Creatine May Boost Brain Performance
Study Shows Intelligence, Memory Improvements With the Dietary Supplement
WebMD News Archive
Aug. 13, 2003 -- Creatine may not just be for jocks anymore. The dietary supplement that is widely used to boost athletic performance appears to help boost your brain's performance as well.
In a study from Australia, people who took creatine for six weeks scored better on tests measuring intelligence and memory than those who did not take it. The authors say the dietary supplement could help those who need a short-term boost in mental function, such as students studying for an exam. But a creatine researcher contacted by WebMD says there is virtually no evidence to back up that claim.
"It is a huge leap to say, based on this study, that taking creatine will help people perform better on tests," says Stephen W. Scheff, PhD. "That is very premature."
Creatine is an amino acid produced naturally in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. It is mostly stored in the muscles, where it becomes a source of energy and muscle growth. As a nutritional supplement, creatine has been shown to enhance athletic performance, and in a 2000 study, Scheff found that it protected against traumatic brain injuries in people who were already using it prior to being injured.
In this study, researcher Caroline Rae, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Sydney examined the impact of creatine supplementation on mental function. Forty-five vegetarian young adults received either 5 grams of creatine or a placebo powder for six weeks, followed by six weeks of no supplementation. The groups were then switched, and the placebo group received creatine for six weeks and vice versa. Standardized intelligence and memory tests were given at key points throughout the study.
Vegetarians were chosen because they tend to have lower overall creatine levels. The amino acid is produced naturally in the body and can come from eating meat, but a person would have to eat approximately four and a half pounds of meat a day to produce as much creatine as the study participants took.
The researchers found that creatine supplementation gave a "significant, measurable boost to brain power." In a memory test that asked participants to recall a string of numbers, people taking creatine recalled an average of 8.5 numbers vs. seven for people not taking the supplement. The findings are reported in the Oct. 22, 2003, issue of the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences.