Creatine Supports Muscle Growth, Protects Long-Term Memory, and May Help Speed Recovery After Concussions and Strokes

by Nils Osmar. Updated Nov. 4, 2023. Medical Disclaimer

Creatine, an amino acid found in both foods and supplements, has important functions in both the body and brain. It’s associated with greater muscle strength and hypertrophy, and also with improved cognition and improved long-term memory. Interestingly, some studies show that creatine may be activating both AMPK (the longevity pathway) and mTOR (the growth pathway).

Creatine been found to have multiple benefits in both youthful and elderly test subjects. According to a 2022 study, Effects of creatine supplementation on memory in healthy individuals: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials:

As an example of the importance of creatine in humans, creatine-deficient syndromes that deplete brain creatine stores are characterized by mental and developmental disorders such as learning delays and seizures17,18; importantly, these symptoms can be partially reversed by creatine supplementation.19–21 …

Elderly study participants (68–85 years) who received creatine supplementation (20 g/d for 7 days) showed significant improvements in measures of memory (forward number recall, backward and forward spatial recall, and long-term memory) compared with those who received placebo.25 

Similarly, Rae et al37 found improvements in working memory following creatine supplementation (5 g/d for 6 weeks) in vegetarians. In a direct comparison of omnivores and vegetarians, Benton and Donohoe24 found better memory following creatine supplementation (20 g/d for 5 days) in vegetarians compared with meat eaters. Nevertheless, this might be attributable to the intake of lower-creatine vegetarian diets.38,39 

According to a 2014 study, A review of creatine supplementation in age-related diseases: more than a supplement for athletes, creatine supports long term memory in the elderly and is also protective against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Muscle hypertrophy

Creatine’s effects on muscle hypertrophy appear to vary depending on the population being studies, and on which muscle groups are being worked. According to a 2017 study, Creatine supplementation elicits greater muscle hypertrophy in upper than lower limbs and trunk in resistance-trained men, the authors concluded, “Our results suggest that Cr supplementation can positively augment muscle hypertrophy in resistance-trained young adult men, particularly in the upper limbs.”

Protection against stroke

Low levels of creatine are associated with greater odds of ischemic stroke, suggesting that eating foods or taking supplements high in creatine could be particularly important for the aging population. It may also be helpful in speeding recovery from stroke, and assisting with recovery from concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

People who eat meat and other animal food products have significantly more creatine in their brains and bodies than those who don’t. (There’s a small amount in some plant products, but it’s a tiny fraction of the amount found in meat) This suggests that it may be important to vegans and vegetarians to supplement with it. See study,

Many people who eat meat also take creatine supplements.

Other possible benefits

According to an overview published on the Mayo Clinic website, creatine’s benefits may include:

  • Strength, muscle size and performance. Oral creatine use might allow an athlete to do more work during reps or sprints, leading to greater gains in strength, muscle mass and performance…
  • Injury prevention. Oral creatine might reduce the frequency of dehydration, muscle cramping, and injuries to the muscles, …
  • Cognition and brain health. Creatine supplementation might improve performance during cognitive tasks…
  • Sarcopenia and bone health. Creatine supplementation might help counteract age-related declines in skeletal muscle and bone mineral density.
  • Skin aging. Early research suggests that a cream containing creatine and other ingredients applied to the face every day for six weeks might reduce skin sag and wrinkles… Another study suggests that a cream containing creatine and folic acid improves sun damage and reduces wrinkles.

My thoughts, and what I’m doing:

  • I eat a balanced (organic/grass-fed) omnivorous diet, so I should be getting some creatine from meat, poultry and seafood (by far the richest sources). But I also take 6 to 8 grams of creatine per day.
  • When a supplement activates both mTOR and AMPK, it can be a little puzzling figuring out the best time to take it. Studies trying to resolve whether it’s best to take it before or after working out have been ambivalent. (It appears to work fine either way.)
  • I usually take AMPK activators such as glucosamine, fish oil, and SIRT6 Activator in the morning before my workout, then take mTOR activators afterwards. In the case of creatine, I take 4 or 5 grams shortly before working out, and 2 or 3 more grams after my workout.

Side effects

As with any supplements, there can be side effects, and it may not be a good choice for everyone. According to this Mayo Clinic article, it can cause weight gain, However, the gain is mainly in lean muscle mass. (It can also cause water retention which can give the appearance that we’re “gaining weight”, though our body fat is not increasing.) I would encourage people to research both the possible benefits and possible side effects of any supplement they are considering taking.

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Not medical advice

This article is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice. I’m not advising that people eat any particular diet or take any particular supplements, just reporting on what I’m doing. All supplements can have side effects; I would encourage people to research both possible benefits and side effects before starting on any supplementation regimen.  See full Medical Disclaimer

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