“Because there is a significant pool of creatine in the brain, the utility of creatine supplementation has been examined in vitro as well as in vivo in both animal models of neurological disorders and in humans,” the researchers wrote in a study published in this month’s issue of International Immunopharmacology.
The studies they cite, however, are still preliminary, thus the researchers conducted a review of existing studies that show a link between creatine and neurological health, “to examine the potential of dietary creatine supplementation to modulate disease, as well as to discuss potential mechanisms of action of creatine in its ability to function as a neuroprotective or immunomodulatory agent,” they wrote.
Brain juice ingredient
Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc athletes were the first to use creatine as a potential ergogenic aid, the reviewers wrote. By the 1990s, it had become a widely-researched, staple sports nutrition ingredient. But less extensive research has been done on creatine’s brain benefits, though there have been numerous pilot studies.
Several smaller supplement brands have already featured creatine as a star ingredient in mood support supplements, but the researchers in the current study are hypothesizing that creatine may go as far providing “some protection against neurological disorders and trauma,” based on the significant pool of creatine in the brain.
They cited several studies using animal models that observed oral creatine supplementation providing “neuroprotective effects in a variety of neurological conditions including traumatic brain injury, Huntington’s Disease, [and] Parkinson’s Disease.”
Creatine may benefit patients of traumatic brain injury
When it comes to a traumatic brain injury, a significant contributor of cognitive impairment among athletes, studies have observed that a secondary injury from impact is caused by “alterations in calcium disruption that results in mitochondrial dysfunction and an inadequate supply of [adenosine triphosphate] ATP to the neuron.”
A study conducted in 2000, published in the Annals of Neurology, supplemented creatine in rodents given traumatic brain injuries to reduce the level of tissue damage. “Mice intraperitoneally injected with creatine for three and five days prior to [traumatic brain injury] had reduced lesion volumes than control injected mice at day seven post injury. Similar results were observed in rats treated with creatine prior to [traumatic brain injury],” the authors of the review wrote.
Human studies have also been conducted, both short-term (published in 2006 in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery) and long-term (published in 2008 in Acta Paediatrica) which looked at creatine supplementation on traumatic brain injury patients, children and adolescents. The researchers here found that patients receiving 0.4 g kg -1 creatine orally had “significant improvement in communication, cognition, personality/behaviour [sic], and self-care” compared to individuals who did not receive creatine. According to the reviewers, though the findings were not statistically significant, “the length of stay in the intensive care unit was shortened which would result in decreased hospitalization costs.”
The reviewers added: “While there appear to be no other studies that have examined the potential benefit of creatine supplementation in TBI patients, the results of these studies and are promising and future large-scale studies on the utility of creatine are warranted, particularly since no negative side-effects were noted in these reports.”
Further research on creatine
The review includes extensive analyses of existing studies on other brain conditions, as well as analyses on creatine’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and creatine’s possible benefits to the immune system.
“Of note, creatine is extremely inexpensive compared to most neuroprotective agents and immunomodulatory drugs,” the reviewers wrote. “It is critical that future studies in humans examining the neuroprotective properties of creatine are designed to ensure that participants are ingesting doses that parallel the doses used in rodent studies.”
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Source: International Immunopharmacology
Published online ahead of print, doi:10.1016/j.intimp.2015.12.034
"Beyond muscles: The untapped potential of creatine"
Authors: Lisa A. Riesberg, Stephanie A. Weed, Thomas L. McDonald, Joan M. Eckerson, Kristen M. Drescher