Can Creatine Supplements Help with Depression?

By Michael A. Smith, MD

Although creatine offers an array of benefits, most people think of it simply as a supplement that bodybuilders and other athletes use to gain strength and muscle mass. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A substantial body of research has found that creatine may have a wide variety of uses. In fact, creatine is being studied as a supplement that may help with diseases affecting the neuromuscular system, such as muscular dystrophy (MD).1,2

And now, a new study shows that creatine actually improves the effectiveness of antidepressants and can improve mood in people who’ve been diagnosed with depression.

Creatine is an Energy Amino Acid

Creatine is an amino acid that is produced in the human liver, kidneys, and pancreas, but it’s also present in meat and fish. Creatine is directly related to adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP is formed in the powerhouses of the cell, the mitochondria.

ATP is often referred to as the "universal energy molecule" used by every cell in our bodies.

An increase in oxidative stress coupled with a cell's inability to produce essential energy molecules such as ATP is a hallmark of aging and is found in many diseases.

As a matter of fact, some of the most important factors in maintaining health are the ability to:

  • Prevent mitochondrial damage to DNA caused by oxidative stress
  • Prevent the decline in ATP synthesis
It would appear that maintaining antioxidant status (in particular intra-cellular glutathione) and ATP levels are essential in fighting the aging process. This seems to be how creatine helps people with depression as well.

Creatine Improves Mood

The American Journal of Psychiatry published findings showing that creatine enhanced the effectiveness of Lexapro, a common antidepressant. All test subjects clearly showed improvement on standard interview questions used in clinical studies for depression.3

The research team conducted an eight-week study involving 52 women with major depressive disorder. All of the participants were taking Lexapro during the study.

Both groups were interviewed at the beginning of the trial in order to establish a baseline rating of their depression. The researchers used the standard Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS). The interview process was repeated at two, four, and eight weeks.

The findings showed that the creatine test group significantly improved on the Hamilton Rating Scale at two weeks and four weeks when compared with those in the placebo group. At the end of the trial, 50% of those in the creatine group were free of depression compared with only one-quarter of those in the placebo group.3 Pretty impressive.

A Creatine Shake for Everyone

Creatine comes in many forms. It’s most commonly used as a powder. But it’s also available in chewable tablets, mixed into protein powders, protein bars, liquids, capsules, fruit-flavored chews, and drink mixes.

Here’s a tasty recipe for putting your creatine powder to good use:

  • Ice cubes
  • 12 oz. water
  • 2 scoops vanilla protein powder
  • 1 serving creatine powder
  • 1/2 cup fresh pineapple chunks
You can drink it “as is” or blend into a refreshing, slightly sweet tasting shake. If you prefer smoothies, just add some Greek yogurt or “no sugar added” vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

References:

  1. Neurology. 2000 May 9;54(9):1848-50.
  2. Neurology. 1999 Mar 10;52(4):854-7.
  3. Am J Psychiatry. 2012;:. 10.1176/appi.ajp.2012.12010009 (http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/article.aspx?articleID=1306075)

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