Creatine is no stranger in athletic circles, but the well established performance enhancer may do more than originally thought. Emerging research has revealed some new and exciting outcomes linked to creatine supplementation.
Creatine helps turn back the clock
Muscle mass and strength peak between the ages of 20 and 35 years and steadily decline thereafter until the sixth decade of life where a sharp decline occurs. This loss in muscle mass and function adversely affects normal activities of daily living, like getting up from a chair, for many older people. Can you offset these effects of aging or are they inevitable? Recent studies provide a strong case for creatine supplementation in promoting healthy aging.
Boosts strength in adults aged 58-71
After just 7 days of creatine supplementation (20g per day divided in 3 equal doses) or placebo, women between the ages of 58 and 71 years showed a remarkable improvement in several measures of muscular performance. Creatine supplementation led to significant increases of 3-4% in maximal bench press and leg press strength, upper and lower body power, and two functional performance tasks encountered during everyday life – a sit and stand test and a tandem gait test. These improvements in functional performance occurred despite no physical training during the 7-day period and no side effects were reported, highlighting the simple yet effective use of creatine to enhance physical performance in older individuals.
Increases lean muscle, age 65+
The ability of creatine supplementation to promote healthy aging is even more dramatic when combined with resistance training. Canadian researchers had older men and women over the age of 65 perform a supervised resistance training program (2 days/week) for 6 months while supplementing with either placebo or creatine (5g/day) plus conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (6g/day). The reason for including CLA was to promote improvements in body composition since creatine increases muscle mass and CLA targets fat loss. After 6 months, the creatine+CLA group had a two-fold greater increase in lean muscle mass (4.6 pounds) compared to placebo (2 pounds). Lean muscle mass was also increased more in the creatine plus CLA group (4.2 pounds) compared to placebo (-0.9 pounds). The greater muscle gains translated into improved functional performance in the creatine plus CLA group.
Healthy life span increases 9%
Using an animal model of aging, it was shown that creatine supplementation extended maximum life span by 3.5%. Even more impressive was the effect of creatine supplementation on “healthy” life span (defined as the age before animals were classified as suffering from disease) which significantly increased by 9%.
Creatine boosts long-term memory
Creatine is an important source of energy for cells in the brain that have high metabolic needs required for processes like working and long-term memory. Prior work using sophisticated analytical equipment like magnetic resonance spectroscopy has shown that creatine supplementation results in significant increases in creatine levels in the human brain. Following up on this work, British researchers supplemented older adults (average age 76 years) with placebo or creatine (20g/day) for one week. Subjects completed a battery of cognitive tests that assessed verbal and spatial short- and long-term memory. Creatine supplementation enhanced several of the tests including forward number recall, forward and backward spatial recall, and long-term memory. These findings add to other research indicating that creatine supplementation improves cognitive functioning.
Creatine & Parkinson’s Disease
Creatine shows promise for Parkinson’s Disease (PD), a neurodegenerative disease that is characterized by progressive loss of muscle mass and muscle strength as well as increasing muscle and joint pain. Several investigators have hypothesized that creatine supplementation would improve loss of muscle function and slow progression of the disease.
Two recent pilot studies showed promise for creatine supplementation (5g/day for the first week followed by 2-5g thereafter) in people with PD.[6,7] The extensive prior work with creatine and exciting preliminary findings showing benefits of creatine supplementation in people with neurodegenerative disorders has convinced the government to invest in funding large scale clinical trials on creatine supplementation.
In what is estimated to cost about $60 million, the National Institutes of Health will test the effects of dietary supplements on PD. The top supplement so far is creatine, and the NIH is gearing up to enroll 1,720 participants to receive either creatine or placebo. It is not quite clear how creatine might improve PD, but the disease is associated with mitochondrial dysfunction and creatine is known to have benefit on energetics in muscle that might help relieve symptoms and slow progression of PD.
Which form to buy & how to take it
The majority of research has studied creatine supplementation using the creatine monohydrate form. Although not as well studied, some of the other forms of creatine (phosphate, citrate, magnesium chelate, ethyl ester, etc.) will probably deliver adequate amounts of creatine to muscles, but it is unlikely they are superior to creatine monohydrate.
The most effective dose of creatine appears to be 15-20 grams per day separated into equal 5 gram servings over a 5 day period for a loading phase to maximize muscle creatine uptake. Thereafter, a single dose of 5 grams is adequate to maintain elevated muscle creatine levels.
Creatine builds muscle and brain power
Overwhelming evidence suggests creatine supplementation helps build bigger muscles in athletes and younger men and women. Recent work has extended these benefits to older men and women. Creatine supplementation not only enhances muscle mass and strength, but may improve activities of daily living, mental functioning, and neurodegenerative diseases like PD.
1. Gotshalk LA, Kraemer WJ, Mendonca MA, Vingren JL, Kenny AM, Spiering BA, Hatfield DL, Fragala MS, Volek JS. Creatine supplementation improves muscular performance in older women. Eur J Appl Physiol 2007.
2. Tarnopolsky M, Zimmer A, Paikin J, Safdar A, Aboud A, Pearce E, Roy B, Doherty T. Creatine monohydrate and conjugated linoleic Acid improve strength and body composition following resistance exercise in older adults. PLoS ONE 2007, 2(10):e991.
3. Bender A, Beckers J, Schneider I, Holter SM, Haack T, Ruthsatz T, Vogt-Weisenhorn DM, Becker L, Genius J, Rujescu D et al. Creatine improves health and survival of mice. Neurobiol Aging 2007.
4. Lyoo IK, Kong SW, Sung SM, Hirashima F, Parow A, Hennen J, Cohen BM, Renshaw PF. Multinuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy of high-energy phosphate metabolites in human brain following oral supplementation of creatine-monohydrate. Psychiatry Res 2003, 123(2):87-100.
5. McMorris T, Mielcarz G, Harris RC, Swain JP, Howard A. Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals. Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn 2007, 14(5):517-528.
6. Hass CJ, Collins MA, Juncos JL. Resistance training with creatine monohydrate improves upper-body strength in patients with Parkinson disease: a randomized trial. Neurorehabil Neural Repair 2007, 21(2):107-115.
7. Bender A, Koch W, Elstner M, Schombacher Y, Bender J, Moeschl M, Gekeler F, Muller-Myhsok B, Gasser T, Tatsch K et al. Creatine supplementation in Parkinson disease: a placebo-controlled randomized pilot trial. Neurology 2006, 67(7):1262-1264.
8. Couzin J. Clinical research. Testing a novel strategy against Parkinson's disease. Science 2007, 315(5820):1778.