Surprising Creatine Benefits: How it Improves Energy, IQ, Healing, DNA Function, Aging, & More!

By on July 6, 2021

Creatine (a-methyl guanidine-acetic acid) is a supplement that is largely believed to be free from side effects (reference), that is tasteless and affordable, and that improves both performance and aesthetics. These creatine benefits alone are enough to ensure its place in any serious fitness expert’s top three supplements!

Creatine benefits

While these are all compelling reasons to supplement with creatine, the truth is that creatine actually has many more benefits even on top of those established ones. Lesser-known creatine benefits include: improved brain function, better sleep, glowing skin, and so much more. Let’s take a look at why creatine really is the MVP in your supplement stack – even for non-athletes.

We’ll also address the best ways to take creatine, the different types available, the mechanisms of action, and whether it is really safe!

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a substance that occurs naturally in the human body, created from three amino acids: glycine, arginine, and methionine. Creatine’s main function is to help recycle used energy, by turning adenosine diphosphate (ADP) into adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is where the main creatine benefits come from.

As you may have heard, ATP is the “energy currency of life.” This is the substance that our cells run on and is required for nearly every action we perform. We get ATP from food: via the oxidation of carbs, proteins, and fats.

ATP is a nucleoside made from three phosphates (hence tri-phosphate!). In order to utilize ATP, the body must hydrolyse a phosphate group, using up one of the three phosphates. This leaves just two bonded phosphates, hence di­-phosphate! Unfortunately, the body cannot utilize ADP, except to make more ATP. But to do that, we need creatine.

How Does Creatine Work?

Creatine is special because it is able to bond with free phosphate molecules and then donate those to ADP. This results in a “two” becoming a “three”: essentially allowing us to recycle ATP for another go around!

Plyometric and ballistic training

This comes in useful for any movement that is fast and explosive in nature. Such actions make use of the immediately available ATP stored in the muscles, as there isn’t time to mobilize energy from fat stores or the bloodstream. The problem is that we only have enough available ATP to last us for around 15-30 seconds, after which point we must switch to the inefficient glycogen-lactic-acid system, or the slow aerobic system (keep in mind that the body employs a combination of all three systems at any given time). This is why creatine is so important: it allows us to reuse some of that ATP, giving us just a little more time before the supply runs dry.

Where Does Creatine Come From?

Phosphocreatine is produced by the liver and stored in the muscles. The human body produces creatine using the amino acids glycine and arginine. Creatine levels depending on diet (red meat being a particularly good source), exercise, muscle mass, and levels of testosterone and IGF-1.

By consuming more creatine, however, it’s possible to somewhat increase the amount stored in the muscles and thereby enhance performance. Many people describe creatine as giving them an additional repetition on a given exercise before they fatigue. Over the course of countless workouts, this can add up to a HUGE difference. Of course, this can also be the difference between coming 1st or 3rd in a 100-metre sprint.

Sprinting creatine

Lesser Known Creatine Benefits

While the main mechanisms of creatine are fairly well understood, there are many additional creatine benefits that get overlooked. And these are actually some of the more exciting points!

Along with restoring ATP, creatine also supports a number of other cellular processes implicated in hypertrophy and recovery. More and more people are now beginning to recognize the role of creatine in brain function, and that’s not to mention how it can improve the function of our very DNA!

Creatine Aids Methylation

One of the creatine benefits you almost never hear about, is its role in methylation.

Methylation is one of the key processes involved in gene expression. This is the transfer of a methyl group from one compound to another. Methyl groups are used as the “backbones” for organic compounds, and to effectively “block out” portions of the genetic code, thereby rendering some portions inactive. This process alters the way that genes behave across different cells, and the way in which the body adapts to its environment. While your DNA is fixed for life, methylation allows the function of that DNA to change in response to training and diet.

See also: Genes and Polymorphisms That Predict High Performance

The methylation cycle is a process that is responsible for creating the active form of folate (called methyfolate), producing the building blocks of DNA and RNA, and converting the harmful homocysteine into methionine (reference). Methionine is used to create SAM-e, a compound that methylates DNA and synthesizThe methylation cycle also helps to remove used neurotransmitters, aiding cognitive function.

SelfDecode

Methylation is controlled by a gene called MTHFR. Unfortunately, certain variations of this gene can lead to it being underactive. This is a common issue affecting countless people, that can lead to low energy levels, brain fog, and more. In fact, the MTHFR gene has been implicated in nearly every condition imaginable!

How to Improve Methylation With Creatine

But here’s the cool part: roughly half of the body’s methylation activities are devoted to creating creatine! Therefore, supplementing with creatine can actually reduce this workload and thereby improve performance in those with the unfavorable MTHFR genotype (67TT). In short, the metyhylation cycle can devote more time to other processes (reference). This effect was observed after just one month of supplementing with 5g of creatine, daily (study).

If you want to find out how your own MTHFR gene shapes up, I highly recommend getting a DNA analysis. SelfDecode offers detailed reports based on a DNA sample, including specific information regarding the MTHFR gene and how to maximize its performance. You can read my SelfDecode review, here.

Bioneer Genome

(This post is not sponsored, but I do get a commission if you follow the link.)

Creatine Benefits for Collagen Synthesis and Anti-Aging

Collagen is an extremely important substance in the body that strengthens all the connective tissue throughout our body. If you want youthful looking skin, rapid recovery, stronger tendons, and even more muscle… collagen can help with that.

Creatine, as it would happen, is comprised of glycine, lysine, and proline. While glycine can be synthesized in the human body, most of us aren’t producing as much as we need. Specifically, the average person needs 10g of glycine daily, whereas the average person only produces 3g and only consumes 1.5-3g. So there is a shortfall, and this leads to reduced collagen production (study). Thus, glycine is regarded as a “semi-essential” amino acid.

One solution is to take a collagen supplement – which is something I’ll be exploring in a future post. Another solution is to supplement with creatine, which not only provides an additional source of glycine, but also enhances the energy efficiency of skin cells. It may also work by increasing the hydration of the skin.

Some have gone as far as to call it the “ultimate anti-aging supplement.”

Creatine, in short, appears to increase collagen synthesis (study), and reduce wrinkles (study). It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that it might also support strong, healthy tendons, and act more generally as an anti-aging supplement. There are many more creatine benefits that lend themselves specifically to combating aging. In fact, some have gone as far as to call it the “ultimate anti-aging supplement.”

Brain Function

Athletes are interested in creatine because it increases energy levels within the muscles. This in turn means they can train harder and for longer.

But the muscles aren’t the only energy-hungry actors in the human body. Rather, the brain is famously ravenous when it comes to energy consumption! Cognitively demanding tasks may well benefit from increased levels of creatine, therefore.

Creatine IQ

Indeed, there is now mounting evidence to support this notion. Studies suggest that creatine can increase intelligence, reasoning, working memory, and more (reference)! Creatine has even been shown to be effective at improving IQ scores (study).

Creatine has been shown to be protective against a wide number of age-related neurological diseases; helping to stave off the onset of Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, and Parkinson’s among other conditions (study). Yet more creatine benefits for the elderly, then!

Creatine Benefits for Muscle Size

There is no such thing as a silver bullet when it comes to increasing muscle size. With that said, creatine may just be the closest thing we have to such a thing! That’s because creatine draws water into the muscle, thereby making it appear larger. Of course, this doesn’t correlate with an increase in max strength, but it could benefit strength endurance, so it is “functional.”

Bioneer Training

Some people don’t like this effect and find that creatine can make the muscles look “puffy.” Others LOVE the effect and find that they look stronger, without any loss in definition. In fact, this is low-key one of the most popular creatine benefits. Remember, creatine is stored primarily in the muscles. Some people don’t notice any difference at all.

Creatine is transformative for me, personally. I find that I look considerably larger after supplementing with creatine. In fact, I would say the difference is quite shocking. Your mileage may vary, but there’s certainly no harm in trying!

What’s more, is that increased cell volume is an “anabolic proliferative signal.” In other words, that increase in cell volume via water retention actually tells the body to upregulate protein synthesis and build more muscle! These creatine benefits may not be purely skin-deep, then!

The List Goes On: Better Sleep, Recovery, Energy, and Mood

This article is getting long, so I won’t go into a lot more depth regarding the additional benefits of creatine. However, there is evidence out there to suggest that creatine can combat fatigue (which is only logical), that it can encourage recovery from tendon injuries (study), and a whole lot more!

By acting as an “energy buffer,” it has even been suggested that creatine could be protective against neuron damage during oxygen deprivation. Another study has shown that creatine supplementation can reduce sleep need in rats, and likely humans (study).

Creatine, DHT, and Hair-Loss

With all that said, some people are still concerned about possible links between creatine supplementation, DHT, and hair-loss. DHT is dihydrotestosterone, a more biologically active androgen as compared with testosterone. Indeed, one study does support the notion that creatine can increase DHT levels (study). This study found a 50% increase in DHT, following creatine supplementation, among rugby players.

The concern is that supplementing with creatine may raise DHT, thereby leading to hair-loss. This is because DHT can harm the sensitive hair follicles and accelerate their life-cycles.

Complex human machine

Should you be concerned? I would argue not. Keep in mind, that this was just one small study, and there is not a lot more evidence to support the link – aside from anecdotal reports. Nor did that study look for hair-loss specifically. It is unclear whether the DHT increase caused by creatine in this instance would be sufficient to lead to hair loss.

Even very high DHT doesn’t always equate to hair loss. You also need to have a genetic predisposition for hair loss. This is why not everyone who takes steroids loses their hair!

If you have no history of premature hair loss in your family, then you shouldn’t be too concerned. This is also another opportunity to use DNA analysis: to look for variations in a gene called AR, which might put you at risk.

So, Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?

And remember: creatine is a natural substance that we would have gotten a lot more of during our evolutionary history. This is because cooking meat can denature creatine, and because we tend not to eat the better sources of creatine anymore (such as organ meats and connective tissues). Supplementing with creatine doesn’t introduce exogenous DHT like a steroid, it encourages the body to create its own: resulting in a far higher likelihood of it maintaining balance and countermeasures.

If anything, an increase in DHT could be a good thing for those looking to gain more muscle and power. It might go some way to explaining my own observed hypertrophy when using creatine!

If anything, an increase in DHT could be a good thing for those looking to gain more muscle and power.

With millions of people taking creatine around the world, it’s inevitable that we would hear some horror stories. The number of people that believe creatine to have led to their hair-loss is exceptionally small, given those numbers!

I have personally been taking creatine for a very long time on and off, and I still have a perfectly luscious mane. Make of that, what you will.

With all that said: what this study does highlight, is that we still don’t know everything about the way creatine works. With that in mind, proceeding with caution is always advised. That goes for pretty much everything.

Types of Creatine

Creatine comes in a wide range of different forms and you may be wondering which option is right for you, if you want to get the maximum creatine benefits.

The most common option is creatine monohydrate, which is also the most tested and researched. Creatine monohydrate is made from creatine and water molecules. In anhydrous creatine the water molecule is removed. This results in a “purer” creatine (100% vs 90%).

Creatine hydrochloride (HCL)is bonded to a hydrochloride molecule. This form is, theoretically, substantially more water soluble as compared to creatine monohydrate and may also be better absorbed by the body. Thus, creatine hydrochloride is often taken at much lower doses. More research needs to be conducted to confirm the benefits of HCL, however.

Flow state

Other forms of creatine include: creatine nitrate (a newer form that is bonded with nitrate), creatine citrate (bonded to citric acid), creatine magnesium chelate (bonded to magnesium), and many others. The differences here revolve around the delivery, absorption, and dosage; the creatine itself remains unchanged. There is little evidence to support the notion that other forms are significantly more beneficial than creatine monohydrate. As the most readily available and widely tested version, creatine monohydrate remains the optimal choice for most.

Closing Comments

As you can see, the list of creatine benefits just keeps going. These go far beyond the few we hear about all the time and have the potential to improve quality of life for just about anyone.

You won’t wake up the first morning you use creatine and feel like a new person. But give it a few weeks, and you may just find you’re performing better in all areas than you were before. If you aren’t using it already, consider giving it a try!

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About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

6 Comments

  1. Hugo says:

    Thanks for another in depth article Adam! I personally find myself looking quite puffy in the face when using this (eg my wife says I start looking fat haha) maybe because I combine it with a “bulk” diet (eg eating more then I burn).
    Being quite bald since my 20s I’m not to concerned about hair loss, but I am interested in your take on looking buff vs looking fat (“are we doing batman, or are we doing Fatman, Chris?”). I always thought creatine was something you added in your bulking phase and then dropped when wanting to look leaner.
    Also there’s this advice going around saying you have to do a ‘start up week’ where you take a higher dose the first week?
    And lastly, purely practical, I’m curious to how you actually fit this into your diet? Do you just throw this in with the rest of a smoothy, or take it as a separate thing?
    Thanks again!

    • Ant B says:

      The building phase is simply to build creatine up to its full threshold. So if you start with a deficit, then the accelerated dosing phase 5days x5 x5g reduces that deficit. But you can also take 5g daily and meet the same results in 20-30days. Importantly creatine is used up daily in the body and surplus amounts are excreted from the body. Thus the daily intake requirements. There is no reason to stop taking creatine.

  2. Owen says:

    This is an excellent article; thanks for all your work. You cover a huge amount that’s not discussed anywhere else on the low-level functioning of the body.

    Adenosine seems a major part of this; as caffeine plays havoc with adenosine receptors, I’m curious as to any insight you might have on its wider interactions in the process.

  3. Mark Khusid says:

    Those with impaired kidney function are cautioned against using creatine.

  4. Andrew says:

    AFAIK – Excessive DHT can also lead to prostate issues (accelerate BPH) for those predisposed to such. Much more of a PITA than losing your hair.
    A.

  5. Loi says:

    Which brand of creatine do you recommend? Most reviews on Amazon has some bad reviews.

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