Creatine – Gain in the Brain

I am often confronted by patients with the concern of poor memory, poor concentration or uh……the combination of both. Have you ever walked into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and then realized you forgot what you were looking for? If the answer is yes, you may be a candidate for creatine. You have probably heard of creatine as a sports supplement before and wondering if I am discussing the same thing. That is correct, I am, the same thing that most body builders use to develop big muscles can help to improve the function of the brain. The research into creatine and its effect on brain function has me definitely questioning the concept of the “dumb jock”.

In working with patients suffering from autism spectrum disorders and progressive developmental disorders, I have studied the energy pathways of the brain quite extensively. Many impairments in mental function develop as a direct result of poor energy generation in the brain. If we can improve the capacity of the brain to produce or use energy, we can improve the ability of the brain to function. This was my drive to develop a creatine product with Prairie Naturals called Zipfuel.

When a cell wants to do something; contract in the case of muscle cells, think in the case of neurons, or make mucous in the case of mucosal cells; they need energy. Energy in the cell is found in the form of ATP (adenosine tri-phosphate). When the cell turns ATP into ADP (adenosine di-phosphate) energy is released and action takes place. The ATP is regenerated from ADP when creatine phosphate donates a phosphate molecule back to the ADP.

The ATP in the cell is limited, about a 2-4 second supply, so creatine has to act fast. Once the creatine phosphate runs out sugar takes over as the fuel to regenerate ATP. The reason we don’t jump straight to sugar as fuel is that takes time to get started (about 10 seconds) and so we need something to buy us time. As you can guess the more creatine in the cell the easier it is for the cell to regenerate energy and the more the cell can do. This helps a body builder to build muscles because they can increase the number of lifts they can do in the same amount of time. The more you lift, the more damage you do to muscles, the bigger and stronger they get in response. Creatine won’t necessarily make you bulky though – that depends on the type of exercise you do.

When it comes to neurons creatine does the same thing. The same theory with body building can be put into practice. The more creatine your brain has the better it becomes at processing information and recalling information. Even just one week of creatine supplementation was shown to significantly increase cognitive function in the elderly

Creatine also showed that it helped improve brain function and cognitive performance during sleep deprivation

Sleep deprivation costs us work efficiency, health, and good moods. One study of sleep deprivation showed the reduced efficiency of the sleep deprived costs the average company about $2500 per sleep deprived employee.

Creatine may be able to help alleviate this lost productivity by making the brain more efficient.

Creatine may have originated as a supplement for athletes and jocks, but it has been discovered to be much more. I routinely prescribe this in my practice for a variety of conditions related to low energy, and with the results I have seen, I will continue to use creatine for my patients and myself.

Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2007 Sep;14(5):517-28.

Physiol Behav. 2007 Jan 30;90(1):21-8. Epub 2006 Oct 13.


Jonathan Beatty is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine in Ontario, having graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2007. Dr Beatty also holds an Honours Bachelor of Science Degree in Nutrition and Nutraceutical Science from the University of Guelph.

Dr. Beatty is a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, the Ontario Association of Naturopathic Doctors and the Canadian Association of Naturpathic Doctors