Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid produced in the liver that helps supply energy to cells all over the body - particularly muscle cells.
The compound is formed of three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine and makes up about 1% of the total volume of human blood.
Creatine is transported through the blood by an active transport system, it is then used by the brain and muscles that have high energy demands, such as skeletal muscle.
In fact, around 95% of creatine in the human body is stored in skeletal muscle.
In this article, we will look at the potential uses for creatine and any accompanying evidence, how creatine works and any side effects it might cause.
Fast facts on creatine
Here are some key points about creatine. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid comprised of three amino acids
- Athletes use creatine to assist in high-intensity training
- Creatine was first described in 1832
- Although creatine is produced naturally in the body, it can also be taken in through diet or supplements
- Creatine can cause water retention
- Creatine is being studied for use in a number of diseases including Parkinson's disease and depression
- Because creatine helps build muscle, it may be useful for individuals with muscular dystrophy
- There is some evidence that creatine can boost memory
- Side effects can include stomach cramps and nausea.
What is creatine?
The French chemist, Michel Eugène Chevreul, first identified creatine in 1832. The chemical is naturally made by the body, but it can also be obtained from some foods and supplements.
Because of creatine's ability to supply energy where it is demanded, the chemical is mainly used by athletes to increase their ability to produce energy rapidly, improving athletic performance and allowing them to train harder.
The International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) allow the usage of creatine, and it is widely used among professional athletes (such as John Elway and Sammy Sosa).
Potential benefits of taking creatine
Creatine is not only used by athletes to improve their overall performance, it may also help treat a range of neuromuscular and neurodegenerative disorders in addition to improving cognitive ability.
Creatine may help with treating:
Improving athletic performance
Athletes take creatine to increase their athletic output.
Creatine supplements are commonly used by athletes because of its effectiveness in high-intensity training.
People take creatine because it allows the body to produce more energy, and with more energy " you can lift one or two more reps or 5 more pounds" and "your muscles will get bigger and stronger," said Chad Kerksick, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise physiology at the University of Oklahoma.
Researchers published findings in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine1 suggesting that creatine use can increase maximum power and performance in high-intensity anaerobic repetitive work by up to 15%.
Increased muscle creatine content is associated with greater body mass and total body water volume.
A study published in the Journal of Athletic Training2 reported that creatine supplementation does result in water retention but fluid distribution does not change.
Creatine for Parkinson's disease
Creatine could help slow the progression of Parkinson's disease. In mice models of Parkinson's disease, creatine was able to prevent the loss of the cells that are typically affected by the condition.
Research, published in the Journal of Neurochemistry,3 concluded that "combination therapy using Coenzyme Q(10) and creatine may be useful in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's disease and HD."
Creatine and muscular dystrophy
Creatine could also help improve the strength of people suffering from muscular dystrophy.
One German study found that patients who took creatine experienced an increase in muscle strength of 8.5% compared to those who did not take the supplement.
Dr. Rudolf Kley, of Ruhr University Bochum , Germany, lead reviewer of the study, said that the finding "shows that short- and medium-term creatine treatment improves muscle strength in people with muscular dystrophies and is well-tolerated."
Creatine for treating depression
It may come as a surprise that this popular supplement for athletes has properties that can help alleviate the symptoms of depression, but evidence shows that it really can.
Researchers at three different South Korean universities found that women with depression who augmented their daily antidepressant with 5 g of creatine responded twice as fast and experienced remission of the illness at twice the rate, compared to women who took the antidepressant alone.
Creatine boosts brain power
Researchers from the University of Sydney and Macquarie University, both in Australia, found evidence that creatine can boost memory and intelligence.
Dr Caroline Rae, who led the study said that "the results were clear with both our experimental groups and in both test scenarios. Creatine supplementation gave a significant measurable boost to brain power."
Side effects and precautions for creatine
People are advised to talk to their doctor before taking creatine supplements.
At recommended doses creatine is considered safe to consume. However, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center,4 creatine can cause mild side effects.
Potential side effects of creatine include:
- Stomach pain
- Muscle cramping
In addition, patients with kidney disease should completely avoid using creatine, and caution is advised for diabetics and people taking blood sugar supplements.
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