Creatine Reduces Markers Of Aging
By Will Brink
Cognitive functioning in normal adults is also favorably affected by creatine supplementation. Creatine’s widespread benefits on muscle fatigue prompted one group of researchers to focus on its ability to improve mental fatigue as well.37 At a dose of 8 grams/day for five days, the supplement reduced mental fatigue induced by repeated mathematical calculations. Tests showed that the subjects’ brains utilized more oxygen after supplementation, a measure of enhanced energy use.
Older adults taking 5 grams of creatine, four times daily, performed better on tasks of memory and cognition.38,39
The cognition-enhancing effects of creatine seem to be especially strong in tasks that require a rapid speed of processing, such as deciding quickly whether it’s safe to cross a street, or in distinguishing a friendly face from a potentially threatening one.40 Following extended sleep deprivation (up to 36 hours), creatine supplementation also improved performance of complex “executive” tasks involving decision-making skills.41
Most of the data on these diseases are at present derived from animal studies or basic lab studies, but large human trials are in the pipeline. However, given creatine’s impressive safety record as an energy-enhancer in humans during exercise, many experts are recommending that older adults, especially those at high risk for acute brain injuries such as stroke, should begin regular supplementation with creatine.
Cardiovascular Effects Of Creatine Supplementation
Creatine supplementation clearly improves skeletal muscle performance in healthy athletes and older adults.42-44 That has led scientists to consider whether creatine could also function as an energy-enhancer for the most important muscle in the body: the heart. Numerous studies in both animals and humans indicate that it can.
In animal studies, creatine supplementation restored ATP levels in animals subjected to energy-reducing cardiac stress; it also reduced markers of heart muscle exhaustion.45 Other studies show similar effects, even in unstressed animals.46
Human studies of creatine supplementation remain few, but the results are promising. In one study, patients with chronic congestive heart failure took high doses (20 grams/day) of creatine for 10 days, undergoing cardiac and exercise testing before and after the supplementation period. Supplemented patients had significantly increased levels of energy-rich creatine phosphate in their muscles compared with controls, and they performed as much as 21% better on exercise cycle testing.47
In a similar study in patients with congestive heart failure, those taking creatine almost doubled the number of handgrip exercises. They also significantly reduced the amount of muscle waste products they produced.48 Since those with congestive heart failure typically experience reduced exercise tolerance,48 these improvements bode well for creatine as an enhancer of mobility and quality of life for these patients.49,50
Creatine Shows Potential In Managing Blood Sugar And Insulin Levels
One natural consequence of creatine’s ability to boost muscle energy levels is a subsequent increase in your body’s ability to utilize glucose as metabolic fuel.51 Creatine has long been known to lower blood glucose levels in healthy patients. Now, studies are beginning to appear that indicate creatine’s blood- sugar benefits in diabetic patients as well.
In humans, creatine supplementation markedly increased the production of the glucose transporter complex called GLUT-4, which shuttles sugar molecules from the blood into cells and on to mitochondria.52 Animal studies show similar phenomena, along with lowered blood glucose and reduced plasma insulin levels.51 This is a critically important point, because elevated insulin levels are associated with diseases such as cancer and atherosclerosis.5,53,54
In sedentary but otherwise healthy men, 10 grams/day of creatine along with moderate exercise produced significant improvements in oral glucose tolerance test results.55 A study published in 2011 showed that diabetics taking creatine supplements combined with exercise experienced similar improvements in blood sugar, glucose tolerance testing, and hemoglobin A1c, the measure of glucose exposure over long periods.56
Creatine: Protecting Older Adults From Muscle Loss
As we age, we tend to become increasingly sedentary. Combine that with age-related changes to our biology, and the result is typically the loss of healthy muscle mass, known as sarcopenia.57,58 Muscle loss can be serious—especially when combined with poor cognition and balance—as it increases your risk of falling. And of course, weakened bones increase the risk of a serious injury in a fall.59
Several studies now support the use of creatine supplementation to enhance lean body mass, muscular performance, and fatigue resistance in young adults.58,60,61 These benefits are of equal interest for older people.
New research shows that supplementing with approximately 5 to 20 grams/day could provide major benefits for older people. Supplementation produces significant improvements in the ability to perform short-lived but high-energy actions, such as those involved in sitting down and rising up again from a chair, in which a person must lower and then raise their entire body weight in a short period.62 Other studies show improvement in grip strength.63 While exercise is helpful, many studies show that creatine is beneficial even in the absence of such training.58
A small but growing body of evidence suggests that creatine may improve bone mineral density and strength, particularly if combined with resistance exercise.58
The evidence for creatine supplementation is now so great that one expert has written, “Physicians should strongly consider advising older adults to supplement with creatine and to begin a resistance training regime in an effort to enhance skeletal muscle strength and hypertrophy, resulting in enhanced quality of life.”64
Long used by athletes as an energy-enhancing aid, creatine is increasingly showing promise in diseases that involve deterioration of the energy balance in our bodies. These include neurodegenerative diseases, especially Parkinson’s and Huntington’s diseases, as well as heart disease and diabetes. And animal studies reveal significant extension of the life span in older animals supplemented with creatine.34,35
Our bodies run on energy. We extract that energy from food, and then move and store it in tissues for immediate release. As we get older, however, our energy-storing and energy-moving apparatus begin to fail, and byproducts begin to accumulate. Creatine helps the body transfer energy and provide energy to tissues that have very high energy demands, such as the brain, heart, and muscle.
Research on creatine as a life-extender in humans is in its infancy, but the existing evidence of its efficacy, combined with its strong safety record, make it an interesting supplement for adults to consider who seek to slow aging and fend off its consequences.
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