv University scientists found the supplement improved the genetic function of cells taken from FD patients. A second experiment found mice with FD treated with phosphatidylserine had marked improvements.
"That we see such an effect on the brain — the most important organ in relation to this disease — shows that the supplement can pass through the blood-brain barrier even when administered orally, and accumulate in sufficient amounts in the brain," said Gil Ast, who helped conduct the research published in in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.
In FD, a genetic mutation prevents the brain from manufacturing healthy proteins that play a role in cell migration and strengthen connections between nerves — leading to the early degeneration of brain cells. But the Tel Aviv experiments showed the supplement boosted the levels of those proteins and improved the overall genetic functions of cells tested.
"We found a significant increase of the protein in all the tissues of the body," said Ast, including an eight-fold increase in the liver and 1.5-fold increase in the brain. "While the food supplement does not manufacture new nerve cells, it probably delays the death of existing ones."
In addition, the researchers say the supplement altered the level of a total of 2,400 other genes — hundreds of which have been connected to Parkinson's disease in previous studies.
The supplement is already approved for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
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