Creatine is probably the most popular, legal performance-enhancing supplement among athletes, especially males in such power sports as football, wrestling, hockey, and weight lifting.
Your skeletal muscles need creatine, and it’s used up by physical exercise. Studies have shown creatine supplementation improves performance by getting more energy out of your mitochondria and protects muscles from injury.
On the whole, its use by young athletes doesn’t appear consequential, at least in the short term.
According to Sports Health, short-term use is safe for increasing performance in maximal-intensity sports. If you’re a sprinter or weightlifter, you probably already know about creatine. It also helps your body build new muscle.
Plus, it reduces workout recovery time and muscle cramping.
However, Sports Health also points out there aren’t many studies on the effects of long-term use.
And creatine supplementation is increasingly being promoted as a longevity supplement.
Is that a good idea?
What is Creatine?
It’s a nonessential amino acid. Therefore, other articles on it point out that rich sources of creatine are meat, fish, and milk.
That itself raises concerns because it reinforces the stereotype that athletes should eat only meat, meat, and more meat.
However, modern nutrition science no longer emphasizes the ultra-importance of protein as it did 70-80 years ago. Yes, we need protein. But even people who eat no animal food at all consume all the protein they need – assuming they eat sufficient calories.
Plus, your liver, pancreas, and kidneys make about one gram of creatine every day. If we needed more than that, wouldn’t these organs be designed by evolution to make more?
Building Muscle is a Good Idea
That’s especially true because one of the health and safety risks of old age is sarcopenia – muscle loss.
After age 30, we lose 3-8% of our muscle mass every decade – and this accelerates after age 60. Just look online for recent pictures of Arnold Schwarzenegger without a shirt on. He’s obviously lost a lot of muscle mass since his glory days as a bodybuilder.
And, of course, few of us ever reach the amount of muscle mass Arnold had back then. If we lost as much as him, we wouldn’t have any left.
That’s why old age is so closely associated with frailty, weakness, and risk of injury.
Including the loss of the ability to live independently. If getting up out of a chair requires a major physical effort from you, you pretty much need a nursing home or a strong full-time companion.
This weakness and frailty is why so many older people fall – and suffer injuries they often never recover from. Osteoporosis – bone loss – is one factor, and so is the inability to maintain balance or to catch yourself when you trip or stumble.
Therefore, ideally, we would all focus on building muscle up to about age 30. After that, we’d focus on maintaining that muscle mass. After age 60, we’d focus on slowing down its loss.
Therefore, creatine supplementation may be a great idea for people up to age 30. Maybe beyond.
What about old age?
Muscle Growth Can Be a Double-Edged Sword
If you’re already past age 30 – especially if you’re way past age 30, the word “growth” should scare you like a yellow Warning sign.
What else, besides muscle mass, grows when we reach middle age and beyond?
Taking lots of creatine is associated with increases in Insulinlike Growth Hormone 1 (IFG-1) and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) – and – in the long run, anyway – they may promote the uncontrolled growth of cells we know as cancer.
These hormones are double-edged in the sense we do need them. Once we’re out of childhood and have reached our adult size, we still need to repair muscles and other organs. We still build muscles.
We do want to have enough muscle mass so we don’t become helpless when we reach the age of 100.
That’s why many healthy practices do encourage our bodies to increase HgH:
* Sleeping 7-9 hours every night
* Intermittent fasting
* Intensive exercise
Two Important Studies Giving Creatine Supplements to Elderly Folks
A study was performed on elderly women to see if creatine supplementation improved their bone health and lean muscle strength. It failed to demonstrate any benefit.
In another study, elderly subjects were put on an exercise program, and half were given creatine, to see if that would enhance the effects of the exercise.
Conclusion: Creatine doesn’t seem to help the elderly as it does younger athletes. If you’re up in age and you want to improve exercise performance, you’ve got to exercise. Creatine by itself won’t help.
Creatine Does Appear Associated With Cancer
A study published in 2021 found that creatine supplementation enhances the metastases of liver and breast cancers in mice, shortening their survival time. Yes, it’s a mouse study, and may not be applicable to people, but why take a chance?
The counter-argument is that creatine helps strengthen the immune system so your T-cells can better destroy cancerous cells in your body.
Therefore, nobody can say it causes cancer as asbestos and smoking tobacco do.
Plus, by reducing the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) – damaging free radicals – in the mitochondria in your cells, creatine acts as an antioxidant.
Also, because creatine is normally also found in the brain, studies have found supplementation with it has improved short-term memory and reasoning in healthy but aging and “stressed” adults.
A Risk to Kidneys?
Creatine is also associated with damage to kidneys. That may have happened because animal protein itself is hard on the kidneys.
However, some studies have shown long-term creatine supplementation doesn’t appear to damage kidneys.
If you’re a young athlete and you want an edge, take it if you like – at least before you compete.
If you’re older, it seems to have a lot fewer benefits and a lot more risk. It’s your choice, of course.
Do exercise throughout your life, so you build and retain as much muscle mass as possible.