Creatine Supplementation: A Hidden Gem for Brain Health And Cognitive Performance

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Creatine, a naturally occurring organic compound in the body, has long been associated with physical performance. However, recent research is delving deeper into its profound effects on human health, brain function, and cognition.

The substance, which can be synthesized by the body or ingested through dietary sources, is most commonly used as a dietary supplement for athletes to enhance performance and muscle growth. In this article we aim to provide an evidence-based review of the potential health benefits of creatine, focusing on its impact on brain energy metabolism, neurological disorders, and various aspects of cognition.

Brain Energy Metabolism
Creatine plays a pivotal role in maintaining brain energy metabolism. It aids in the regeneration of ATP, which is critical for brain cell energy. A double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial by Rae et al. (2003) demonstrated that oral creatine supplementation could significantly improve working memory and intelligence, both tasks that require speed of processing [1].

The findings underline creatine's crucial role in brain energy metabolism. Moreover, a review by Adhihetty and Beal (2008) discussed the role of creatine in neuroprotection and its potential use in treating neurodegenerative diseases [2].

Neurological Disorders
There is growing interest in the therapeutic potential of creatine for neurological disorders. Research by Bender et al. (2006) suggested that creatine supplementation might slow the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's and Huntington's. The study found that creatine was well-tolerated and could be a potential therapeutic strategy in these neurodegenerative diseases [3].

Cognitive Performance
A series of studies by McMorris et al. (2006, 2007) evaluated the effect of creatine supplementation on cognitive performance under various conditions. Their research found that creatine supplementation improved cognitive performance, especially in tasks that require speed of processing, during both sleep deprivation and under stress [4,5]. This points to the potential of creatine supplementation in optimizing cognitive performance under challenging conditions.

Mental Fatigue
In another study, Watanabe et al. (2002) investigated the effect of creatine supplementation on mental fatigue. They found that creatine supplementation reduced mental fatigue when subjects performed a specific mathematical calculation task, highlighting the role of creatine in sustaining cognitive effort [6].

Supplementing with Creatine: Dosages and Sources

The standard protocol for creatine supplementation often begins with a loading phase, followed by a maintenance phase. The loading phase typically involves supplementing with 20 grams of creatine per day (divided into four 5g doses) for 5-7 days. This method quickly saturates the muscles with creatine.

Following the loading phase, the maintenance phase begins. During this phase, a lower dosage of around 3-5 grams per day is often recommended. This amount helps maintain the elevated creatine stores in the muscles. Note that the loading phase isn't mandatory, and you can start with the maintenance dose, but it will take longer (up to 28 days) for your muscles to fully store the creatine.

Creatine supplements typically come in the form of creatine monohydrate, which can be found in powder form or in capsules. The powder form can be mixed with water or juice and is generally more cost-effective. Other forms like creatine ethyl ester (CEE) or creatine hydrochloride (HCl) are available but aren't more effective than creatine monohydrate, according to the International Society of Sports Nutrition. [7]

In addition to supplements, creatine is naturally found in various foods, predominantly in meat and fish. However, the concentration in these foods is quite low. For example, you would need to consume 1 kg of raw beef or salmon to get 5 grams of creatine.

The body of evidence on the diverse benefits of creatine for human health continues to grow. From well-established literature on promoting muscle strength and bone health, to more recent research on its substantial impact on brain function and cognition, creatine showcases its potential as a powerful dietary supplement.

Creatine's role in energy metabolism makes it an integral part of maintaining brain function. Its supplementation can potentially improve physical performance, aid muscle and bone health, and may even serve as a neuroprotective agent. Moreover, the benefits of creatine extend to cognition, helping to enhance cognitive performance under stress and sleep deprivation, and reducing mental fatigue.

[1] Rae, C., et al. (2003). Oral creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance: a double–blind, placebo-controlled, cross-over trial. Psychopharmacology.
[2] Adhihetty, P. J., Beal, M. F. (2008). Creatine and its potential therapeutic value for targeting cellular energy impairment in neurodegenerative diseases. Neuromolecular Med.
[3] Bender, A., et al. (2006). Creatine supplementation in Parkinson disease: a placebo-controlled randomized pilot trial. Neurology.
[4] McMorris, T., et al. (2006). Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals. Neuropsychology Development and Cognition.
[5] McMorris, T., et al. (2007). Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in undernourished adults. Neuropsychology Development and Cognition.
[6] Watanabe, A., et al. (2002). Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation. Neuroscience Research.
[7] Kreider, R. B., et al. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.