Creatine: Not Just For Weight Training
Chester J. Zelasko, Ph.D. | September 16, 2003

Creatine monohydrate is a popular dietary supplement used by athletes and bodybuilders to increase muscle size and strength. Does it work? Yes--as long as the athlete trains hard by lifting weights. It especially benefits athletes who rely on strength and power, but is of limited value for endurance athletes like runners, swimmers, and cyclists.

There have been several studies on the long-term use of creatine (1-2). Athletes using creatine on a regular basis have not experienced any negative effects in studies lasting up to five years. The primary concern is kidney function because creatine is excreted through the kidneys. While researchers conclude that more research is warranted, they acknowledge that no negative effects have been found to date (3). Therefore, creatine supplementation appears to be safe for healthy individuals.

Recent research demonstrates that creatine may have other potential benefits as well, such as fighting the effects of aging and helping people with diseases--especially muscle-wasting diseases.

As we age, creatine levels decline. When the loss of creatine stores are combined with a loss of fast-twitch muscle fibers, the result is a loss of muscular strength. Elderly subjects using creatine when participating in a weight-training program had significantly greater gains in strength than controls not using creatine (4). Because muscle wasting is a problem as people age, creatine may provide a reduction in the age-attributed decline in mobility, balance, and fractures due to falls (5-6). It's never too late to begin exercise training, and creatine may help muscle gains happen faster.

Because of its ability to provide energy, creatine is being examined for catastrophic diseases such as muscular dystrophy and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease) with very positive effects (6-7). This is not a cure for these diseases, but it seems to help delay the progression of the disease. Even muscle cramping due to dialysis has been examined with good outcomes (8).

Future research will probably focus on the use of creatine for fibromyalgia, a disease of unknown origin that counts among its many symptoms fatigue and muscle pain. Creatine may prove to be beneficial to alleviate the symptoms of this debilitating disease.

So what should you do? Talk with your physician about the use of creatine. It won't replace a good Mediterranean diet, exercise, and basic supplementation with a multivitamin-multimineral to maintain health. But because creatine stores decline with age, just like glucosamine and coenzyme Q10, supplementation with creatine may help delay the decline.

If you or a family member is afflicted with any of the diseases mentioned above, ask your physician to examine the references cited below. Remember, creatine is not a cure for these diseases. But if the progression of any disease can be slowed down, even by just a few months, it means that the quality of a person's life will be better.

References:

  1. Kreider RB, et al. Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003; 244(1-2):95-104.
  2. Mayhew DL, et al. Effects of long-term creatine supplementation on liver and kidney functions in American college football players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002 Dec;12(4):453-60.
  3. Farquhar WB, Zambraski EJ. Effects of creatine use on the athlete's kidney. Curr Sports Med Rep. 2002 Apr;1(2):103-6.
  4. Brose A, et al.. Creatine supplementation enhances isometric strength and body composition improvements following strength exercise training in older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2003;58(1):11-9.
  5. Tarnopolsky MA. Potential benefits of creatine monohydrate supplementation in the elderly. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2000;3(6):497-502.
  6. Walter MC et al. Creatine monohydrate in muscular dystrophies: A double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical study. Neurology. 2000 May 9;54(9):1848-50.
  7. Tarnopolsky M, Martin J. Creatine monohydrate increases strength in patients with neuromuscular disease. Neurology. 1999 10;52(4):854-7.
  8. Chang CT, et al. Creatine monohydrate treatment alleviates muscle cramps associated with haemodialysis. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2002;17(11):1978-81.
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