Lately there has been much talk about the effects of creatine, both as a naturally occurring substance in the human body and as a weight lifting supplement. Long used as a dietary supplement, it is now being researched as a potential treatment for diseases and cognitive aid.
As with any mass marketed supplement, there have been reports of both miraculous results and dangerous side effects. The truth, it seems, is somewhere between these two extremes. Regardless, a proper understanding of the fundamental properties of creatine is recommended before trying it.
What is Creatine?
Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid that is produced in the kidneys and liver of humans. It is primarily (approximately 95%) used in the human body by skeletal muscle. It is not an essential nutrient which means humans can survive without it. In vertebrates, about half of the stored creatine is derived from food, primarily meat.
Vegetarians tend to have significantly lower levels of creatine than non-vegetarians. When taken as a dietary supplement, it is most often in the form of Creatine Monohydrate as a powder that can be mixed into water.
Creatine is primarily used by athletes, wrestlers, sprinters, and body builders wishing to gain muscle mass. As a supplement, approximately two to three times is consumed as could otherwise be found in a diet very high in protein.
The initial phase of creatine supplementation, known as the “loading phase”, is characterized by an acute intake of very high levels of the substance. This is followed by a “maintenance” phase where smaller amounts are taken to maintain certain levels in the body.
Short term creatine use has been shown to improve maximum power in high intensity anaerobic exercise by 5-15%. By many accounts, it also seems to increase gains in muscle mass. This has been long disputed however, as many claim that these gains are primarily due to water retention. There has been no conclusive scientific evidence either way on this issue.
Creatine Safety Concerns
Current medical evidence suggests that short term creatine use in health individuals is safe. In those with kidney disease, however, it can potentially lead to renal dysfunction and should be avoided. Muscle cramping has long been associated with creatine supplementation, but it can be largely avoided through proper hydration.
A person supplementing with creatine should drink at least a gallon of water a day. There have been some extreme reports of collapse or heart failure associated with creatine, but it is not clear what caused these incidents.
Ceratine For Disease Treatment
Creatine has been shown to cause strength increases in people afflicted with a variety of neuromuscular disorders. It continues to be tested and researched as a treatment for everything from arthritis and congestive heart failure to Huntington’s disease. A study has shown that creatine supplementation is twice as effective as existing drug treatments in extending the lives of mice afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
Additionally, creatine has been shown to provide a cognitive boost to a number of different age groups (especially the elderly) on a variety of intelligence tests.