Creatine: Not Just for Bodybuilders!
Hello, hello everyone! Happy New Year! It's been a little while since I posted last, but what can I say...between finals, the holidays, and regular CF life, I've had my hands full. But I trust everyone had a truly wonderful holiday, and relished time off spent with loved ones (I know I did!).
Today I want to talk about CREATINE SUPPLEMENTS. Yes, the same creatine that you hear muscle men and figure competitors swearing by. Now, I know what you're thinking--"Anna, why on earth are you talking about creatine? That's only for gym buffs!" That's what I thought, too...until I thought a little more about it and consulted the scientific literature. Turns out that creatine supplements (specifically creatine monohydrate) can be EXTREMELY beneficial for those of us with CHRONIC ILLNESS! Curious to know more? Keep reading...
One of my goals for the New Year, in contrast to previous years' goals of healing myself, curing myself, etc., is to simply SUPPORT MY BODY where it is and do my best to give it what it needs...while also not spending every waking minute focusing on it so I can LIVE MY LIFE and enjoy my life--live life abundant, like Christ called us all to (I've been talking LOTS about this in my Instagram posts recently). The Lord has really been revealing amazing truths to me, and leading me into such freedom and peace...and I think I've honestly reached a place in my life where I can accept my health for what it is, and enjoy my life for what I have--not spend all my time trying to "reach detox nirvana" or "heal my body" or anything else. The life I have been given--the life WITH CYSTIC FIBROSIS--is, for some reason, the path God has asked me to walk...and it's for my good and His glory! So, like I've been saying on Instagram, I'm not spending any more time trying to change course...He's got me where I am because it's where He wants me...and my only job is to put Him first, trust Him in all things, and do my best to support the body He's given me, not constantly try to change or "improve" it. ANYWAY...after spending over a year in a bed, as you could imagine, I got pretty weak. I lost SO much weight (primarily muscle...ok...ALL my muscle...I couldn't even lift a gallon of water. Truth), and have been really working hard to build muscle again so I can feel better, stronger, more confident, and LIVE MY LIFE as best I can. I've been able to get back in the gym, which is bringing me SUCH joy (I'm RUNNING, PEOPLE! I mean...not every day, and it hurts most days, and I'm slow...but I AM RUNNING! And so beyond happy!), but I don't build muscle easily (as most people with CF don't, thanks to less-than-optimal nutrient metabolism and malabsorption...aka if you can't digest your food, you can't fuel your body or grow muscles). That's where creatine comes in. I was reading an article in a fitness magazine (getting strength training workout ideas!), and I saw an ad for a creatine supplement. It was advertising that it "improved muscle mass and power," which sounded pretty great to me. It's not like I hadn't heard of creatine before...but I thought it was solely a bodybuilding thing. However, after seeing that ad, I thought to myself, "well, if it improves muscle mass and power for bodybuilders, surely it would do the same for everyone else...even people with chronic illness." This is where it gets interesting. But before we jump into the benefits of creatine and specifically who can benefit from supplementation, let's take a quick look at what exactly creatine IS.
WHAT IS CREATINE?
According to Brad King, MFS, "Creatine–manufactured within our bodies from three amino acids (methionine, glycine, and arginine)–is an important part of our cells’ energetic system. It combines with phosphates to form creatine phosphate (CP), which is responsible for replenishing energy-rich phosphates. These phosphates are used to make adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the main energy currency that runs your cells’ machinery. The more CP in your muscle tissue, the more ATP can be made. It is this constant stream of energy that drives overall metabolism, including our ability to burn excess body fat." (1) So the more creatine you have in your body, the more ATP is produced. ATP = energy for cells. And the more energy your cells have, the more efficiently your body runs. Therefore, using good 'ol deductive reasoning, the more creatine you have, the more efficiently your body will run.
Creatine stores are normally much lower in vegetarians and vegans, as it is only found in its pure form in animal protein sources like fish and red meat (specifically beef). For many people, this wouldn't be a problem...but for individuals with compromised digestive systems who may not be able to readily break down the cellulose wall of plant proteins in order to access the amino acids to MAKE creatine (remember, creatine CAN BE MADE in the body, IF there is sufficient supply of other amino acids, specifically L-arginine, glycine, and L-methionine), it may be harder for the body to make creatine (and therefore, build muscle efficiently) on an all vegan or vegetarian diet (1, 2).
WHO CAN BENEFIT FROM CREATINE SUPPLEMENTATION?
So who all can benefit from supplementing with creatine? Is it really only for strength or power athletes or those who engage in strenuous physical activity? Not in the slightest. New research is showing that creatine has been proven to be effective in reducing chronic pain, and symptoms of chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia (3), as well as reducing muscle weakness in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis (4). Furthermore, creatine supplementation has shown to provide benefit for individuals suffering from neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson's, ALS, multiple sclerosis, and is currently being researched for mitochondrial dysfunction (3). But what really caught my eye the most and ultimately led me to buy my own supply of creatine monohydrate powder was this 2003 pilot study which looked at the effects of creatine supplementation on none other than CYSTIC FIBROSIS PATIENTS. The study showed that "After creatine supplementation, there was no change in lung function and sweat electrolyte concentrations, possibly due to the very low creatine kinase activities detected in respiratory epithelia. However, the patients consistently showed significantly increased MIMS [maximal isometric muscle strength] (18.4%; P < 0.0001), as well as improved general well-being, as assessed by a standardized questionnaire. Except for one patient with transient muscle pain, no side effects were reported" (5) (brackets mine, for clarification of MIMS abbreviation). Additionally, the study concluded that "that creatine supplementation should be further evaluated as a possible clinically beneficial adjuvant therapy for patients with CF to increase muscle strength, body-weight and well-being" (5).
I have been taking about 5 grams of creatine powder every morning for about 2 weeks, and I can honestly say I have seen a big improvement in my energy--in terms of both muscle strength and power and overall well-being. I'm pretty impressed, and excited to continue testing it out to see what more benefits it can give me.
*NOTE: Although creatine is the MOST researched "sports" supplement on the market, it, like anything else, is not without side effects. Creatine supplementation is contraindicated for those with high blood pressure, kidney disease, or liver disease, and may increase your risk of kidney damage when combined with drugs such as NSAIDs, Tagamet, Probenecid, and diuretics (water pills). Although I have both kidney and liver disease, I have discussed creatine supplementation with my doctor and we are keeping a close eye on my blood tests (particularly creatinine levels). DO NOT begin a new supplement without first checking with your doctor, as I have done.*
Thanks for reading everyone! Hope this was helpful, and provided insight into the fact that creatine isn't just for bodybuilders, but can benefit ALL PEOPLE who need a little extra "boost" of strength! If you have any questions or topics you'd like me to cover on the blog, feel free to email me. Happy Wellness Wednesday!