A supplement that bodybuilders have long used to increase muscle mass can also help elderly women prevent from breaking a hip in a fall, suggests a recent study.
The supplement is creatine, an amino acid compound that facilitates the transportation of energy within cells. And that energy-generating capability translates into health benefits for gym rats and seniors alike.
Creatine supplements are commonly used by athletes to enhance their workouts, which in turn boosts their strength and speed. But a wide range of research is showing that creatine can have far-reaching physiological benefits, including bone health.
A recent study published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that creatine supplementation helped postmenopausal women maintain their bone mass density (BMD) and reduce their risk of osteoporosis.
Researchers recruited 47 women with a mean age of 57 and divided them into two groups. One group took about 3.5 grams of a creatine supplement before and after their workouts while the other took an inactive placebo.
Over the course of a year, participants from both groups performed a basic weight-lifting routine three times a week and had their diets monitored via a food journal. The researchers also measured BMD in the spine, hip, and other areas.
The results showed that the women taking the supplement preserved or increased their BMD while those on the placebo lost “a significant amount” of BMD.
“Bone building cells use creatine for energy, and that allows more calcium and other minerals to get into bones, strengthening them and making them more difficult to break,” explains Darren Candow, one of the study authors.
“Another study showing creatine’s effects on men is currently under review. In it, the bone area around the hip got stronger, meaning there’s a greater chance that people using it won’t break a hip in a fall or need hip replacement surgery.”
Along with enhancing the bone-building absorption of minerals into cells, creatine also appears to boost bone strength by increasing energy reserves in muscles. That encourages more muscle growth during exercise, and stronger muscles create greater tension on bones, which in turn stimulates an increase in BMD.
But to get the best results, you have to hit the gym.
“Taking creatine in close proximity to exercise gives you the greatest benefit,” Candow, a professor of kinesiology at Canada’s University of Regina, tells Newsmax Health. “If you take it without exercise, it still has beneficial effects, but you get better results when you combine it with exercise, especially weight training.”
Over the years, creatine has been as extensively studied as any supplement and is generally considered to be safe and effective.
But, like any supplement, it can potentially be harmful to people with certain conditions – such as kidney or liver disease – and shouldn’t be taken without first consulting a health care provider.
That said, bone strengthening seems to be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to creatine’s overall health benefits.
Since the brain has high energy needs, it tends to have higher levels of creatine than other tissue in the body. And research shows that supplements can cross the blood-brain barrier to raise creatine levels in gray matter.
Some studies suggest that higher levels may help fight depression and other mental disorders as well as improve overall cognitive function.
“There’s good evidence to suggest that creatine improves all kinds of brain function, reaction time, cognitive performance, memory…” says Candow. “It seems to strengthen brain health and also help people with neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
Furthermore, creatine may help people in their battle against type 2 diabetes. Since muscle tissue is a major player in glucose uptake from the blood, Candow says the increased metabolic activity creatine encourages in muscle cells can improve insulin sensitivity by helping glucose get into cells.
“It also shows some anti-cancer properties,” adds Candow. “Creatine seems to have a protective force field effect throughout the whole body.”
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