Heads up: Review supports creatine supplementation for brain health

By Asia Sherman

- Last updated on GMT

© Mihaela Rosu / Getty Images
© Mihaela Rosu / Getty Images

Related tags Creatine Brain health Nootropic Research

Creatine supplementation can increase brain creatine content, which over time may help explain its promising effects on brain health and function, according to a recent review.

“Specifically, creatine supplementation has been shown to improve measures of cognition and memory (primarily in aging adults) and decreases symptoms of sleep deprivation in human and animal populations,” the researchers wrote in the journal Sports Medicine​. “Creatine supplementation also shows promise for alleviating some symptoms of traumatic brain injury, including concussion, and characteristics of muscular dystrophy in humans.”

Framed as a “heads up” for potential brain health and function applications, the article was based on a presentation to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute Expert Panel in October 2022 by Darren Candow, first author on the review and professor of exercise physiology and metabolism at the University of Regina in Canada.

Creatine on the brain

Much of the research to date has focused on the efficacy of creatine monohydrate supplementation and exercise in improving muscle mass, performance and recovery in young healthy men, however, there is emerging interest in its potential brain benefits across diverse populations.

In August 2022, some of the same authors on this latest review reported that creatine supplementation improved memory performance​ in healthy individuals, particularly in older adults – suggesting that brain creatine content may decline with age and therefore older adults may be more responsive to creatine supplementation. Members of the research team also contributed to a review published earlier in the year​, which explored the accumulating research on how supplementation with creatine and its precursor guanidinoacetic acid (GAA) boosts brain creatine content. 

Speaking with NutraIngredients-USA​ at the 2022 International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) conference, Scott Forbes, an associate professor at Brandon University in Canada and an author on all three reviews, highlighted the white space for creatine beyond the gym.

“From my understanding, there’s not a lot of promotion of creatine as a nootropic, or as this cognitive enhancer, but that’s definitely one benefit of creatine that a lot of people don’t know about, but they should,” he said.  

Most of the previous studies have been carried out in animal models, but there are more and more human trials investigating the effects of creatine supplementation on various aspects of cognitive function, whether passing accuracy in sleep-deprived rugby players​, memory in older adults​, cognitive processing in a younger population​, brain function in vegetarians​ or cognitive performance during acute oxygen deprivation​.

The review noted that results have been mixed, however, attributing the variations in response to differences in age, sex, dosage and assessment method across the studies.  

“Overall, there is some evidence that creatine supplementation can augment measures of cognitive function when brain bioenergetics are challenged, such as with sleep deprivation, mental fatigue and hypoxia,” the researchers concluded. 

Beefing up the research

The review details the potential of creatine to enhance cognitive function, cushion against traumatic brain injury, delay the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and alleviate the symptoms of mood disorders but notes that much remains unknown.

“Future research is needed to determine the mechanistic effects of long-term creatine supplementation dosing strategies, with and without exercise, on brain function and health,” the researchers wrote. “Further, whether there are sex- and age-related differences in response to creatine supplementation remains to be fully determined.”

Source: Sports Medicine
“‘Heads Up’ for Creatine Supplementation and its Potential Applications for Brain Health and Function”
doi: doi.org/10.1007/s40279-023-01870-9
Authors: Darren Candow et al.

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