Creatine is quickly becoming one of my favorite supplements, and not just because of the way it helps me in the gym. It’s been shown that creatine can also be used as a nootropic and as a way to stave off potential neurodegeneration. Because earlier reports of damage to the kidneys and liver by creatine supplementation have now been scientifically refuted, creatine is becoming increasingly accepted as a powerful and multi-faceted daily supplement.
So what is it? Creatine a nitrogenous organic acid that occurs naturally in vertebrates and helps to supply energy to all cells in the body—primarily muscle. It’s also been shown to assist in the growth of muscle fibres. Creatine achieves this by increasing the formation of Adenosine triphosphate (ATP). It is an osmotically active substance, so it pulls water into muscle cells. Creatine is naturally produced in the human body from amino acids primarily in the kidney and liver and is transported in the blood for use by muscles.
Back in the early 1990s it became common for bodybuilders, wrestlers, sprinters and other athletes to take creatine as word got out that it contributed to increased muscle mass and energy. Athletes began to consume two to three times the amount that could be obtained from a high protein diet. Creatine, which is typically bought in pills or flavored powders and mixed with liquid, increases the body’s ability to produce energy rapidly. With more energy, athletes can train harder and more often, producing better results.
In fact, research shows that creatine is most effective in high-intensity training and explosive activities. This includes weight training and sports that require short bursts of effort, such as sprinting, football, and baseball. As a CrossFitter and an occasional user of creatine, I can certainly vouch for these effects. I believe that creatine is responsible for adding as much as five to twenty pounds to my lifts (depending on the kind of lift) along with an added boost of muscular endurance—two very desirable qualities for CrossFit athletes.
Recently I have switched from being an occasional user of creatine (3000 mg per day, cycling monthly) to a daily low dosage user (750 to 1500 mg per day every day) while on a high protein diet. I’ve done this for cost reasons while still hoping to take advantage of its benefits, which aren’t just limited to the physical realm.
Indeed, creatine has been shown to have a significant impact on brain health. It’s been shown to boost brain performance, including positive impacts on working intelligence and memory—both of which require improved cognitive processing speed. Back in 2003, a study showed that people who took creatine for six weeks scored better on tests measuring intelligence and memory than those who did not take it. And interestingly, some of the most significant cognitive benefits are experienced by vegetarians and vegans, probably on account of protein deficiencies (which has an impact on the body’s ability produce creatine naturally).
Moreover, while creatine can be used as a strength enhancer and a cognitive booster, it may also have an important role in the prevention and treatment of neurodegeneration. Creatine may offer protection to Alzheimer’s patients. It’s also being used by Parkinson’s patients as way to slow the progression of the disease. These effects, combined with its beneficial impacts on strength and endurance (both important health factors for longevity), lead me to believe that creatine is an indispensable part of any life extension strategy.
Creatine can be found at most supplement stores. And now that its available in pill format it’s become very easy and convenient to take. So give it a try and see if it works for you.
George Dvorsky is a Canadian futurist and ethicist who blogs at Sentient Developments, where this article originally appeared.