Creatine is mostly used by bodybuilders and athletes to improve athletic performance and also to increase the muscle size. Although it's recognized by many as a bodybuilding supplement, many researches have shown that creatine also provides some benefits to the brain. In this article, I'll share with you some of the benefits of creatine has for brain health. Before that, let's take a look at what exactly creatine is.
What is Creatine
Contrary to the popular belief, creatine is not a steroid. It is an amino acid that can be derived when we consume foods like meat and fish. It is believed that one pound of raw meat contains approximately two to three grams of creatine. However, creatine can also be produced naturally in the body from arginine, glycine, and Methionine in the kidney and liver especially when it's deficient in the body. Creatine is stored as phosphocreatine in the muscle. The majority of the creatine is stored in the muscles. According to a research " 95% of the bodies creatine stores are found in the skeletal muscle and the remaining 5% is distributed in the brain, liver, kidney, and testes". Creatine is also available in the form of supplements. This is mostly used by people suffering from low creatine levels, athletes, bodybuilders and vegetarians.
Creatine helps supply energy to the cells and tissues by aiding the reformation of ATP (energy). ATP is the form of energy that all cells make use of, especially high energy demanding cells like muscles, liver and brain. According to a research "within just a few seconds, muscle contraction utilizes the entire ATP store (2-5mM) found in skeletal muscle". This is how the system works : the cells in the body need a constant supply of energy in order to survive and also perform their activities, when cells are short of ATP (ATP is only generated when it's needed and phosphocreatine is the fastest form of regeneration), phosphocreatine donates its phosphate group which attaches to ADP to form ATP. However, this only serves as a temporary energy buffers. According to a research, " ATP is regenerated using the phosphocreatine sysytem where phosphocreatine donates its phosphate group to adenosinediphosphate (ADP) to form ATP .This reaction occurs rapidly and reversibly via the enzyme creatine kinase (CK), making the ATP replenishing capacity of both phosphocreatine and creatine kinase high". Note that this reaction is reversible, that means ATP can donate a phosphate group which attaches to creatine to form phosphocreatine which is stored in the muscles.
Creatine and Brain Health
Here are some of the benefits of creatine to the brain:
1. IT ENHANCES BRAIN FUNCTION - the brain and muscle have one thing in common and that is they both have high and fluctuating energy requirement. Not surprisingly, it has been said that the brain makes use of 20% of the body total energy. Brain cells require steady influx of energy in order send and transmit information. Many studies have shown that creatine supplementation can improve brain function for example, one study shows that "In humans, individuals born with errors in creatine synthesis or x-linked creatine transporter defects suffer from mental retardation, autistic behavior, severe language and speech impairments, epilepsy, and brain atrophy. In some individuals, the cognitive deficits resulting from these congenital errors can be improved, though not totally reversed, with chronic administration of large doses of creatine". Also a study shows that "young men given creatine supplements prior to experiencing 36 hours of sleep deprivation did better on a test of executive functioning than non supplemented individuals".
2. IT IMPROVES MEMORY - the ability to recall information usually declines with age. It is believed that supplementing with creatine can increase can increase the concentration of creatine in the brain. However the mechanism in which creatine enhances memory has not been fully known. But several researches have shown that low creatine levels may have a negative impact on the ability to remember information. According to a study " In 2003, Rae and colleagues questioned if creatine supplementation enhanced intelligence in healthy subjects . For 6 weeks, subjects were given 5 grams of creatine orally per day. Following this protocol, the subjects showed improvements in working memory and intelligence utilizing the backward digit span and Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices tasks, respectively. However, one study in United Kingdom also proclaimed that "subjects with an average age of 76 saw improvements in long-term memory when supplemented with 20 grams per day of creatine for 1 week".
3. IT MAY SLOW DOWN THE PROGRESSION OF NEURODEGENERATIVE DISEASE - neurodegeneration means the gradual death of nerve cells. Examples of neurodegenerative diseases are Alzheimer's disease , Parkinson's disease, and Huntington's disease. Many of them are usually associated with aging. Although, there are no cure for neurodegenerative diseases but due to the positive impact of creatine on brain energy homeostastis, there are some studies indicating that creatine may be used in delaying the early stages of neurodegerative diseases like Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease.
A review of creatine supplementation in age-related diseases: more than a supplement for athletes Rachel N. Smith , Amruta S. Agharkar, and Eric B. Gonzales https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4304302/#
Creatine supplementation with specific view to exercise/sports performance: an update Robert Cooper , Fernando Naclerio , Judith Allgrove , and Alfonso Jimenez https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/
Does Creatine Supplementation Hinder Exercise Heat Tolerance or Hydration Status? A Systematic Review With Meta-Analyses Rebecca M Lopez, MS ATC, Douglas J Casa , PhD ATC FNATA FACSM, Brendon P McDermott , MS ATC, Matthew S Ganio, MS, Lawrence E Armstrong, PhD FACSM, and Carl M Maresh , PhD FACSM https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2657025/
Nutrition and Traumatic Brain Injury: Improving Acute and Subacute Health Outcomes in Military Personnel. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209321/
Role of the phosphocreatine system on energetic homeostasis in skeletal and cardiac muscles . Lucas Guimaraes-Ferreira https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4898252/