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Enhanced ATP Synthesis and Cognition with Creatine

Virtual Brain

[This is a guest post from Eric Balaster who is the co-founder of
Pure Nootropics, where he blogs about a wide range of nootropic topics.]

Stereotypes abound when creatine enters a conversation. Other than caffeine and omega-3s, it is probably one of the most widely used nootropic compound although it is hardly used for cognitive purposes. Athletes of all types have utilized creatine for decades in order to increase muscle mass and strength.

Despite being classified as a popular tool for athletes, taking creatine can help anyone to improve cognitive abilities. While creatine is produced by the body from amino acids in meat, supplementing can yield neuro enhancement with minimal side effects.

brainEnhanced Working Memory

One of the most well-studied advantages of creatine is working (short-term) memory. Because creatine enhances the production of ATP re-synthesis, supplementation can improve the brain’s ability to perform work (remembering). Using a fMRI Blood Oxygen Level Dependent response test, scientists saw significant improvement in memory span for creatine groups versus a placebo.

In another double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers ascertained that vegetarians / vegans saw marked improvement in working memory (using a backward digit span test) and intelligence (gauged by the Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices). While vegetarians and vegans are not representative of the entire population, it is probable that any healthy adult could see enhancement as well. Vegetarians / vegans may benefit more than meat-eaters, however.

For healthy adults interested in enhancing working memory with creatine supplementation, testing cognitive performance is critical. Without understanding your baseline working memory scores, there is no way to recognize whether your body utilizes creatine for enhancement properly.

Fatigue and Mood

800px-Lobes_of_the_brain_NL.svgLike other nootropic compounds (particularly of traditional Chinese or Indian origin), creatine also combats fatigue and improves mood. By enhancing oxygenation utilization by the brain, a dose of 8 grams per day helped healthy subjects perform better on calculation tests (Uchida-Kraepelin test). In a similar way that creatine prevents muscle fatigue in athletes, energy synthesis in the brain can reduce mental fatigue.

Another study utilized the “loading phase” dosage of 20 grams of creatine per day to determine whether sleep deprived individuals of varying age could benefit from supplementation. Through various cognitive and psychomotor function tests, the evidence indicated creatine could mitigate some of the negative side effects of sleep deprivation.

For people with mood disorders, such as unipolar depression, creatine monohydrate can dramatically improve symptoms in treatment-resistant individuals. Only preliminary studies are available on the benefits of creatine as a mood enhancer, but the research looks promising.

Elderly vs. Youth Cognitive Enhancement

The diet of an individual seems to matter more than the age when comparing cognitive advantages. As a nootropic, creatine helps elderly improve spatial recall and long-term memory after only a few weeks of supplementation. The results compare to many popular memory related smart drugs like piracetam and aniracetam.

For many elderly, the neuro protective advantages of creatine are just as useful. By improving the survival of GABA-ergic neurons, creatine can prevent neuro degeneration and diseases (Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s disease). Complimentary research suggests creatine can benefit the survival of Dopaminergic neurons to prevent degradation of the brain in the elderly.


Concerns and Dosing

Despite numerous double-blind, placebo-controlled studies proving creatine to be an effective cognitive enhancer, other reputable research refutes the claims. Many of the memory related studies point towards vegetarians / vegans improving cognition, which is not representative of meat-eaters.

A study of young adults concluded that six weeks of creatine supplementation did not improve cognitive processing, but the dosage was only 0.03 g / kg / day. A 150 pound (68 kg) individual would only be taking around 2 grams of creatine per day. Most recommended dosages are at least 5 grams per day for healthy individuals. Even with 5 grams of daily creatine supplementation, results can take up to 2 – 6 weeks.

Other concerns about creatine as a nootropic drug include the hefty toll on the liver and kidney to process the compound. An additional 5 grams of creatine is the equivalent of 2.5 lb. (1.1 kg) of meat, which provides additional workload for the kidneys. No well-controlled trials have found a relationship between side effects and creatine, but anybody with kidney or liver problems is advised to speak with a healthcare professional.

While pure creatine seems to be safe for humans to use for nootropic purposes, the European Food Safety Authority finds that over 50% of commercially available supplements exceeded recommendations in one contaminant including heavy metals. Anyone purchasing creatine for use as a neuro enhancer should research contaminant-free products.

Creatine and Nootropics

With all the modern chemical compounds being discovered and tested for cognitive enhancement, it is easy to overlook simple, yet useful substances like creatine. Supplementation with creatine can be particularly helpful for vegetarians / vegans, but healthy adults in general can benefit as well.

Creative Commons Attribution:

Brain Image With Coloured Lobes: By Mysid [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Creatine Diagram : By Boghog2 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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