For two weeks, I have experimented with creatine, a non-essential nutrient widely used by athletes to build muscle mass. I have no interest in muscle mass, but was interested in reports of improvements to cognition and memory in certain circumstances — something that has begun to interest me keenly as I try to manage my time and shepherd my attention in order to learn mathematics as well as I can. I have achieved pretty dense technical expertise in Chinese and related areas, but math is harder for me than anything else I have ever studied. On the other hand, creatine's effects on cognition and memory are documented mainly for people with impaired cognitive ability due to age, illness, diet, or exhaustion. Only the last of these might conceivably apply to me in my present life, and I am not aware of any cognitive deficit — in fact, I seem to get a lot more done than most people I know.
Creatine. Creatine is synthesized in the human body from amino acids and can be fully absorbed for at least the first several months of use, after which its effects seem to drop off. There seem to be no known dangers to its use in my circumstances. The creatine I took was from Twinlabs, which says that it buys the raw ingredient from laboratories in Germany and China, and tests and packages it in the US.
Dosage. For ten days, I took 3.6 g of creatine monohydrate twice a day, together with vitamin B and C and some simple carbohydrates. These doses are typical of those in medical experiments and are at the low end of what is apparently common in use by athletes, for whom doses of 20-30g/day are not unusual. For the following four days I took no creatine at all but continued the vitamin B and C.
Effects. I noticed a very marked increase in the energy I felt, especially when exercising — when walking fast on New York streets (the so-called Gotham Breakneck) and on an elliptical machine. I would describe my mood as somewhat more excited than usual, but not to the point of being jumpy or jittery. When walking, I felt quite a surge of power — so much that at first I thought I ought to be careful lest I inadvertently bump into someone. For the elliptical machine, I can offer an actual measurement, since the machine I use measures the energy needed to resist the flywheel's rotation and reports that as a number of calories. During the ten days of creatine use, I averaged 940 calories/hour of exercise. In the previous eight weeks, without any creatine use, I averaged 902 calories/hour. The increase was about 4% over my recent level — nothing spectacular, even if significant. Over the past two years I have averaged 924±70 calories/hour on the same machine.
Anecdotally, I noticed some increase in libido and food-cravings (though not overall appetite). Both may be attributable to the feeling of excitement I described above. Apart from that sensation, I noticed no changes in my overall range of moods. My sleep was noticeably sounder than usual. In my normal life without creatine, unless I have had a minimum of 80 minutes of strenuous exercise during the previous day, I typically wake up at night after 3-4 hours and have to force myself to sleep again, often by reading or writing. I think this is the effect of stress, which exercise relieves very palpably. During the period of creatine use I slept at least 6 and half hours every night and do not recall waking after 3-4 hours, even though I got the same amount of strenuous exercise I normally do — which is to say about 45 minutes a day, plus the modest effects of working at a standing desk for most of my work day and a small amount (30 minutes or less) of Gotham Breakneck walking. I typically take at least one short (10-20 minute) nap during the day, and also did so on the days when I was taking creatine.
There have been reports of dyspepsia or water retention with creatine use in controlled conditions, but I noticed none. All my bodily and mental functions appeared normal to me, except for the few items described above: mild but persistent excitement, considerable power when exercising, more energy during the day, mildly increased libido and food-cravings, sounder sleep without waking.
Most importantly, I noticed no improvement in my ability to get through hard intellectual problems, to prioritize tasks, to recall facts, or to concentrate generally. In fact, since each dose of creatine was followed by several hours of comparative excitement, I think the state of my mind for study was slightly less than ideal.
After ending the use of creatine, I felt completely normal beginning on the very first day — my levels of energy and attention seemed normal to me. My ability to concentrate on difficult ideas was no worse than when I was taking creatine.
First, that creatine seems to be effective for increasing one's energy level, especially for physical exercise. If I find myself tired or under heavy stress, I may take small doses again for a limited period of time.
Second, that creatine is of no use to me as a study aid. I had considered that patience and concentration are matters of time-management, which is a matter of discipline, which can be thought of as a matter of strength and stamina — and that creatine would help with the first step in this chain, that of strength and stamina. But I now see very much more clearly that patience is a consequence of the reflexive application of patience itself, and that the increase in physical energy brought about by creatine is actually a hindrance (say, a small one) to the cultivation and practice of patience.
Below are interesting extracts from the abstracts of about two dozen articles I examined while researching creatine. They should not be read out of context; the best thing would be to look up the original articles and read the abstracts completely and then try to understand as much of the original articles as one can in a reasonable amount of time. I spent a number of hours reading the materials and taking the notes below.
Cognition and Memory
- Following 24-h sleep deprivation, creatine supplementation had a positive effect on mood state and tasks that place a heavy stress on the prefrontal cortex. McMorris et al., 2006a.
- Creatine supplementation aids cognition in the elderly. McMorris et al., 2007a.
- Creatine supplementation only improves cognitive processing and psychomotor performance in individuals who have impaired cognitive processing abilities. Rawson et al., 2008.
- Creatine seems to be totally absorbed since no creatine or creatinine was detectable in feces. Ingestion of creatine combined with BG facilitates its retention by slowing down its absorption rate and reducing its urinary excretion. Deldicque et al., 2008.
- During sleep deprivation with moderate-intensity exercise, creatine supplementation only affects performance of complex central executive tasks. McMorris et al., 2007b.
- In vegetarians rather than in those who consume meat, creatine supplementation resulted in better memory. Irrespective of dietary style, the supplementation of creatine decreased the variability in the responses to a choice reaction-time task. Benton et al., 2011
- The median healthy life span of Cr-fed mice was 9% higher than in control mice, and they performed significantly better in neurobehavioral tests. In brains of Cr-treated mice, there was a trend towards a reduction of reactive oxygen species and significantly lower accumulation of the "aging pigment" lipofuscin. Bender et al., 2008.
- After taking the creatine supplement, task-evoked increase of cerebral oxygenated hemoglobin in the brains of subjects measured by near infrared spectroscopy was significantly reduced, which is compatible with increased oxygen utilization in the brain. Watanabe et al., 2002.
- Recent findings in healthy humans indicate that the beneficial effect on muscle function and muscle total creatine content may disappear when creatine is continuously ingested for more than two or three months. The mechanism for this habituation to chronic creatine exposure is poorly understood. (Derave et al. 2003) [DPB: Full text was not available.]
- Withdrawal from Cr had no effect on the rate of strength, endurance, and loss of lean tissue mass with 12 weeks of reduced-volume training. (Candow et al., 2004). [DPB: in other words, after cesssation of creatine, its lingering effect on strength, endurance, and loss of lean tissue mass is indistinguishable from not having taken it at all.]
- We advise that high-dose (>3-5 g/day) creatine supplementation should not be used by individuals with pre-existing renal disease or those with a potential risk for renal dysfunction (diabetes, hypertension, reduced glomerular filtration rate). A pre-supplementation investigation of kidney function might be considered for reasons of safety, but in normal healthy subjects appears unnecessary. Kim et al., 2011.
- There is little to no evidence that any of the newer forms of creatine are more effective and/or safer than CM whether ingested alone and/or in combination with other nutrients. Jäger et al., 2011.
- Short-term Cr supplementation appears to be safe but does not enhance push-up performance. Armentano et al., 2007.
- To date, studies have not found clinically significant deviations from normal values in renal, hepatic, cardiac or muscle function. Few data are available on the long-term consequences of creatine supplementation. Perskey et al., 2007.
- Under conditions that exist the human stomach (high acidity and supply of nitrite from food and saliva), creatine can react to form N-nitrososarcosine that is known to induce esophageal cancer in rats and stomach cancer in mice. Archer, 2004.
- Main side effects were gastrointestinal complaints. Although serum creatinine levels increased in Cr patients because of the degradation of Cr, all other markers of tubular or glomerular renal function, especially cystatin C, remained normal, indicating unaltered kidney function. Bender et al., 2008.
- While creatine may enhance the performance of high-intensity, short-duration exercise, it is not useful in endurance sports. Because commercially marketed creatine products do not meet the same quality control standards of pharmaceuticals, there is always a concern of impurities or doses higher or lower than those on the labeling. Graham et al., 1999.
- High combined doses of creatine and caffeine does not affect the LBM composition of either sedentary or exercised rats, however, caffeine supplementation alone reduces the percentage of fat. Vertical jumping training increases the percentages of water and protein and reduces the fat percentage in rats. Franco et al., 2011.
- Caffeine ingestion after creatine supplements augmented intermittent high-intensity sprint performance. Lee et al. 2011.
- Although caffeine and creatine appear to be ergogenic aids, they do so in a sport-specific context and there is no rationale for their simultaneous use in sport. Higher doses of caffeine can be toxic and appear to be ergolytic. There is no rationale for creatine doses in excess of the recommendations, and some athletes can get stomach upset, especially at higher creatine doses. Tarnopolsky, 2011.
- These findings suggest that the acute ingestion of this preexercise supplement ["containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids"] may be an effective strategy for improving anaerobic performance, but appears to have no effect on aerobic power. Fukuda et al., 2010.
- Improvements in VO2max, [critical velocity], and [lean body mass] when GT ["proprietary blend including whey protein, cordyceps sinensis, creatine, citrulline, ginseng, and caffeine"] is combined with HIIT ["high-intensity interval training"]. Three weeks of HIIT alone also augmented anaerobic running performance, VO2max and body composition. Smith, et al, 2010.
- As indicated by a greater T(lim), acute caffeine ingestion was found to be ergogenic [New Oxford American Dictionary, version bundled with Mac OS 10.5.8: "intended to enhance physical performance, stamina, or recovery"] after 6-d of creatine supplementation and caffeine abstinence. Doherty et al., 2002.
- It is concluded that Caf intake (3 days) prolongs muscle RT [relaxation time] and by this action overrides the shortening of RT due to creatine supplementation. Hespel et al., 2003.
- Caffeine pharmacokinetics were not affected by concomitant administration of creatine or by physical exercise. In conclusion, neither maximal performance and subsequent recovery nor aerobic performance were enhanced by oral creatine supplementation in the study. Vanakosky, et al., 1998.
- The data show that Cr supplementation elevates muscle PCr concentration and markedly improves performance during intense intermittent exercise. This ergogenic effect, however, is completely eliminated by caffeine intake. Vandenberghe et al., 1996.
- Archer, 2004. Creatine: a safety concern. Toxicology Letters. Volume 152, Issue 3, 25 September 2004, Pages 275
- Armentano et al., 2007. The effect and safety of short-term creatine supplementation on performance of push-ups. Military Medicine [Mil Med] 2007 Mar; Vol. 172 (3), pp. 312-7.
- Bender et al., 2008. Creatine improves health and survival of mice. Neurobiology Of Aging [Neurobiol Aging] 2008 Sep; Vol. 29 (9), pp. 1404-11. Date of Electronic Publication: 2007 Apr 09.
- Bender et al., 2008. Long-term creatine supplementation is safe in aged patients with Parkinson disease. Nutrition Research (New York, N.Y.) [Nutr Res] 2008 Mar; Vol. 28 (3), pp. 172-8.
- Benton et al., 2011. The influence of creatine supplementation on the cognitive functioning of vegetarians and omnivores. The British Journal Of Nutrition [Br J Nutr] 2011 Apr; Vol. 105 (7), pp. 1100-5. Date of Electronic Publication: 2010 Dec 01.
- Candow et al., 2004. "Effect of ceasing creatine supplementation while maintaining resistance training in older men." Journal Of Aging And Physical Activity [J Aging Phys Act] 2004 Jul; Vol. 12 (3), pp. 219-31.
- Deldicque et al., 2008. "Kinetics of creatine ingested as a food ingredient." Eur J Appl Physiol (2008) 102:133–143. DOI 10.1007/s00421-007-0558-9.
- Derave et al., 2003. "Creatine supplementation in health and disease: what is the evidence for long-term efficacy?" Molecular And Cellular Biochemistry [Mol Cell Biochem] 2003 Feb; Vol. 244 (1-2), pp. 49-55.
- Doherty et al., 2002. Caffeine is ergogenic after supplementation of oral creatine monohydrate. Medicine And Science In Sports And Exercise [Med Sci Sports Exerc] 2002 Nov; Vol. 34 (11), pp. 1785-92.
- Franco et al., 2011. The effects of a high dosage of creatine and caffeine supplementation on the lean body mass composition of rats submitted to vertical jumping training. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition [J Int Soc Sports Nutr] 2011 Mar 01; Vol. 8, pp. 3. Date of Electronic Publication: 2011 Mar 01.
- Fukuda et al., 2010. The possible combinatory effects of acute consumption of caffeine, creatine, and amino acids on the improvement of anaerobic running performance in humans. Nutrition Research (New York, N.Y.) [Nutr Res] 2010 Sep; Vol. 30 (9), pp. 607-14.
- Graham et al., 1999. Creatine: a review of efficacy and safety. Journal Of The American Pharmaceutical Association (Washington,D.C.: 1996) [J Am Pharm Assoc (Wash)] 1999 Nov-Dec; Vol. 39 (6), pp. 803-10; quiz 875-7.
- Hespel et al., 2003. Opposite actions of caffeine and creatine on muscle relaxation time in humans. Journal Of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985) [J Appl Physiol] 2002 Feb; Vol. 92 (2), pp. 513-8.
- Jäger et al., 2011. Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino Acids [Amino Acids] 2011 May; Vol. 40 (5), pp. 1369-83. Date of Electronic Publication: 2011 Mar 22.
- Kim et al., 2011. Studies on the safety of creatine supplementation. Amino Acids [Amino Acids] 2011 May; Vol. 40 (5), pp. 1409-18. Date of Electronic Publication: 2011 Mar 12.
- Lee et al., 2011. Effect of caffeine ingestion after creatine supplementation on intermittent high-intensity sprint performance. European Journal Of Applied Physiology [Eur J Appl Physiol] 2011 Aug; Vol. 111 (8), pp. 1669-77. Date of Electronic Publication: 2011 Jan 05.
- McMorris 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 (2006) 185: 93–103. DOI 10.1007/s00213-005-0269-z.
- McMorris et al., 2007a. "Creatine Supplementation and Cognitive Performance in Elderly Individuals." Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 14: 517–528, 2007. DOI: 10.1080/13825580600788100.
- McMorris et al., 2007b. Creatine supplementation, sleep deprivation, cortisol, melatonin and behavior. Physiology & Behavior [Physiol Behav] 2007 Jan 30; Vol. 90 (1), pp. 21-8. Date of Electronic Publication: 2006 Oct 13.
- Persky et al., 2007. Safety of creatine supplementation. Sub-Cellular Biochemistry [Subcell Biochem] 2007; Vol. 46, pp. 275-89.
- Rawson et al., 2008. "Creatine supplementation does not improve cognitive function in young adults." Physiology & Behavior 95 (2008) 130–134. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2008.05.009.
- Smith, et al, 2010. The effects of a pre-workout supplement containing caffeine, creatine, and amino acids during three weeks of high-intensity exercise on aerobic and anaerobic performance. Journal Of The International Society Of Sports Nutrition [J Int Soc Sports Nutr] 2010 Feb 15; Vol. 7, pp. 10. Date of Electronic Publication: 2010 Feb 15.
- Tarnopolsky, 2011. Caffeine and creatine use in sport. Annals Of Nutrition & Metabolism [Ann Nutr Metab] 2010; Vol. 57 Suppl 2, pp. 1-8. Date of Electronic Publication: 2011 Feb 22.
- Vanakosky, et al., 1998. Creatine and caffeine in anaerobic and aerobic exercise: effects on physical performance and pharmacokinetic considerations. International Journal Of Clinical Pharmacology And Therapeutics [Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther] 1998 May; Vol. 36 (5), pp. 258-62.
- Vandenberghe et al., 1996. Caffeine counteracts the ergogenic action of muscle creatine loading. Journal Of Applied Physiology (Bethesda, Md.: 1985) [J Appl Physiol] 1996 Feb; Vol. 80 (2), pp. 452-7.
- Watanabe et al., 2002. Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation. Effects of creatine on mental fatigue and cerebral hemoglobin oxygenation. Neuroscience Research [Neurosci Res] 2002 Apr; Vol. 42 (4), pp. 279-85.