Could Phosphatidylcholine (PC) be the key to a sharp memory?

Key Takeaways: 

  • The deterioration of cell membranes can be attributed to memory loss
  • PC has been shown to support a healthy cell membrane, and in turn better brain functioning as we age*
  • PC serves as a reservoir for the choline needed to make the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine

Some captivating movies have been made about people whose memory loss takes them on curious meanderings. These episodes of amnesia, usually the result of some kind of physical, emotional or psychological trauma, are short-lived on the silver screen and almost always resolve themselves to a sigh of relief. In real life, memory loss can range from a mere annoyance or a serious impediment. Occasional forgetfulness, such as entering a room and wondering why you went there or misplacing your car keys for the second time today, becomes increasingly common with age. In most cases, that’s no cause for alarm, at least not unless it interferes with everyday activities.  

Memory loss can be caused by a litany of triggers. Medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, anti-anxiety medications, muscle relaxants, tranquilizers and pain medicines are a major cause of memory debilitation. Alcohol and drugs do the same, as may tobacco, which reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to the brain. Sleep deprivation, depression, stroke, head injury, and nutritional deficiency affect memory as well. The hormone imbalances that plague women near and at menopause wreak havoc on memory function in varying degrees. If you find that you are increasingly forgetful, you might want to talk with your doctor to determine the cause. Then you can pursue a line of treatment if one is deemed necessary. The efficacy of different treatments available will surprise you.  

Diseases and Memory Loss 

The two kinds of serious memory fault that people face are Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia, the latter distinguished from the former by sudden onset instigated by small strokes or changes in blood supply to the brain. In the former, memory loss begins slowly and worsens over time. Prevention, interruption of disease progress, and treatment are legitimate topics of discussion within the medical community.

Hippocampus and Memory Loss 

Besides being a mythological creature with a horse’s front hooves and the tail of a fish, the hippocampus is a major component of the brain that plays a vital role in the formation of memories, particularly moving them from short-term to long-term. It also serves as a guide for spatial memory, which is responsible for realizing one’s whereabouts and the relationship to them.  Learning, reasoning and comprehension develop from this point and work to process information gathered by the senses. The decline in memory associated with hippocampus dereliction accounts for the inability to retain newly acquired data. 

The Source of Memory Degradation 

Ever wonder why it seems Grandpa can only talk about the past? One condition that helps to explain this is the deterioration of cellular membranes—in this case, those of the neurons. If phosphatidylcholine (PC), the major structural and functional phospholipid of a cell membrane, is absent or in meager supply, noticeable memory shortfall will appear (Crespo, 2004)*. Long-term, sustained use of a PC supplement helps to prevent memory deficits that accompany old age (Teather, 2006)*.  

How Does Phosphatidylcholine Help Memory?

PC can also have a positive effect on some of the mechanisms involved in the manufacture of acetylcholine (a chemical found throughout the nervous system). Acetylcholine is liberated at nerve endings as a neurotransmitter, wherein it sends messages from one nerve cell to another and plays a prominent role in nervous system function by enhancing sensory perception. Alzheimer’s disease involves damage to the cells in the brain that manufacture acetylcholine. The damage to these all important cells also affects the manner of electrical movement across the synapse. Thus it influences the stages of memory function—encoding (making) of a memory, creation of a long-term memory from a short-term memory (consolidation), and recall (retrieval) of a memory. Acetylcholine has a more profound effect on encoding than on the other two actions. PC serves as a reservoir for the choline needed to make the neurotransmitter, so it doesn’t go directly to its manufacture. Instead, it goes directly to the maintenance and support of the cell membrane, thereby allowing the free travel of nutrients and energy into the cell and the passage of waste and debris out.  

Not all PC (Phosphatidylcholine) is Created Equal

PC may be extracted from egg yolks, but that contains an overload of saturated fat that encourages rancidity.  Commercial PC comes from soybeans instead. However, very few true phospholipid PC products are available. Most commercial phosphatidylcholine products consist of triple lecithin, getting the pseudo-PC designation because it contains PC as a major constituent, but at a fraction of the amount in true phosphatidylcholine. The remaining fraction includes ancillary fats and impedimentary nutrients that stop the authentic phospholipid from traveling past the digestive system. It never reaches the cell membranes and hence defeats the entire purpose of taking PC.  True phospholipid PC maintains its integrity as a liposome, allowing it to reach and take up residence in the cell membrane and therefore improve memory.

If you need further proof of the efficacy of PC, deficiencies as early as utero can lead to lifelong cognitive deficiencies.  The bottom line of PC intake entails DNA methylation, gene expression and changes in stem cell proliferation and differentiation (Zeisel, 2006)*.  Hippocampus development appears to depend on it*.  

If supplementation for cerebral support is in the near future, we need to understand choline is not the same thing as phosphatidylcholine.  Though held to be a required nutrient, choline, whether from an animal source, from greens, or otherwise, has been implicated in cardiovascular issues.  It is not a phospholipid and cannot restore, support and maintain the cell membrane, whose orderly function animates the whole person.