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Creatine Brain Fuel Supplementation

Vegetarians appear to get more of a cognitive boost than meat-eaters from creatine supplementation.

May 3, 2012 |
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Sources Cited

Acknowledgements

Images thanks to Dwayne Reed, Yikrazuul, AndreasPraefcke and Sbrools via Wikimedia Commons.

Transcript

The brain takes up only 2% of body weight but may use up 25% of the body’s energy. We each have supercomputers in our heads and they drain a lot of power. That’s where this molecule comes in, creatine. It acts as a quick reserve energy boost when your fuel supply—oxygen and glucose—is running low. Creatine is naturally produced in our liver, kidneys and pancreas, and transported to the brain and your muscles, the two places you need the most rapid energy deployment.
Now if you were to take a hannibal lector bite out of someone, would that extra creatine you eat on top of what you’re already making give your brain a boost? That study might not get past the ethics board, but this one did. The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores.
In this simplified, normalized version of the data, before the creatine supplement was consumed, the memory capacity of the vegetarians and meateaters was similar, so they started out at the same place. However, after 4 days of consuming a creatine supplement, memory was better in vegetarians compared to those who consumed meat, whereas in those who were meateaters, the consumption of the creatine supplement was associated with poorer memory compared to baseline. So, the vegetarians got a brain boost, but the meat-eaters didn’t.
This may be because meat-eaters have downregulated creatine synthesis. Their body doesn’t make a whole lot because they get it in their diet by eating muscle meat. So their body is like why bother, whereas the vegetarians are cranking the stuff out all the time, and so when they take a creatine supplement it may be like they’re getting a double dose, they’re getting what they take, in addition to what they already make.
Still too early to tell what’s really going on, but in the meanwhile, if you eat vegetarian, should you consider taking creatine supplements? Creatine, are the benefits worth the risk? This is in the context of sports supplemention. That was actually asked more generally of the editor in chief of the Harvard Health letter recetnly, to which he replied: For now, to be on the safe side, I’d advise against taking creatine, concerned that creatine supplements might contain toxic impurities. Was he just being paranoid? Nope. Levels of organic contaminants and heavy metals in creatine supplements, They tested 33 different brands on the market and found a whopping 50% of them exceeded the maximum level recommended by the European Food Safety Authority for at least one contaminant.

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by veganmontreal.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

For some background on creatine, see yesterday's video. I have 51 other videos on brain health, including Constructing a Cognitive Portfolio,Improving Mood Through Diet, and Reversing Cognitive Decline, as well as hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that the contaminant study is open access, so you can download it by clicking on the link above in the Sources Cited section.

For more context, check out my associated blog post: Probiotics and Diarrhea

  • Michael Greger M.D.

    For some background on creatine, see yesterday’s video. I have 51 other videos on brain health, including Constructing a Cognitive Portfolio, Improving Mood Through Diet, and Reversing Cognitive Decline, as well as hundreds of other videos on more than a thousand subjects. Note that the contaminant study is open access, so you can download it by clicking on the link above in the Sources Cited section.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=670735069 Tan Truong

    Dr. Greger, please let us know when it’s safe to supplement creatine. I could use some cognitive boost.

    • Michael Greger M.D.

       Did you watch through to the end? It’s probably best not to take supplementary creatine.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003280143255 Joe Smith

        You mentioned 50% of the Creatine supplements are contaminated.. Which of the 50% were not contaminated?  Do they spell out any brand names or anything?  I have exams coming up!

        • Darrylsroy

          The referenced article found 44% of the Italian market creatine monohydrate samples had creatinine (the body’s own creatine metabolic product, so harmless), and 15% with 4.5-8 mg/kg dihydro-1,3,5-triazine (4.5 mg/kg being EFSA’s limit) and > 50 mg/kg dicyandiamide (resulting from inadequate water during manufacturing recrystallization).  So it looks like 15% of the samples were contaminated with fairly low amounts of toxic manufacturing byproducts.

          I’m a bit more concerned about elevated intramuscular IGF-1 from creatine consumption (Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2008 Aug;18(4):389-98).  Probably desirable from a bodybuilder’s standpoint, but problematic given all the smoking guns linking elevated IGF-1 and cancer proliferation.

          • albert

            According to that article, found here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3407788/

            IGF-1 only increased when creatine was combined with heavy resistance training. This increase of IGF-1 may have been an indirect result of the creatine since it allowed the subjects to exercise harder, producing better results and greater hypertrophy. In such a case, the body uses its IGF-1 appropriately and there is no increase in risk of cancer. The body is wise enough not to produce an excess. Excess IGF-1 is a result of excess protein, “complete protein,” and zinc, all found typically in animal foods. Incidentally, the vegetarians experienced the greatest muscle gains. A clean diet definitely helps.

  • Mike

    This is some of the worst science I have come across.

    • Tetranomad

      This is some of the worst blog commenting I have come across.

      • Mike

        How much meat is eaten. What sources of meat are eaten. How much creatine is in those source. Why is the study only 4 days long? That is not enough time for the body to regain its equilibrium. Because of this short period of time, of course you will see positive results. The body will have a positive balance of creatine. Meat eaters already have a creatine balance. Where and why does intake of a water soluble supplement such as creatine decrease cognitive function? I say water soluble because if additional creatine is ingested and the body does not use it, it is pissed out in the urine. I can continue on and on about how terrible this study is. I’m not against a vegetarian lifestyle. I actually promote many aspects of it. This particular study though is absolutely ridiculous. Extend the study out to 4 or more weeks minimal so that each test group has the ability to regain their equilibrium and you will likely see no significant difference.

  • Paul

    I take a brand of creatine monohydrate marked 100% pure powder. If 100% means what I think it does, there are no contaminants in it at all. Creatine supplementation is said to lower homocysteine as well as giving an energy boost for anerobic activities and now, helping memory. On balance, I can find more reasons to continue taking creatine than to shrink away from it.

    • Rschommer

      From the bigger picture, it is key to note the initial graph in comparison between the vegetarians and omnivores concerning cognitive memory. They are almost exactly similar in value…….even with the tremendous amount of average meat(muscle) consumed by the average omnivore.

      As a low fat vegan, I am very comfortable with the knowledge that my own body can manufacture creatine……….in multiple locations and capacities, as needed—–without supplementation from actual meat or toxic pills. Too much of a “good thing”, especially from unnatural sources usually or can lead to trouble. Let’s all not forget, Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Selenium and several other pill supplements as opposed to the real mccoy, from natural food sources.

      Really believe the bigger picture of cognitive function is more strongly related to atherosclerotic plaque formation in the large(carotid) and numerous small blood vessels leading into and within the brain. Hard to provide the 20 percent needed nutrients to this super computer when the inflow roads are blocked.

      However, we presently do have great medical documentation concerning cleaning out these plaque deposits and continuing to maintain our blood vessels is the research from Dean Ornish and Caldwell Esselstyn. 

      The answer is a low fat vegan diet with moderate exercise, plain and simple.
      What is good for the heart, will be good for the brain (memory). My opinion anyway.

      • http://twitter.com/griffd griffd

        Be careful with a “low fat” diet – fat is an extremely important part of the diet, and it also helps facilitate absorption of nutrients from your fruits and veggies. I think low (or no) animal consumption is the best way to go, but we should get nearly all our fat from whole food plant sources (like nuts, seeds, avocados, etc). I think we got to get rid of the old school terminology here – low carb, low fat, high protein, it’s all so misleading. It focuses on macro-nutrients and doesn’t take into affect the micronutrients, fiber, etc etc. Whole food (mostly) plant based high-nutrient diet? It’s a mouthful :) Dr Fuhrman calls it “nutritarian” which is simple, but not completely descriptive either. 

        • Toxins

          Actually, all the essential fat we need is found in greens, fruits and grains. We have no dietary need for seeds or nuts, nor is a healthy diet dependent upon these foods. Monounsaturated fats are produced in the liver while we must acquire omega 6 and 3 through food. Men need only 1.1 grams of omega 3, women need 1.6 grams of omega 3. If we eat low fat whole plant foods our dietary fat needs are met.

          Here is Jeff Novick’s chart on omega 3 supply in the diet, you will find that the best nut choices are flax and walnuts, as well as chia which is not listed.
          http://a5.sphotos.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc7/s720x720/379704_10150908714835462_619810461_21435944_1609211412_n.jpg

          In addition, if one were to eat a lot of peanuts or almonds throughout the day, we would throw our omega 6: omega3 ratio off. We should strive to keep the ratio at 4:1 or under. Peanuts have a ratio of 4400: 1 Almonds have a ratio of 1800: 1Eating these foods on a constant basis will not allow the omega 3 to synthesize efficiently, omega 6 is already significantly more abundant then omega 3.

  • http://twitter.com/griffd griffd

    If you took creatine supplements regularly, wouldn’t your body stop producing it just like if you were regularly eating meat? And if so, I wonder how long it would take to adjust – maybe you could save the creative supplements for those special days when you need the athletic performance boost.  ???

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Shane-Jackson/1135727622 Shane Jackson

      The instructions for use on almost all powdered drink creatine supplements call for a loading period where the subject is supposed to take double the daily dose for 5 days before backing off to the normal maintenance dose. So it appears at least according to the supplement dealers that not having a consistent amount present in the body doesn’t allow for the full benefit. Whether this is actually the scientifically correct method of supplementing with this or just a way for the supplement companies to make their purchased product disappear faster I couldn’t tell you. I will say that when I used to take it my brain/mind seemed to go into a little overdrive where I seemed to be extra alert and able to focus a little more than normal.

  • Terra Preta

    The contaminant study doesn’t appear to be open access; at least for me, I have to register and pay $36 to view it.

  • Terra Preta

    I noticed my creatine claims to test each batch using state of the art HPLC. It lists the levels of organic contaminants and heavy metals.  It claims it is the purest on the market.  It’s called Creapure and it’s by Integrated Supplements: http://www.integratedsupplements.com/intsup/intsup0008.creatineind?p_pid_c=
    I’m assuming it’s valid.  It acknowledges that contaminants are often present in creatine products.

  • Mike Snyder

    Is L-Arginine safe to take for High Blood Pressure?…thanks…Mike

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alexandra-Lupin-Rajzman/605415726 Alexandra Lupin Rajzman

    So how do we boost our vegetarian brain performance without creatine supplements?

  • Anja

    Hello, I am a plant-based athlete/body builder, personal trainer and dancer and my brother (who is also a plant based athlete) sent me a supplement over from Austria called “Tribulus Terrestris”. He adds it to his shakes/smoothies and he swears by it. I just wanted to ask for your input on whether this is a good option for females as well?

    • albert

      Yes, it stimulates the body to produce lutenizing hormone which causes a cascade of other hormones as appropriate for either sex. However, it’s possible that frequent continual usage will result in the body adapting to Tribulus- or any exogenous supplement, resulting in its effect decreasing, perhaps to the null point. For this reason I rotate between one of seven adaptations and one of seven sex stu

  • Derrek

    Is supplementing with creatine safe? What about like brown rice protein, pea protein or any plant based supplement like Sunwarrior?

    • albert

      Recently, I read an article that indicates that it’s safe for the kidneys, which was their main point of concern: http://www.jissn.com/content/10/1/26 I would recommend using a brand such as NOW which is tested in their lab with very sophisticated mass spectrometers to assure that it’s 100% pure. You can call them up and talk to customer service to get info on their quality control- that’s what I did. If pea or rice protein is also pure, there shouldn’t be any problem- but why not eat the whole food pea or brown rice instead? It’s cheaper and has more fiber and micronutrients.

  • Derrek

    I use pea and brown rice for protein and BCAA.

    • Toxins

      Getting enough protein is not really an issue unless you are not eating enough calories to begin with, which is essentially starving oneself, or you are consuming a strict fruitarian diet. Other then that, not getting enough protein is a non issue.

  • Jsr

    Are vegans creatine /deficient/??

  • William Dwyer

    I took creatine for awhile and felt great while I was on it. My
    strength also increased noticeably at the gym. Wow! I was riding high
    on that stuff! What could be better? However, since I have a
    blood-pressure monitor and take my blood pressure frequently just out of
    habit and curiosity, I took it while on creatine, and what did I
    find?

    Holy Sepulcher! It had jumped from 110/70 to 150/95.
    At first I thought there must be something wrong with the monitor, but I
    kept getting the same high numbers no matter how often I took it. I
    called Kaiser and talked to the advice nurse, who told me that I should
    stop taking the creatine, because it causes your body to retain water
    and could drive up your blood pressure. I did stop, and after a couple
    of days, my blood pressure returned to normal. By the way, I was only
    taking 2 grams per day. Body builders take 20 grams per day in the
    loading phase, and for maintenance, they take 5 grams per day.