Creatine is a chemical in your body that is mostly found in your muscles and brain.
While most people get low amounts of creatine by eating seafood and red meat, larger amounts are found in synthetic creatine supplements. Your pancreas and kidneys can also make around 1 gram of creatine each day. Creatine is one of your body's natural energy sources.
Nearly 95% of the creatine in your body is stored in your skeletal muscles and is used during physical activity. As a dietary supplement, creatine is commonly used to improve exercise performance in athletes and older adults.
Creatine can provide a number of other health benefits for older adults. Taking it as a supplement may help you with different activities in your everyday life and can improve your quality of life.
Benefits of Creatine
There is a lot of buzz surrounding creatine. Some of the benefits that are talked about are science-based, while others require further research.
Counteracts age-related declines. One of the most well-known benefits of creatine is its ability to increase muscle mass and speed up muscle growth. This is of particular importance to older adults who experience sarcopenia, which is the age-related decrease of muscle mass (dynapenia), bone mass (osteoporosis), physical performance, and strength.
There is a lot of evidence showing how supplementing with creatine can stop and even reverse these changes. Creatine also has the potential to decrease your risk of falling and experiencing bone fractures.
Improves exercise performance. In one study, adults ages 57 to 70 who supplemented with creatine for 7 to 52 days of resistance training showed a greater increase in lean tissue mass than those who didn't take creatine.
The increase in lower-body strength is important to older adults, as the muscles in your lower body are more affected by aging than others.
Helps fight diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a disease that keeps your body from using insulin the correct way. People who are middle-aged or older are most likely to get this type of diabetes.
One study showed that creatine supplementation combined with an exercise program has a positive effect on glycemic (blood sugar) control in people with type 2 diabetes.
However, there are also risks associated with taking creatine if you have diabetes, so it is important to talk with your doctor before trying it.
Helps fight certain neurological diseases. New studies show that creatine can help with age-related neurological diseases including:
- Parkinson's disease
- Huntington's disease
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease
- Alzheimer's disease
However, it's unclear whether or not creatine helps people who are in the middle or late stages of progressive neurodegenerative disorders.
Counteracts tiredness. Taking high doses of creatine for a short period of time is shown to help older adults have more energy throughout the day.
In addition to fighting mental tiredness, supplementing with creatine can also help with muscle tiredness, particularly in your lower body.
Reduces skin aging. Using topical creams with creatine in them can stimulate the growth of collagen, which is a protein associated with keeping your skin flexible and stopping the appearance of wrinkles.
In one study, older adults who applied a creatine-containing cream for 6 weeks had significantly reduced:
- Cheek sagging
- Crow's feet wrinkles
- Wrinkles under the eyes
How much creatine you should use depends on the purpose for which you are taking it and whether or not you eat meat.
In a typical omnivorous or carnivorous diet, you eat about 1 to 2 grams of creatine per day. Vegetarians and vegans, however, usually have lower amounts of creatine.
Taking a high dose of creatine for a short period of time is considered safe for older adults. For example, two common dosages are:
- 20 grams per day for 7 days followed by 10 grams per day for 7 days
- 20 grams per day for 10 days followed by 4 grams per day for 20 days
Although you shouldn't go above these amounts, you can still receive positive benefits from taking lower doses.
Common Side Effects
Taking creatine may cause the following side effects:
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Muscle cramps
- Weight gain
For the most part, creatine is considered a safe supplement with a few reported side effects.
However, you should avoid taking creatine if you experience any of the following:
You should also bear the following safety considerations in mind:
Delayed effects. Depending on how much creatine you already have in your body, it can take around 28 days until you start seeing the energy effects of creatine supplements.
Interactions. Drinking caffeine or taking herbal supplements like ephedra or Ma Huang while you're taking creatine may increase your risk of serious medical issues, including stroke. Although further research is needed, using creatine with a daily intake of caffeine that's above 300 milligrams may speed up the progression of Parkinson's disease.
Possible weight gain. Because creatine can increase the water retention in your body's muscles, you may gain weight while taking creatine supplements. If you're trying to lose weight, it's best to avoid taking creatine.
It's unregulated. It's important to keep in mind that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate nutritional supplements. Because of this, creatine products vary widely in both the quality and quantity of creatine, as well as added ingredients.