Cognitive Benefits Of Using Creatine


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Written by James Dixon

Creatine is flexing its muscles beyond the gym, as research is starting to learn what it can also do for our cognitive health. Take a look at the latest on the potential cognitive benefits of using creatine.

We all know what creatine can do for us in the gym for bolstering strength output and performance, but recent studies suggest that it may also be able to support our cognitive health.

That’s right, recent studies have unveiled a promising connection between the gym favorite and mental clarity, challenging the conventional wisdom that its benefits are solely physical. This new perspective offers a fresh angle on creatine’s capabilities, and what it can really do for us.

What is creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring organic compound found in small amounts in animal-sourced foods such as meat and fish, as well as in lesser quantities from plant sources like beans. It is synthesized in the body from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine, primarily in the liver and kidneys.

Around 95% of your creatine is stored in skeletal muscle, while the remaining 5% is distributed in other tissues, including the brain, heart, and testes.

Creatine plays a critical role in cellular energy metabolism. It acts as a shuttle molecule, helping to transport high-energy phosphate groups, derived from the breakdown of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), to where they are most needed for energy production.

This process involves converting creatine to phosphocreatine, which can rapidly regenerate ATP during short bursts of intense physical activity. As ATP is the main power source moving your musculature, creatine is therefore particularly important for activities that require rapid and repeated muscle contractions, such as weightlifting, sprinting, and jumping.

In addition to its role in energy production, creatine has been associated with various other physiological functions. For instance, it has been suggested that creatine might have a role in protein synthesis, as well as in the retention of intracellular water, potentially leading to increased muscle mass and strength.

As a result of this, creatine supplementation has become popular among athletes and fitness enthusiasts looking to enhance their physical performance and improve their body composition.

Creatine has also been investigated for its potential therapeutic effects in several clinical conditions. Research has explored its use in neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. It is thought to offer neuroprotective benefits due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Similarly, creatine has been studied as a potential adjunctive treatment for various neuromuscular disorders, including muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

And then there is the cognitive element, which we’re here to talk about today.

Creatine and your brain

Today, there is a body of emerging evidence showing that creatine may play a role in bolstering brain health and cognitive function. As we have seen, creatine helps to transport energy. It serves as a quick and readily available energy source for cells, which includes your brain’s neurons.

Alongside its ability to replenish ATP levels, this should help to support cognitive processes such as attention, memory, and learning.

Furthermore, its antioxidant properties could protect neurons from oxidative damage and contribute to maintaining brain health. Oxidative stress comes about due to an imbalance between free radical production in the body and, in turn, the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects.

The damage these free radicals inflict has been linked to age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases. As such, this research leads us to believe that by supporting energy metabolism and reducing oxidative stress, creatine could help mitigate age-related cognitive impairments and promote healthy brain aging.

Supplementing with creatine may also be very beneficial for those with limited dietary creatine intake, as proven by results that were particularly pronounced in those following vegan or vegetarian diets. Since creatine is predominantly found in meat and fish, vegans and vegetarians may have lower endogenous stores of creatine, which could impact their cognitive performance, as well as their athletic potential.

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, it makes sense then that supplementing with creatine could replenish your creatine levels. And as most creatine supplements are synthesized without the use of animal-source products, you should be safe to do so. However, always check the ingredients, especially if they’re in capsule form, as these often contain gelatin.

Overall, studies looking into the cognitive effects of creatine have reported mixed findings, with some suggesting positive outcomes in terms of cognitive performance, while others have failed to find any kinds of significant benefits.

It’s important to consider various factors such as the dosage of creatine, the duration of supplementation, the age and health status of the individual, and the specific cognitive tasks being assessed when interpreting the results of these studies. Variability in our own unique responses to creatine supplementation and the complex nature of cognitive abilities may also contribute to the discrepancies seen in research outcomes.

Supplementing with creatine

brain lifting weights

When supplementing with creatine – or indeed any supplement, for that matter – it’s important you follow proper guidelines to ensure safe and effective use. Plenty of people will recommend following a ‘loading’ and ‘maintenance’ phase with their creatine. But what’s involved here, and is it safe?

Well, the loading phase will typically last between 5 and 7 days, during which you take a higher dose of creatine to quickly saturate your muscles with the supplement.

This usually involves consuming 20-25 grams of creatine per day, divided into 4-5 equal doses throughout the day. However, there is limited evidence showing how effective this kind of loading is – and plenty of it is peddled by creatine manufacturers, who obviously want you to consume plenty.

After this loading phase, users will follow a maintenance phase, which will include a lower daily dose of creatine to maintain muscle creatine saturation. The typical maintenance dose is around 3-5 grams of creatine per day. It’s a good idea to be consistent with dosing and timing.

There is plenty of evidence showing that the maintenance phase is the only one you need to follow. Rather than loading first, simply start out on 3-5 grams per day evenly and indefinitely. Mix it with your favorite drink – or with a protein shake – and enjoy.

Do also note that individual responses to creatine supplementation may vary. It may also be a good idea to chat with your healthcare provider before beginning any new supplementation regime, including creatine use, especially if you have any underlying health concerns or are on any ongoing medical regimes.

Remember to drink plenty of water when supplementing with creatine to maintain hydration levels, as plenty of water will be held subcutaneously when you do – staying adequately hydrated is essential for optimal creatine uptake and overall health.

Potential medical uses

Here, we’re interested in the therapeutic benefits that creatine could offer in managing cognitive decline and various neurological disorders. Multiple studies have investigated its impact on conditions including Parkinson’s disease, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease, offering hope for alternative treatment approaches.

Parkinson’s disease and mitigating neurodegeneration

Parkinson’s disease is characterized by the progressive degeneration of dopaminergic neurons in the brain. Research has shown that creatine supplementation may help those suffering with it by enhancing energy metabolism in brain cells and promoting neuronal health.

Studies have suggested that its neuroprotective properties and ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation may help a great deal, potentially slowing down disease progression. Furthermore, creatine may help to make standard Parkinson’s medication more effective when taken in conjunction with it, improving motor symptoms and bolstering overall quality of life.

Maintaining cognitive function through dementia

Dementia isn’t any one given thing. Rather, it’s a collective term for neurodegenerative conditions characterized by declining cognitive function and memory loss. Creatine has shown promise in managing symptoms of dementia through its roles in supporting brain energy metabolism, reducing oxidative stress, and promoting the health of brain cells.

Preliminary studies have indicated that creatine supplementation may improve cognitive performance and slow cognitive decline in those suffering with more mild forms of cognitive impairment, and in those with very early-stage dementia. However, more research is needed to fully understand the potential benefits and optimal usage.

Mitigating against Alzheimer’s Disease

Evidence suggests that creatine may play a role in preventing or slowing cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.

Alzheimer’s disease is marked by the accumulation of amyloid-beta plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the brain. Creatine supplementation’s ability to enhance brain energy metabolism, reduce oxidative stress, and increases the availability of neurotransmitters critical for cognitive function may play a vital role in undercutting this, potentially treating symptoms and slowing down degeneration.

While further research is required to establish the effectiveness of creatine as a therapeutic intervention, initial findings indicate its potential in preserving cognitive function and delaying disease progression.

Considerations and Future Directions

I must emphasize that research on creatine’s role in managing cognitive decline and neurological disorders is still in its early stages, as is a lot of the research surrounding creatine’s role in cognitive health and function more broadly. The optimal dosage, timing, and long-term effects of creatine supplementation in these conditions require further investigation.

If you suffer from any of the above conditions, or are in any way concerned about them, you should always consult your healthcare provider as a first port of call. They will be able to direct you towards a more comprehensive and individual treatment plan, of which creatine supplementation may be a worthy part.

Creatine’s potential role in managing cognitive decline and neurological disorders offers hope for novel treatment approaches. Its ability to enhance energy metabolism, reduce oxidative stress, and promote neuronal health make it an intriguing avenue for further exploration.

As research continues to unfold, creatine may become an integral component of multimodal strategies aimed at managing cognitive decline and improving the quality of life for individuals affected by these conditions.

In conclusion

As we know, creatine has been widely studied for its potential benefits in improving athletic performance and muscle growth. If you’re looking to increase your lean muscle mass, strength, and power output, then creatine is a pretty effective supplement, especially when combined with some form of resistance training. This is thought to occur due to creatine’s ability to enhance cellular energy production, allowing muscles to work harder and for longer periods of time.

But this enhanced energy production may also aid your cognitive health and wellbeing, by increasing the amount of ATP delivered to neurons, providing them with more energy to function optimally.

And as we’ve discovered, the benefits go even further. Creatine’s antioxidant properties protect neurons from oxidative damage, maintaining brain health by reducing oxidative stress. Research indicates creatine supplementation may enhance cognitive processing, memory, and reasoning abilities, attributed to increased brain energy availability, neuronal resilience, and overall brain health.

Particularly beneficial for older adults, creatine may mitigate age-related cognitive decline. Vegans and vegetarians may benefit from supplementing with creatine due to the limited availability of dietary creatine in non-animal food sources.

So, if you’re looking for a way to increase your overall energy levels, give your brain a bit of a boost across various areas of cognition, all whilst improving your athleticism and training potential, creatine may well be the answer. The data is young; plenty of them are inconclusive. But clinical evidence is nevertheless building – creatine may be the next big thing in the nootropic realm.