If that headline got your attention, it might be because you usually don’t hear about creatine beyond gains. That’s surprising, considering how much scientists are still learning about creatine. New research shows creatine isn’t just a muscle-building supplement – helps with overall health because of its effects on the heart, liver, bones, and brain.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a peptide molecule that the human body can use for energy.
Muscles need fuel to work. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is the primary source of energy for cells. ATP comes from a variety of sources, including sugars like glucose.
Some activities, like lifting weights, quickly use up ATP. Exhausted ATP becomes adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Since creatine is stored in the body as creatine phosphate, it can provide a phosphate group for the ADP, which quickly regenerates the ADP into emergency ATP.
Creatine is a good source of energy because it kicks in when your body needs it.
Where does creatine come from?
Though creatine is produced by the human body, supplementation can increase cellular creatine content, improve muscular performance, and is associated with a variety of health effects.
Meat has a high creatine content, particularly steak (5g of creatine per kg of uncooked beef), chicken (3.4g/kg), and rabbit (3.4g/kg). Eggs and fish are also good sources of creatine. Still, it’s very unlikely you’re eating enough meat to not want to supplement.
The recommended daily creatine dose is five grams. That’s about two pounds of beef, or three pounds of chicken a day. It takes a pound and a half of herring, the best fish source for creatine, to provide five grams of creatine.
It’s very difficult for vegetarians to get enough creatine from diet alone. Cranberries are commonly cited as a good source of creatine, but that’s only relative to other plants. Five hundred pounds of cranberries is equivalent to the standard five grams of creatine.
The effects of creatine outside the gym
Creatine supplementation isn’t just beneficial for getting a few more reps under the bar. The latest research shows it can have a positive effect in a lot of places. Lets look at some of them:
Studies show that creatine supplementation improves the effects of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a kind of antidepressant.
Creatine’s ability to provide emergency ATP also protects neurons. Neurons have a greater chance of resisting the damaging effects of toxins if they have a source of energy, which is why creatine is being investigated for its potential to fight Parkinson’s disease.
Creatine may improve the effects of antidepressants and might be able to help fight Parkinson’s disease.
People with type II diabetes have to monitor their fasting blood glucose. High levels of blood glucose are associated with the nerve, eye, and kidney damage caused by diabetes. Creatine doesn’t reduce fasting blood glucose, but it can improve the effects of exercise on circulating blood glucose.
Creatine activates a protein called AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK), which increases the rate at which cells take in glucose and fatty acids from the blood. Creatine supplementation results in muscles drawing up more glucose during exercise.
Other antidiabetic therapies like Metformin and berberine also target AMPK. Creatine’s effect on blood sugar is less potent than these medicines.
Working out after creatine supplementation doesn’t just help you build muscle. Creatine increases the rate at which muscles take up glucose from the blood, which is beneficial for people with type II diabetes.
Creatine can even improve memory formation and retention. Vegetarians and vegans supplementing creatine will experience the most benefits to cognition, since people who avoid meat tend to be relatively creatine deficient.
A complete creatine deficiency is actually a genetic disorder, which results in mental retardation.
Creatine doesn’t reliably increase cognition when supplemented by omnivores, but it has been associated with improved reaction speed. Sleep-deprived omnivores may also experience benefits to cognition after creatine supplementation.
People that seldom get creatine through their diet, like vegetarians and vegans, can supplement creatine to improve memory formation and retention. Omnivores supplementing creatine don’t always experience this effect.
These health benefits are just the tip of the iceberg. Research on creatine continues because it affects everything that goes on in your body. Creatine supplementation is safe, effective, and cheap, making it worthwhile to take every day.