Age-related inflammation and oxidative stress lead to muscle loss, osteoporosis, and cognitive decline.
Creatine supplements appear to lower age-related inflammation and oxidative stress.
Multiple studies show that creatine supplementation improves muscle mass and stamina for both athletes and aging adults.
Studies also indicate that creatine supplements could prevent or reverse short-term memory loss and improve cognitive function.
Since the 1990s, creatine supplements have been a favorite of bodybuilders and athletes. Creatine supplementation increases muscle strength, improves stamina, and enhances recovery between workouts. Its popularity has been cemented by its long history of safety.
In the past few years, studies on creatine supplementation have generated enthusiasm well beyond the realm of sports. Researchers have found that creatine supplements slow age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia), which is important in preventing falls. Creatine supplements also appear to improve cognitive function and lower the risk of heart attack.
What creatine is and how it works
Did you know that skeletal muscles contain a natural chemical called creatine? It exists in both free and phosphorylated forms, with the phosphorylated form referred to as phosphocreatine.
Creatine (Cr) is a compound formed from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. It is produced by the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, but it is most abundant in the skeletal muscles and the brain. Outside of the body, creatine can be acquired from foods such as shellfish and red meats.
Creatine is an essential source of energy for the muscles. After it is synthesized, it travels through the bloodstream to the cells of the skeletal muscles and the heart. In the mitochondria of these cells, it becomes phosphocreatine.
Phosphocreatine and ATP; spark and fuel for muscle energy
Movement requires energy. An automobile relies upon the combustion of gasoline or diesel fuel for this energy; our muscles rely upon phosphocreatine and a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
Without phosphocreatine, our muscles would use up ATP rapidly. Muscles could only contract in short bursts followed by a lengthy recovery period. Like fuel ignition in a combustion engine, phosphocreatine “sparks” ATP so that it can continue to fuel muscle movement.
Supplementation of creatine allows the muscles to store more phosphocreatine. This results in more powerful contractions, improved endurance, and more rapid recovery. As a result, muscle mass is increased.
A brief history of creatine
Our understanding of creatine has a fascinating history. It was first discovered in 1832 by a French chemist named Michel Chevreul, who extracted it from meat. He took the name for his discovery, appropriately enough, from the Greek word for meat–kreas.
In 1912, animal studies done at Harvard proved that ingesting creatine increased creatine stores in the muscles. The first human experimentation came in 1926; after giving his subjects 10g of creatine a day for a week, biochemist Alfred Chanutin of Virginia determined that creatine supplementation led to increased muscle mass.
The first creatine supplements
Extracting creatine from meat was an expensive and time-consuming task in that period, so research progressed slowly. The development of a synthetic form of creatine in the 1950s opened the floodgates.
By 1975, scientists had confirmed Chanutin’s conclusions; creatine supplementation led to increased performance and faster muscle recovery. By 1990, researchers agreed that creatine supplementation could slow or prevent muscle deterioration.
These findings immediately attracted scientists researching neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. They also garnered the attention of athletes. By 1996, it was estimated that over 80% of Olympic athletes were supplementing with creatine.
Creatine and longevity
In the early 2000s, several studies found that creatine offered a defense against neurodegenerative diseases in mouse models. A study in 2008 built upon these findings with astonishing results; mice treated with creatine supplements experienced less age-related cognitive decline and had lower levels of age-related inflammation markers than mice in the control group.
More astonishing still, the life span of mice in the creatine supplementation group was 9% higher than that of mice in the control group–the equivalent of seven years in a human life span!
Since that landmark study in 2008, researchers have uncovered even more of creatine’s anti-aging properties. Subsequent studies found that creatine may improve cognitive function and short-term memory, in addition to reducing the perception of pain.
Lipofuscin–the age pigment
The 2008 mouse-model study showed a correlation between creatine supplementation and decreased levels of a compound called lipofuscin. Lipofuscin is a yellow-brown pigment produced when the body breaks down and disposes of damaged red blood cells.
Lipofuscin is sometimes called the age pigment; its accumulation is implicated in the development of macular degeneration and heart disease, as well as neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
Lipofuscin’s role in these disorders isn’t clearly understood. The compound is linked to oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, both of which play a role in the aging process.
Oxidative stress and inflammation
Oxidative stress occurs when the body is imbalanced between free radicals and antioxidants. It damages cell membranes and promotes cellular dysfunction. Over time, oxidative stress can trigger inflammation.
Inflammation is the immune system’s defensive response to antigens and foreign bodies. When triggered by an on-going process within the body, it can become chronic.This results in damage to the body’s tissues.
Just as oxidative stress can trigger inflammation, inflammation can cause oxidative stress. It also inhibits the cells’ production of antioxidants, accelerating cellular damage.
Creatine's extensive anti-aging benefits could be rooted in its ability to rally the cells’ antioxidant capacity. The implications are wide-ranging. Presented here are just a few of creatine’s apparent anti-aging benefits.
Preventing and reversing muscle loss
For the first 50 years of life, muscle strength is relatively consistent. After age 50, it begins to decline at a rate of 1.2-1.5% per year. Muscle mass also begins to decline during this period at a rate of around 0.8%.
A growing body of evidence indicates that creatine supplementation can slow both age-related declines in muscle strength (dynapenia) and muscle mass (sarcopenia). The best results have come from a combination of supplementation and strength training.
Falls contribute significantly to morbidity and mortality among older adults. Muscle loss and weakness increase the risk of falls. Creatine supplementation could offer a safe and cost-effective way to decrease this risk.
Improved bone density
Like muscle loss, the risk of bone loss (osteoporosis) increases at age 50. The body no longer replaces bone cells as rapidly as they die. Osteoporosis affects both men and women. Women are at an increased risk, though. Within the first five to seven years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density.
Reduced risk of fracture
Osteoporosis leads to fragile bones that fracture easily and heal slowly. This results in a sharp decline in activity, contributing to poor cardiovascular health and other morbidities.
Creatine supplementation might indirectly stimulate bone accretion by building muscle mass. Additionally, some studies have found evidence that creatine supplementation directly stimulates the production of bone cells (osteoblasts).
Increased collagen production
Collagen is the most abundant protein in the human body, and it is found in skin, bone, and connective tissue. It is this fibrous protein that gives skin its youthful firmness and resilience.
Around age 50, collagen production begins to slow, leading to sagging and wrinkling. Creatine seems to slow collagen loss by stimulating the production of new collagen cells.
Who benefits from creatine supplementation?
According to internist Dr. Brad Stanfield, creatine is a safe and effective supplement for most people. He points out that no long-term adverse effects have been reported in the fifty years or so since creatine supplements first became available. Like many other physicians, he cautions against its use by those with liver or kidney damage.
Dr. Stanfield says that vegans and strict vegetarians of any age benefit from supplementing creatine, since their diet does not supply it. Athletes can benefit from its performance-enhancing qualities.
We’ve touched on a few of creatine’s many benefits for adults over age 50. In short, creatine supplementation has something to offer almost everyone.
Because supplements are not regulated in the United States, consumers should research their options carefully. CreapureⓇ is distinguished by its IFS FOOD certification, a globally-recognized standard of authenticity and safety.
Using animal-free, chemically-synthesized creatine, CreapureⓇ is safe for vegan use. Unlike many other supplements, it is gluten free. In addition, it is both Kosher and Halal certified.
When should you start creatine supplementation?
“At what age should I start taking creatine supplements?”
The answer to this common question is a resounding “anytime.” Unless you suffer from liver or kidney damage, you can safely take creatine supplements at any age, and it is never too late to start.
What about risks?
Dr. Stanfield and many others have advised that creatine supplement has no long-term risks for healthy adults–but is it completely risk-free?
Creatine supplementation may cause some minor, short-term side-effects, including weight gain (this is the result of water-retention, which usually subsides after a few weeks), muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, thirst, and frequent urination.
Most of these side-effects are reported anecdotally and have not been investigated thoroughly. They are also usually reported by those taking larger amounts than the recommended daily dosage of 3-5g.
Male-pattern baldness was reported anecdotally, also. It was once theorized that creatine supplements led to the upregulation of testosterone. In controlled studies, however, creatine led to neither increased testosterone nor hair loss.
Creatine is a compound produced by the liver. In the mitochondria of muscle cells, it becomes phosphocreatine, which is necessary for sustained muscle contraction. It is stored within the muscle cells, and these stores can be increased by supplementation.
Creatine supplementation slows the loss of muscle strength and mass that begins at age 50. It also slows the progression of neurodegenerative diseases and age-related cognitive decline. Studies suggest that creatine is an effective anti-aging tool with few risks. It is safe for most people. Speak with your doctor about whether creatine supplements are right for you.