Creatine has wide range of benefits
If you think taking creatine is just for athletes, think again. In 15 years of research, many other potential uses have been identified. Soon you might see Grandma and Grandpa taking daily doses of creatine.
Question: What is creatine?
Answer: It's a natural compound made in the body. Athletes in strength and power sports often take supplements in hopes of boosting performance.
Q: What does creatine do?
A: In muscle and nerve cells, creatine serves as a rapidly available but short-lasting source of energy. It is especially important for maintaining high-intensity muscle contractions and supporting brain energy needs under stressful conditions.
Q: How does it affect the brain?
A: Nerve cells have surprisingly high energy needs, and creatine plays an important role in meeting these needs, in the brain and elsewhere. Most people don't realize that when the body is at rest, the brain uses about 20 percent of the body's calories. This is amazing when you consider that the brain is only 2 percent of body weight. When brain function is limited by disease or aging, creatine could be even more important.
Q: If the body makes creatine, how can supplements provide benefits?
A: The amount of creatine that the body produces is limited, and foods containing creatine can only increase levels by a small amount. The main food sources are meats, poultry and fish. A 7- to 8-ounce portion of fish or red meat provides about 1 gram of creatine. In comparison, typical creatine supplement dosage is 5 grams per day. Vegetarian diets contain no creatine.
Q: Who might benefit most from creatine supplements?
A: Research is being conducted on animal models evaluating nerve and muscle diseases. Creatine might prove to benefit conditions such as Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. A human clinical trial studying creatine use in treating Parkinson's disease is under way.
There also is curiosity about healthy people taking creatine to reduce the effects of aging on muscle and the brain, but much remains to be learned. One interesting study found that young adult vegetarians had significantly improved short-term memory function after taking creatine for six weeks.
Creatine supplementation is unlikely to be a sure cure for any disease, but creatine could prove to help slow the progression of certain diseases and to enhance the effectiveness of some disease treatments.
Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S. are nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, University of Hawaii-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with University Health Services.