Since the 1970s, creatine supplementation has been popular among athletes, who use it to build muscle mass and improve performance.
In the last 20 years, research has found that creatine supplements also offer exceptional anti-aging benefits.
Creatine supplementation appears to slow age-related bone and muscle loss.
Creatine supplementation also supports cognitive function, and it appears that it also helps protect against depression and anxiety.
Creatine supplementation could be beneficial to women, since their natural creatine stores are typically lower than mens.
Vegetarians could also benefit from creatine supplementation, since meat is the only dietary source of creatine.
Over the last few years, creatine has become one of the most widely-used dietary supplements. A mainstay in the athletic world since the 1960s, creatine is known to improve strength, increase stamina, and shorten recovery time.
Today, this supplement is gaining new appreciation as a powerful anti-aging tool. Creatine supplements appear to improve cognitive function, lower the risk of heart attack, and slow the muscle loss associated with age.
If you have explored creatine supplementation, you may have questions. “How could I benefit from creatine? What are its risks? Is micronized creatine better for me? Does creatine expire?”
Together, we will explore questions together as we discover creatine’s many uses.
What is creatine?
Creatine (Cr) is a compound formed from the amino acids glycine, arginine, and methionine. It is produced by the liver and kidneys and travels through the bloodstream to the skeletal muscles and the brain, where it is an essential source of energy.
Why is creatine important?
Our cells rely heavily upon a chemical called adenosine triphosphate (ATP) for energy. ATP is a vital fuel for most cellular processes, including the transport of nutrients and the repair of damaged cells.
ATP plays a role in the development and maintenance of neurons, and it helps facilitate communication between those neurons. It is also implicated in immune system functioning and DNA repair. Our muscles use ATP as a needed source of energy during contractions.
On its own, ATP stores would be used up too quickly to sustain the energy cells need to function. Even the most powerful fuel requires a spark; creatine provides that “spark” for ATP.
Creatine aids in the synthesis of ATP so that it can continue to fuel the critical cellular processes that rely upon it. Without it, muscle contractions and cellular communication would not be able to continue using ATP over and over.
Creatine supplementation allows our muscles and brains to store more creatine. This has benefits ranging from increased muscle mass to improved cognitive skills.
A brief history
The word “creatine” comes from the Greek word kreas, or meat. It was discovered (and named) in 1832 by French chemist Michel Chevreul, who first extracted creatine molecules from meat.
Researchers soon discovered that creatine supplementation led to increased muscle mass in animals. However, due to the expense involved in extracting creatine, research was limited, and supplementation only became viable with the development of a synthetic form of creatine in the 1950s.
By the end of the 1970s, researchers had confirmed the claims of prior studies—creatine supplementation increased athletic performance and reduced recovery time. By the late 1990s, an estimated 80% of Olympic athletes were supplementing with creatine.
Beyond sports: creatine’s anti-aging benefits
In the early 2000s, scientists discovered that creatine supplementation provides protection from neurodegenerative diseases in mice. In 2008, a separate study found that the life span of mice given creatine was 9% higher than that of mice in the control group; this equates to an increase of seven years in a human life span.
Subsequent studies have uncovered even more of creatine’s potential as an anti-aging supplement. It is associated with improvements in cognitive function and short-term memory; it may also help reduce the perception of pain.
Who uses creatine?
Since creatine supplements first became available, they have been widely embraced by athletes. Today, creatine's powerful anti-aging and brain-stimulating properties are making it more attractive. to non-athletes.
Dietary supplementation in general is more prevalent among older, college-educated women. Creatine in particular is becoming more popular among this cohort, and for good reason; women’s creatine stores are typically 70–80% lower than men’s, and after menopause, creatine loss accelerates.
Vegans and vegetarians also have lower-than-average creatine stores. Studies have shown that creatine’s effects on cognitive decline and muscle loss is more pronounced in this group. This is because meat is the only natural source of creatine in the human diet.
The risks and benefits of creatine supplementation
So far, research suggests that creatine offers a veritable cornucopia of benefits. Risks, meanwhile appear to be minimal for most people.
Here are a few benefits creatine supplements may offer users:
Oxidative stress occurs when the body is imbalanced between free radicals and antioxidants, and it accelerates as we age because metabolic function becomes less efficient. Oxidative stress damages cell membranes and promotes cellular dysfunction. It triggers inflammation, which damages the body’s tissues even further.
Inflammation and oxidative stress feed each other in a spiraling cycle. As they do, the body’s cells sustain more and more damage. Creatine appears to have antioxidant effects, stabilizing free radicals and preventing them from damaging cells and signaling for inflammation.
Prevents and reversing muscle loss
After age 50, our muscle strength begins to decline by about 1.2-1.5% per year; within the same period, we lose about 0.8% of muscle mass.
Creatine supplements appear to slow the decline of muscle strength and muscle mass among older adults. Its effects are more pronounced when used in combination with strength training.
Improves bone density
Bone loss (osteoporosis) also increases at age 50. This is true for both men and women, although women are at an increased risk; within the first five to seven years after menopause, a woman can lose up to 20% of her bone density. Studies suggest that creatine supplementation directly stimulates the production of osteoblats (bone cells).
Increases collagen production
Creatine also appears to stimulate the production of collagen. Collagen is found in skin, bone, and connective tissue, providing a sort of scaffolding to tissues and helping them maintain their function.By stimulating collagen production, creatine could offer some protection against osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Boosts mood and cognition
Creatine is an essential source of energy for our cells. The brain requires an immense amount of energy to function optimally, and low stores of creatine are associated with memory loss, cognitive decline, and mood disorders such as depression and anxiety.
One study has shown that that taking 20g of creatine for four weeks increased creatine stores in the brain by 8.7%. Researchers in another study found that taking 5g of creatine for 8 weeks improved the effects of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) in patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD).
Most people can safely take creatine supplements daily. Risks of creatine supplementation can include weight gain, bloating, and digestive problems. Older studies seemed to indicate that creatine could adversely affect kidney function in those with kidney disorders; however, it does not appear to affect the kidney function of healthy people.
Micronized or unmicronized creatine?
With so many creatine supplements available, consumers might wonder which supplements are right for them. What is creatine monohydrate? What does “micronized” mean?
Creatine monohydrate is by far the most commonly available form of creatine. It is formed by the combination of one creatine molecule and one water molecule.
Micronized creatine is creatine monohydrate that has been subjected to a process called the rapid expansion of supercritical solutions (RESS process). The RESS process breaks creatine down, producing particles about 20 times finer than the original product.
Smaller particles are more easily dissolved into water and are usually more easily absorbed by the body. The RESS process does not use extremely high heats or strong solvents, so the final product remains pure.
Choosing a creatine supplement
Micronized and unmicronized creatine offer the same benefits. The choice depends upon the consumer’s lifestyle and needs.
German company Alzchem offers micronized and unmicronized creatine. Its unmicronized Creapure is widely regarded as one of the purest sources of creatine on the market. It is popular with athletes and others concerned with building muscle mass, which requires higher doses of creatine.
Alzchem’s newer, micronized Creavitalis is manufactured with the same standard of purity. It is a fine, highly-soluble powder that can easily be mixed into other foods. Like Creapure, it is vegan and gluten free.
Creavitalis represents an excellent option for vegetarians and others who are interested in creatine’s anti-aging, cognition-boosting properties. These consumers do not need to take the high levels of creatine required by athletes and bodybuilders.
Does creatine expire?
Creatine supplements come with an expiration date, usually set about 2-3 years after its production. However, studies show that they can last much longer—about 1 or 2 years beyond the expiration date.
Creatine should be stored in cool, dry conditions. Moisture and heat can cause creatine to break down and become less effective.
Creatine powder can clump over time, but this does not mean that the supplement is less effective. As long as it has been stored properly, it can still be used.
Creatine is a powerful tool for athletes and others looking to build muscle mass, but it has much more to offer. Supplements could benefit women and vegetarians, whose creatine stores tend to be lower naturally. They’re also useful for anyone hoping to slow the march of age or improve cognition and mood.
While both micronized and unmicronized creatine have benefits, micronized creatine dissolves more readily in water and may be more easily absorbed. Creatine does expire, however, under proper conditions, most creatine supplements can still be used at least a year or two beyond the expiration date on their packaging.