Creatine: the Supplement That Has Withstood the Test of Time
Very few supplements in both worlds of sports and nootropics (smart pills) have been studied and researched as extensively as creatine. It first appeared on the radar screen in the early 1990s and has proven itself ever since.
Countless research studies have shown that creatine is not only one of the best natural compounds ever introduced to the bodybuilding community, but it has also stood the test of time that very few other supplements have.
Many other products have come and gone, but creatine has shown it has staying power, getting better and better, and continuing to provide real-world results. Here are some of the powerful, useful benefits creatine delivers:
Effects of Creatine On Growth Hormone (GH)
A comparative cross-sectional study suggests creatine can raise growth hormone levels to be equal to that of intense exercise. Growth hormone (GH) is known to play an essential role in the regulation of body fat levels, immunity, muscle mass, wound healing, bone mass and thousands of other functions both known and yet unknown.
It has been proven that GH levels steadily decline as we age and is widely responsible for the steady loss of muscle mass, dry, scaly, inelastic skin, weakened immune system, increased joint aches and pains, loss of libido and erectile dysfunction (ED) and many other physical changes that make up the parade of horrors taking place in the aging human body.
Therefore, the possible effects of creatine on GH is worth exploring in aging populations.
One study found creatine could mimic the increased GH levels seen after intense exercise. In this comparative cross-sectional study, researchers gave six healthy male subjects 20 grams of creatine in a single dose at resting (non-exercising) conditions.
The study found that all subjects showed a “significant” increase of GH in the blood during the six-hour period after creatine ingestion. However, the study also found “a significant inter-individual variability in the GH response.” That is, there was a wide variety of responses among individuals in the levels of GH achieved after taking creatine.
For the majority of subjects, the maximum GH concentration occurred between two and six hours after ingesting creatine. The researchers concluded that “In resting conditions and at high dosages creatine enhances GH secretion, mimicking the response of strong exercise which also stimulates GH secretion.”
These researchers felt that the effects of creatine on GH could be seen as one of creatine’s anabolic properties with the lean mass and strength increases observed after creatine supplementation.
Although creatine supplementation has been found to increase lean muscle mass and strength in many studies, the effects of creatine on those tissues via GH enhancement has yet to be determined definitively.
Does Creatine Induce the Release of Growth Hormone?
Since creatine increases our exercise capacity, and exercise increases hormone release, it is expected that creatine should also indirectly increase the amounts of anabolic hormones produced while working out.
Indeed, one recent study has possibly demonstrated this predicted effect. Surprisingly, however, in this study Growth Hormone release was observed in non-exercising subjects after ingesting creatine. In other words, just taking creatine was sufficient to increase Growth Hormone production.
For six hours their blood was monitored at intervals for the presence of creatine and Growth Hormone. As expected, serum creatine levels rose within minutes of taking creatine monohydrate.
Blood Growth Hormone levels, on the other hand, required about 2 hours before rising. This lag indicates that the release of Growth Hormone depends on other cellular events occurring first.
Growth Hormone increased, on average, 80% over baseline values. However, this finding needs to be confirmed by corroboration with other studies.
What are the Implications of this Study?
This study suggests that creatine may have an anabolic property independent of its ability to increase exercise intensity.
This result may also explain why some studies have shown that muscle cells raised in “tissue culture” (outside of the animal in plastic dishes) increase their production of muscle proteins when exposed to creatine.
As were the subjects in the previously mentioned study, these muscle cells were inactive due to their growing conditions.
Another unexplained observation is why creatine appears to be less effective in the elderly. This situation may be partially explained by the decline in Growth Hormone levels in the aged. In other words, part of the benefit of creatine might be absent in elderly persons with less Growth Hormone.
Time will tell if these assumptions are right. In the meantime, patience is the word.
Unanswered Questions from the Study
1. Are other anabolic hormones similarly influenced by creatine? In this study, it was not determined whether other anabolic hormones, such as testosterone or insulin, similarly increase with creatine use.
2. What about Insulin-Like Growth Factor? Many of the effects of Growth Hormone are stimulated by Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1), which the liver produces when stimulated by Growth Hormone. Interestingly, IGF-1 has also been shown to enhance creatine uptake into isolated muscle cells. Could this work in a feed-forward manner? In other words, does IGF-1-induced creatine uptake, further improve Growth Hormone release? Researchers are still unsure, and studies are ongoing.
3. What is the cellular signal that triggers Growth Hormone release? Growth Hormone levels increase a few hours after creatine is taken. The biologically active form of creatine is phosphocreatine, which is creatine attached to a phosphate group. Could phosphocreatine be the signal that triggers the release of creatine from the Anterior Pituitary in our brains? Perhaps.
What You Need To Remember
Creatine enhances exercise performance in most young and healthy individuals. Since exercise induces the release of anabolic hormones, creatine supplementation should theoretically indirectly increase the release of Testosterone, Insulin and Growth Hormone during exercise.
This study suggests that creatine alone (with no exercise) may trigger the release of Growth Hormone by the body. This finding is intriguing and might explain the previously unexplained increase in protein synthesis in isolated muscle cells not undergoing activity.
Furthermore, if Growth Hormone amplifies part of the effect of creatine supplementation, then this study might also explain why creatine supplementation is often less efficacious in the elderly, which have reduced Growth Hormone levels.
So, this study suggests that creatine supplementation may have anabolic properties independent of its effect on energy metabolism. The future scientific investigation will tell if this finding is valid.
Creatine and the Brain
Like the muscle, the brain uses creatine phosphate as a resource for rapid regeneration of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the body’s energy currency. Therefore, low levels of creatine in the brain can have a harmful effect on the brain’s ability to function at optimum levels.
Creatine is an effective nootropic for the same reasons that creatine is so effective at giving your muscles and strength a boost…
- It raises ATP synthesis (energy formation) in the brain
- It improves short-term memory and reasoning skills
- It ramps up oxygen flow to the brain, which reduces mental fatigue
This is Your Brain on Creatine
As mentioned earlier, creatine is one of the most widely studied and used supplements in the world, and is often touted for its ability to enhance athletic performance.
Many take creatine hoping it will help build muscle. But here’s a little-known fact: creatine has a strong influence on the brain function as well. Better brain energy means faster processing and better overall brain performance.
Creatine and Cell Energy
In the body, energy is stored and transferred by reactions that make and break phosphate bonds. For example, adenosine diphosphate (ADP) has two phosphate groups bound to it.
It is relatively stable and holds little energy.
Like ADP, creatine can also form an energy-charged bond with a phosphate group, forming phosphocreatine (Pcr). Pcr can donate its phosphate group to ADP to form adenosine triphosphate, which is the transporter of chemical energy between cells for metabolism.
As a result, creatine plays a significant role in tissues that have high, fluctuating energy demands, such as muscle and the brain.
Creatine is the main reason your cells can produce and use energy efficiently. That’s why creatine supplementation is at the top of many athletes supplement list.
Creatine Levels and Brain Function
Cells with higher energy requirements, like neurons, are highly dependent on the creatine/phosphocreatine system’s role in energy transport. The system has also adapted to meet the energy needs of different brain cell types.
That’s why the creatine/phosphocreatine system is found throughout the brain.
Recent study findings agree that the creatine/phosphocreatine system is necessary for an adult brain to function at high levels. Moreover, they found that relative levels of creatine and phosphocreatine in the brain are considered reliable indicators of mental performance.
In other words, the more creatine in your brain, the better your mind works.
Research has shown that even five days of creatine can significantly reduce mental fatigue and increase oxygen utilization in the brain. The results are crystal-clear: Creatine has powerful effects on enhancing and maintaining cognitive function.
Can creatine supplementation increase the amount of creatine in your brain? To find out, the American Journal of Physiology published a study on creatine levels in the human brain after oral supplementation.
Volunteers in the study consumed 5 grams of creatine monohydrate four times a day for four weeks. Results showed that oral creatine supplementation caused a statistically significant increase in the concentration of creatine across brain regions.
Levels of creatine in the brain were shown to increase as oral supplementation increased. After only a single dose of oral creatine, the average level found in the volunteers showed a substantial increase in gray matter, white matter, and the thalamus.
The effects became even more pronounced after 3-4 weeks of supplementation.
Researchers also found that these changes in brain creatine levels are completely reversible. The volunteers were measured again after three months without supplementation. The creatine levels in their brains had returned to their original levels.
Some subjects showed more benefits from oral supplementation than others.
The two most massive volunteers with the most significant body weight showed the smallest increases in brain creatine concentrations, indicating that proper dosage is likely related to individual size.
Creatine Can Protect Against Traumatic Brain Injury
If there’s one new area creatine earns its reputation, it’s in protecting the brain from damage. Recent experimental findings have demonstrated that creatine provides robust protection against traumatic brain injuries.
While the majority of the studies in this area have been conducted in animal models, initial results are exciting.
Early studies conducted in animal models have shown that chronic administration of creatine eased the extent of brain damage following trauma to their heads by as much as 36 percent in mice and 50 percent in rats.
Additionally, levels of reactive oxygen species, which are responsible for increased oxidative stress in the brain, were significantly lower.
In a follow-up study, researchers found that the animals who were given supplemental creatine for two weeks before a head injury had lower levels of lactate and free fatty acids, suggesting greater protection following a traumatic brain injury.
These results support the idea that a creatine-enriched diet can provide substantial brain protection in part by suppressing secondary brain injury, the condition responsible for brain swelling, inflammation, and death.
Additionally, creatine can even be used as a recovery treatment for a post-head injury.
Researchers from the University Hospital of Heraklio (Greece) supplemented children and adolescents with creatine following traumatic brain injury and discovered that it sped up recovery time and communication, and decreased dizziness, fatigue, and the number of headaches. All of this without any adverse side effects from the creatine doses.
Choosing Your Creatine Source
It’s hard to get the beneficial levels of creatine needed by nutrition alone, but food is, as always, the first place to start. The best dietary source of creatine is wild game. Other sources include lean red meat and certain fish, particularly herring, salmon, and tuna.
Individuals who don’t get much of these creatine sources in their diet (vegans, vegetarians, people that restrict red meat, or any person restricting portions and total calories) are much more likely to have lower total creatine levels.
Remember, just because you’re a meat eater, don’t think you do not need to supplement. Although vegetarians and vegans will see the greatest improvements in working memory and processing speed, six weeks of creatine supplementation in meat eaters have been shown to increase creatine levels in the brain by nine percent.
What does this translate into? More brain power!
More Reasons You Should Take Creatine
With the popularity of creatine skyrocketing, many folks are concerned about possible side effects. Here is a list of side effects that rarely occur:
- stomach discomfort
- muscle cramps
- weight gain
However, here’s the good news. If you suffer any of these effects, just lower the dose or stop taking creatine altogether and resume later at smaller doses.
Another thing to consider: many studies refute those side effects listed above, and conclude that creatine does not cause gastrointestinal distress, muscle cramping, liver or kidney damage, dehydration or weight gain.
Creatine is, for the vast majority of users, completely safe. But if you do feel any adverse effects, just remember to lower the dose, as mentioned above.
Here are a Few Reasons Why Creatine Should be Part of Your Daily Supplement Intake
The published record on creatine as the supplement of choice for recreational and professional athletes who want to increase strength and size is long and profound.
However, while creatine’s popularity continues to grow among the serious weight-lifting crowd, many athletes avoid it for fear of getting too big.
But they’re wrong. And by being wrong, they’re missing out on the vast array of benefits creatine delivers. Let’s take a look at a few of them.
Research on creatine suggests that it does much more than help you build muscle and strength. Creatine can also have beneficial effects on bone mineral density, reduce oxidative stress, and even boost memory. This miracle supplement has something to offer nearly everyone.
Creatine Improves Aerobic Performance and Recovery
There are hundreds of studies highlighting creatine’s ability to improve strength, power output, body composition, and training volume, but in spite of what most people think, you don’t have to be a hard-training bodybuilder to reap the benefits of this amazing supplement.
Creatine can also be beneficial for endurance athletes.
Most endurance athletes are familiar with carb loading to help top off glycogen stores before a race, but adding creatine into the diet can further enhance glycogen stores.
Because of the strong relationship between high glycogen stores and performance during prolonged exercise, creatine could be quite beneficial in endurance activities.
For endurance athletes, creatine has also been shown to reduce inflammation and cell damage following intense, prolonged exercise.
A study published in Life Sciences found that athletes who supplemented with creatine five days before a 30-kilometer race had significantly lower levels of inflammation and muscle soreness after the contest.
Also, despite the myths about creatine mentioned earlier, not even one of the runners in the study experienced any side effects such as cramping or dehydration.
And during the race, creatine can help maintain both body temperature and hydration status when exercising in hot and humid temperatures.
Creatine Increases Bone Mineral Density
It’s never too early to start thinking about your bone health. Worldwide, osteoporosis (the loss of bone mineral density) causes more than 8.9 million fractures each year.
This is especially important to women. One in three women over the age of 50 will experience a fracture due to osteoporosis, as will one in five men over that threshold.
Still, mortality after a hip fracture is higher in men than women, right around 20 percent. So men need to think about bone health as well as women.
In the past, strength training has been recommended as a means to increase bone mineral density and prevent osteoporosis. If you’re already doing strength and resistance training, great!
But even if you are, you still need to add creatine to the mix. When combined with a resistance-training program, creatine supplementation can blast your bone protection into the ozone layer.
How? Here’s why: increasing bone mineral content may be related to increases in muscle mass.
More muscle enhances the strain on your bones, providing the perfect reason for them to strengthen.
While you may not be worried about your bone health now, building strong, healthy bones in your early years may help prevent osteoporosis from occurring down the road.
The takeaway? Keep lifting weights…just make sure you’re adding creatine to the mix.
Creatine Improves Glucose Metabolism
Type-2 diabetes is a chronic, severe and potentially fatal disease, which affects more than 27 million Americans. For decades, physical activity, along with diet and medication, have been considered the first line of defense for fighting type 2 diabetes.
And while exercise alone helps improve insulin sensitivity, creatine can enhance the effects of exercise and help type 2 diabetics control their blood glucose levels even better than just exercise only.
Research published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found a significant improvement in glycemic control when participants with type 2 diabetes combined creatine supplementation with an exercise program.
These findings suggest the supplement could emerge as a valuable addition to diabetes treatment.
If that weren’t enough, creatine supplementation has been shown to increase glycogen synthesis and glucose tolerance, particularly when combined with exercise training in healthy individuals.
Together, these findings prove the benefits of creatine in a therapeutic role in diabetic patients.
Incidentally, creatine also helps you maintain muscle mass and strength during immobilization.
Creatine Reduces Oxidative Stress
Endurance athletes aren’t the only ones who experience oxidative damage from free radicals caused by intense training. In fact, any athlete who trains seriously will generate these byproducts.
Coupled with weak recovery strategies, you’re looking at some serious delays in your progress.
Free radicals can have a significant impact on muscle fatigue and protein turnover rates, and they can slow down the rate of muscle growth. Free radicals can hamper everything you’re trying to avoid if your goal is to increase strength and size.
What’s the easiest way to prevent this? Take creatine.
Several studies have displayed creatine’s antioxidant effects.
One study, in particular, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning, showed significant reductions in DNA damage and oxidative stress following a single bout of resistance training in trained men. These cuts can promote better recovery and allow you to train harder for a more extended period.
Creatine Research Continues
Today, creatine is being tested on some neurological diseases. To date, there have been a growing number of studies that creatine may play a therapeutic role in age-related neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and Alzheimer’s disease.
It appears the supplement may be able to prevent the loss of motor neurons and reduce oxidative stress while restoring cognitive performance in individuals suffering from these diseases.
The list of benefits of creatine continues to swell, much like the bodybuilders who are first starting to use the supplement. At this point, the question isn’t why should you take creatine, but why wouldn’t you?
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