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             FITNESS TIPS FOR 9/17/2003 

Muscle Building With Creatine 

Can Creatine Protect Against Muscle Damage?
by Dr. Alfredo Franco-Obregón

Muscle damage is a natural consequence of exercise.  A small amount 
of muscle damage is not a terrible thing and, in fact, is necessary 
to stimulate new muscle growth.  On the other hand, if the extent of 
muscle damage exceeds our body's capacity to repair and rebuild, then 
we're in big trouble.  We then have a scenario of net muscle 
breakdown, otherwise known as catabolism, which defeats the entire 
point of working out and is a huge waste of time, money and effort.

Two principal forms of muscle damage arise from physical exertion. 
The first is mechanical and occurs immediately.  In response to the 
physical stress of exercise our muscles and capillary beds damage 
slightly.  Conditions permitting, these microscopic foci of damage 
then prime a robust phase of increased micro-vascularization and new 
muscle growth.  The end result is increased blood flow to larger, 
more efficiently, working muscles.  The second form of muscle damage 
is a downstream consequence of the first and is, in actuality, the 
initiation of the rebuilding process.  The second form of muscle 
damage results from reactive molecular species produced in response 
to strenuous exercise, but that exert their degenerative effects a 
few days later.

Rising from the ashes
Damaged muscle tissue must first be cleared away before rebuilding 
can commence.  This process begins with the release of chemical 
agents that attract specialized cells (neutrophils and macrophages) 
to sites of damage.  Here, these cells accumulate, greatly 
proliferate and build an appetite.  Next commences a voracious phase 
of cell eating, otherwise known as phagocytosis, whereby these cells 
literally eat away the damaged muscle tissue.  Phagocytosis is 
initiated with the release of agents that breakdown, or digest, 
damaged cells in preparation for absorption.  Following the removal 
of all dead tissue the stage is then set for new muscle growth.  New 
muscle is formed from the fusion of hundreds of progenitor cells that 
were previously dormant awaiting a signal to act.  From start to 
finish this entire process takes about 3-4 days.

Free Radicals
To assist in their removal of dead tissue neutrophils and macrophages 
release digestive enzymes, toxins and Reactive Oxygen Species, or ROS 
for short.  One of the most powerful of ROS is the Superoxide 
Radical.  Superoxide greatly weakens the integrity of the muscle 
membrane causing leaks that allow calcium ions to leak in.  It is a 
rise in intramuscular calcium that activates proteases causing the 
muscle cell to disintegrate.  Obviously, a small amount of Superoxide 
plays an essential role in the absorption of damaged cells.  On the 
other hand, an over production of Superoxide surpasses its usefulness 
and can actually be counterproductive as its destructive capacity 
becomes unleashed without warrant.

Oxidative stress
Superoxide is derived from oxygen during metabolism.  There is also 
some indication that intense exercise, by greatly increasing our 
utilization of oxygen, increases the rate at which Superoxide is 
produced.  In the extreme case Superoxide production may surpass the 
body's capacity to neutralize it.  This gives rise to a situation 
known as oxidative stress.

Our bodies contain a line of defense against oxidative stress; 
special molecules known as antioxidants that neutralize ROS. 
Vitamins A, C and E are examples of vitamins that can act as 
antioxidants.  Vitamin E is a particularly potent antioxidant that 
protects our cellular membranes from degradation following oxidative 
stress.  Our bodies also come equipped with their own antioxidant 
protectors.  Some of the most important enzymatic antioxidants are 
Superoxide Dismutase, Glutathione Peroxidase, and Catalase. 
Glutathione is one of our principle non-enzymatic antioxidants.

Athletes are now paying closer attention to their antioxidant status 
in an attempt to assist muscle recovery.  Proactive measures one can 
take to enhance the body's capacity to cope with oxidative stress 
include eating foods rich in antioxidants, supplementing with 
antioxidant vitamins, limiting alcohol intake, especially following 
exercise and getting plenty of rest.  It now turn's out that some 
athletes were getting antioxidants in ways they hadn't previously 

Is creatine an antioxidant?
Just last year a study was released suggesting that creatine might 
act as a Superoxide scavenger in its own right.  This is an 
additional benefit independent from creatine's better-understood 
capacity to increase ATP availability during exercise.  It is thus 
possible that part of the benefit we obtain from creatine derives 
from its capacity to act as an antioxidant.

The salient points of the study were as follows:

1. The creatine levels used in this study were within physiological 
limits.  In other words, the concentrations of creatine found by this 
study to be effective at scavenging free radicals were comparable to 
those found within muscle (20-60 mM, for those interested).  This 
gave relevancy to the study.

2. Creatine acted as a mild antioxidant.  Although not as effective 
as Glutathione at neutralizing Superoxide, its antioxidant effect was 
nonetheless significant.

3. Creatine's ability to neutralize Superoxide was measured in a test 
tube, not in an exercising person.  While it's reasonable to assume 
that creatine would behave similarly within athletes, subtle 
differences in effectiveness may exist.  For all we know creatine may 
be even more efficacious as an antioxidant inside the body!  Only 
further experimentation will tell.

Take Home
This report indicates that creatine possess' antioxidant properties 
and is able to effectively neutralize Superoxide, one of the more 
insidious free radicals produced by exercise.  Since these findings 
where obtained in a test tube, however, it remains to be shown if 
creatine has the same antioxidant properties in an exercising person. 
Although preliminary, this result is surely worth pursuing and has 
important practical implications for muscle recovery.

Scientific Reference
Lawler JM, Barnes WS, Wu G, Song W, Demaree S. (January 2002) Direct 
antioxidant properties of creatine. Biochemical and Biophysical 
Research Communications. 290: 1: pages 47-52.

About the author:
Dr. Alfredo Franco-Obregón has had over 20 years of in depth research 
experience in major laboratories world-wide.  His major scientific 
interest is the understanding of the cellular mechanisms that lead to 
muscle cell death.

Dr. Franco-Obregón is also the author of Creatine: A practical guide.
More information about the guide can be found here: 
Muscle Growth and Creatine   

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