Scientists from Tel Aviv University say a nutritional supplement commonly sold in health food stores — produced from beef, seafood or soy – can delay the advance of degenerative brain disorders.

PhosphatidylSerine is already known as an effective therapeutic agent in treating memory deficit disorders and for improving brain functions. The Israeli researchers — Dr. Ron Buchner and Prof. Gil Ast of TAU’s Department of Human Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry – have now discovered that the supplement also improves the function of genes involved in disorders such as familial dysautonomia Parkinson’s disease.

Familial dysautonomia is inherited and is seen almost exclusively in Ashkenazi Jews. The brain does not manufacture the essential IKAP protein in victims of the disease.

The scientists found that when they added the supplement to cells taken from people with familial dysautonomia, the functioning of the gene improved and proper levels of the IKAP protein were produced.

“We found a significant increase both in the protein and in the proper translation of the gene that causes the disease, in all the tissues in the body, eight times more in the liver and 1.5 times more in the brain,” Ast told Haaretz. “While the food supplement does not manufacture new nerve cells, it delays the death of existing ones. The fact that the improvement was also found in the brain is particularly significant, because most of the chemicals we take as medications enter the blood stream and reach most of the body but normally do not pass through the barrier to the brain.

“The findings are very encouraging, and give us a reason to believe that phosphatidylserine can have a beneficial effect on a variety of degenerative diseases of the brain, including Parkinson’s,” Ast said.

The findings were published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.