Can Creatine Do More Than Just Make You Strong?

Long associated with bodybuilding, creatine is flexing its muscles as a possible option in the relief of the effects of aging.

7 min read

Can Creatine Do More Than Just Make You Strong?

Chances are when you hear the word “creatine,” your immediate mental image is that of a muscle-bound gym rat pumping iron and grunting as thick veins bulge from his red-flushed face. The common misconception is that creatine is somehow associated with anabolic steroids and thus, it has falsely become a supplement swollen with negative connotations and a bad reputation.

Article at a Glance:

Creatine Is Not A Steroid

  • Creatine is found naturally in the body and in some foods
  • Creatine increases strength, develops lean muscle, helps muscular recovery
  • Creatine is an amino acid produced in the liver, kidneys and pancreas, and is stored in skeletal muscle
  • Creatine must be ingested regularly for levels to be maintained

How Creatine Relates To Energy

  • ATP provides energy in your body
  • Creatine gives a phosphate molecule to ADP, transforming it back into ATP

Creatine For Aging 

  • As you age, mitochondria begin to underperform
  • Creatine can protect mitochondria by minimizing oxidative damage
  • Creatine supplementation in the elderly shows promise in guarding against muscle loss

Creatine & The Brain

  • Creatine can improve cognitive processing and neurological performance
  • Evidence of such capabilities are demonstrated in vegan and vegetarian test subjects
  • Traumatic brain conditions also show positive response to creatine

Creatine & The Heart

  • Because it is a muscle, the heart gets help with ATP restoration from creatine
  • Post-cardiac incident subjects responded positively to creatine

First things first: Creatine is not a steroid. 

Anabolic steroids are a synthetic version of male testosterone, whereas creatine is an organic compound found naturally in human muscle, as well as in red meat and fish. Most famously, creatine is a popular nutritional supplement usually sold in powder form by bodybuilding companies, as well as more nutritionally focused supplement manufacturers. Generally, creatine is thought to increase strength through the development of lean-muscle mass, as well as assist muscles during recovery from strenuous exercise. Athletes reach for creatine for that extra muscular boost of speed and energy during high-intensity training in the weight room or on the field. 

That’s probably the extent of your creatine knowledge and that’s OK. The bodybuilding industry has done such a thorough job of owning the compound that its full breadth of benefits beyond the weight room are not commonly known. But when you muscle through some research, the assorted strengths of creatine become more clearly defined. 


What Is Creatine’s Role In Your Body?

Creatine is a natural resource in your body and is an amino acid that is the source of energy for muscle contraction. Produced by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, creatine is stored in your skeletal muscle and is utilized whenever you engage in physical activity. There are also measurable amounts of creatine found in your heart, brain, and other bodily tissues. But creatine doesn’t stay in your body indefinitely— the molecule is evacuated through urine—and therefore it must be added daily through diet or supplementation if natural levels are to be maintained.

As for the science behind your body’s process of using creatine, simply put, it transports extra energy into your cells. Less simply put, adenosine triphosphate, better known as ATP, is the main compound that provides energy in your body. When your muscles contract, a phosphate molecule is broken off of ATP, transforming it into adenosine diphosphate (ADP). Unfortunately, your body can’t produce energy from ADP—and this is where creatine comes in. To address the muscular energy crisis, your body smartly donates a phosphate molecule from creatine to your newly formed ADP, transforming it back into the energy-producing ATP. So, mind your Ts and Ds people!

Bottom line: The more creatine phosphate you have, the more energy your body produces.

Creatine As A Component In Healthy Aging

Weightlifters aren’t the only segment of the population that can benefit from a boost of energy—and building muscle mass isn’t the only physiological function that performs better when energy is increased. As you grow older, passing through middle age into your 50s, energy levels take a natural dip and the body’s performance begins to slow. This can leave you susceptible to complications in myriad areas, including cognitive function, your cardiovascular system, and skin health. 

Emerging research showcases creatine’s anti-aging effects in vital human tissue. In general, an aging body produces dysfunctional mitochondria, that is, mitochondria that doesn’t produce energy as it once did. Recent studies show that creatine could potentially protect mitochondria from the ravages of age, mainly by minimizing the effects of oxidative damage. This relates to your skin and how it is robbed of its glow and elasticity as you age. Basically, when skin cells lose mitochondrial energy, it shows in a variety of age markers.

But creatine, as it protects against cellular stress conditions like oxidative damage, can have positive implications in skin aging and damage. 

Creatine & Age-Related Muscle Loss 

Muscle loss can be a serious physical complication to getting older. When combined with decreased cognitive performance, it can lead to an increase in the risk of falling—and with bones naturally weakened in old age, serious injury from a fall becomes more likely. As creatine supports lean body mass, fatigue resistance, and muscle performance in young adults, it can also equal a choice collection of benefits for older adults. 

And we aren’t talking about suddenly bulking up into Mr. or Mrs. Universe when you officially become a senior citizen. Studies demonstrate that creatine can help with seemingly simple everyday tasks that become far-less simple the older we get. Actions like sitting down and getting back up involve lifting and controlling the entirety of your body weight, something that can get complicated in our later years. Creatine has been shown to improve the ability to perform this high-energy action. 

In another study, creatine was able to assist in the increase of upper-body grip strength and overall working capacity in elderly men and women ages 64 to 86. Meanwhile, another study specifically on women showed that creatine could result in an increase in strength, power, and lower-body functional performance.

How Your Brain Benefits From Creatine

Jocks aren’t necessarily associated with brainiacs, but as it turns out the two disparate groups might have more in common than previously thought. As previously mentioned, some of the body’s creatine is stored in your brain, where its talent as a neurotransmitter can produce cognitive benefits and neurological improvements. 

In addition to helping to reverse the decrease of muscle creatine, muscle mass, bone density, and strength as you age, studies demonstrate that creatine supplementation can improve cognitive processing and neuropsychological performance.

Creatine’s prowess for brain support might be most acutely shown in studies involving vegans and vegetarians, who, since they lack meat in their diet, have naturally lower levels of creatine than their omnivore counterparts. In one study, creatine supplementation had significant positive effects on working memory and intelligence tests taken by adult vegetarian subjects. In another study involving specifically young adult females, creatine use resulted in markedly better memory performance. 

It appears that creatine can improve brain efficiency by maintaining those crucial levels of ATP when we are challenged with complicated tasks.

Meanwhile, many brain conditions are triggered by turmoil in the brain’s energy supply system— this includes chronic, age-related conditions, as well as acute events like strokes and traumatic brain injuries. Studies suggest that the energy-boosting properties of creatine could prove helpful in these chronic and acute conditions. 

It appears that creatine can improve brain efficiency by maintaining those crucial levels of ATP when we are challenged with complicated tasks.

The Effect Of Creatine On Your Heart

As we’ve seen, creatine clearly improves skeletal muscle performance—but what can it do for the most important muscle in your body, the heart? In one particular animal study, creatine was able to restore ATP levels in situations of energy-sapping cardiac stress while also reducing heart-muscle exhaustion. The same positive ATP results were demonstrated in another study that used animals without cardiac stress. 

Results are also promising in human studies. One effort studied subjects with congestive heart failure, giving them a high dose of creatine for 10 days while undergoing cardiac testing before and after supplementation. The subjects given creatine showed an increase in creatine phosphate in their muscles, which aided in their exercise-based recovery efforts. 


A Strong Case For Creatine As We Age

Your body needs energy in order to thrive well into your advanced years. The problem with aging is that it gets harder to extract the energy we need from food and more complicated to store it in our bodies for when we need it most. This doesn’t make us weak—it makes us human. With its aptitude for creating ATP, creatine flexes its muscles in support of all of our energy-demanding physiological activities.

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