Creatine monohydrate, a commonly used dietary supplement by athletes to improve athletic performance, has been the subject of several research studies.
In addition to the studies involving creatine’s effects on athletic performance, researchers have also studies its effects on the brain itself–specifically involving effects on memory and cognition.
Though 95% of your body’s available creatine pools are found in skeletal muscle, high levels can also be found in your brain, testes, and heart. As such, since creatine acts as a reserve of high energy phosphate (in the form of phosphocreatine), supplementation with creatine may have effects on cognition as well.
Creatine and Cognition?
Previous research suggests that vegetarians often have lower levels of creatine which makes sense intuitively as well since creatine is predominantly found in meat, fish, and other animal products.
Though previous research studies have looked at the cognitive effects of creatine supplementation, they have found mixed results. One study found that 6 weeks of creatine supplementation had no effects on the cognition of young adults . In this study, the dose of creatine only worked out to about 1.5 – 2 g of creatine per day.
On the other hand, another previous study found that a larger dose (5 g taken 4 times per day) for 2 weeks resulted in improved cognition in an elderly population . Other research suggests that creatine supplementation is more likely to improve cognition in sleep deprived individuals .
Creatine and Memory?
Most recently, researchers from the University of Swansea published the results of a short-term study on the effects of creatine supplementation on memory, vigilance, and verbal-fluency in omnivores and vegetarians . Of note, Einstein himself was reportedly a vegetarian.
The study itself included 128 female participants who were divided into two groups based on their dietary habits (vegetarian vs. omnivore). The participants were randomized to 5 day supplementation of creatine (20 g/day) or placebo.
In short, the study found that supplementation with creatine improved memory (word recall test) in vegetarians, but actually worsened recall in omnivores. The researchers did not observe any effect of creatine supplementation on verbal fluency in either group. Regardless of the dietary habits, both groups demonstrated a decrease in variability of reaction times when supplementing with creatine.
- Rawson ES, Lieberman HR, Walsh TM, et al. (2008) Creatine supplementation does not improve cognitive function in young adults. Physiol Behav 95, 130–134
- McMorris T, Mielcarz G, Harris RC, et al. (2007) Creatine supplementation and cognitive performance in elderly individuals. Aging Neuropsychol Cogn 14, 517–528.
- McMorris T, Harris RC, Swain J, et al. (2006) Effect of creatine supplementation and sleep deprivation, with mild exercise, on cognitive and psychomotor performance, mood state, and plasma concentrations of catecholamines and cortisol. Psychopharmacology 185, 93–103.
- Benton D, Donohoe R. The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. Br J Nutr. 2010 Dec 1:1-6.