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Muscle mass and cognitive function decline naturally with age.
Aging is also associated with several chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and osteoporosis, a disease that thins and weakens the bones.
Increasing research suggests that creatine can increase muscle size and strength, improve cognition, and improve certain conditions associated with aging.
However, you may wonder whether creatine is safe or effective for use by older adults.
This article explains everything you need to know about creatine for older adults, including its benefits, whether it’s safe, and how to supplement with it.
What is creatine?
Creatine is a compound produced naturally in the body by the kidneys and liver from amino acids — the building blocks of protein (1).
It’s also found naturally in foods of animal origin, namely beef, chicken, and fish.
Creatine is stored primarily in skeletal muscle, with small amounts also found in the brain (1).
The body has a much larger storage capacity for creatine than what can be naturally obtained from food.
This is especially true among vegans and other types of vegetarians who avoid or limit fish or chicken (2).
Creatine supplementation is a popular, cost-effective, and effective way to increase muscle creatine stores.
Increasing muscle creatine stores offers many benefits, especially in relation to exercise performance, which is why creatine supplements are popular among athletes.
Creatine is a compound naturally produced by the body. It’s also found in foods, namely meat, poultry, and seafood. Increasing muscle creatine stores through supplementation improves exercise performance.
Benefits of creatine for older adults
Many people view creatine as a supplement for athletes and bodybuilders only.
However, increasing evidence suggests that creatine offers several great benefits for older adults.
Increases muscle size and strength
Muscle mass and strength decline naturally with age. This age-related condition is called sarcopenia.
Beginning as early as the fourth decade of life, muscle mass and strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of muscle being lost by the eighth decade of life (3).
This gradual decline in muscle with age increases the risk of falls and fractures and can lead to the loss of independence in performing activities of daily living.
Regular weight training is a powerful way to combat muscle loss with aging and maintain independence longer.
Combining creatine with resistance training offers an even greater benefit.
A review of 16 randomized controlled trials revealed that older adults who weight-trained and supplemented with creatine gained an average of 2.9 pounds (1.32 kg) of muscle more than those who weight-trained only (4).
What’s more, those who resistance-trained and supplemented with creatine also experienced more significant increases in strength on the chest press and leg press.
Creatine increases muscle mass and strength by increasing the availability of fuel in the muscle, allowing you to lift heavier weights and perform more repetitions.
May strengthen bones
Similar to muscle, bone mass or density also declines with age, especially in women after menopause (9).
Consequently, bones lose their strength and are more prone to fractures.
Although there are many factors that influence bone health, supplementing with creatine may help reduce bone loss by stimulating the cells (osteoclasts) that build bones while inhibiting the cells (osteoclasts) that break bone down (10).
Creatine also allows you to lift heavier weights and put a greater strain on your bones, forcing them to adapt and grow stronger.
In one study, postmenopausal women who supplemented with creatine and weight-trained lost 1.2% of femoral bone mass compared with 3.9% who weight-trained without creatine after 12 months (11).
The study also showed that the women who supplemented with creatine experienced greater bone bending strength, possibly reducing the risk of a hip fracture due to a fall.
However, several other studies have found no benefits of creatine for increasing bone strength or reducing bone breakdown among older adults (12).
May enhance cognitive function and mood
Cognitive function declines progressively with age, starting relatively early in adulthood and certainly before age 60 (13).
Cognitive function refers to various mental abilities, including learning, thinking, problem-solving, decision-making, memory, and reasoning.
While age is the primary risk factor for cognitive impairment, other risk factors include physical inactivity, brain injuries, the use of certain medications, and conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and stress (14).
Recall that small amounts of creatine are stored in the brain.
Here creatine supplies energy to neurons — the fundamental units of the brain and nervous system — and is believed to participate in neural or brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to change as a result of learning, experience, and memory formation (15).
For these reasons, supplementing with creatine may enhance cognitive performance, especially in older adults who require more energy or brain powder to complete cognitive tasks compared with their younger counterparts (16).
In one study, older adults who supplemented with creatine experienced significant improvements in various tasks of cognitive performance whereas those who didn’t receive creatine experienced no significant improvements (17).
Studies have shown that older adults who supplement with creatine experience gains in muscle size and strength. Creatine may also support bone health and enhance cognitive function and mood in older adults.
Is creatine safe for older adults?
Despite claims to the contrary, creatine is a remarkably safe supplement.
The controversy surrounding creatine’s safety stems from its breakdown product creatinine.
Creatinine is a widely used marker of kidney function, with elevated levels potentially indicating that your kidneys aren’t working well.
Because creatine supplementation increases creatinine levels, creatine was — and continues to be — falsely linked with kidney damage.
Although creatinine is commonly used to assess kidney function, elevated levels don’t always indicate kidney problems, such as in the case of creatine supplementation (19).
This is a common problem in interpreting research where an association is mistaken as causation, as in creatine causes kidney damage because it increases creatinine levels.
Some studies have reported mild digestive discomfort in older adults but it’s unclear if these incidences resulted from creatine supplementation or something different (1).
The only consistently reported side effect from creatine supplementation is weight gain from temporary water retention in the muscle cells (1).
Creatine supplementation hasn’t been shown to impair kidney or liver function and is likely safe for older adults. The most commonly reported side effect associated with creatine is weight gain from temporary water retention.
How to supplement with creatine
Creatine is commonly taken as a powder mixed with liquid but you can also take creatine in capsule form.
Both ways have their benefits and downsides, but creatine powder is usually preferred due to its lower cost.
You would also need to take several creatine capsules each day to obtain an effective dose.
Creatine dissolves easily in water but you can also mix it with juice or a different beverage like a protein shake.
Here are three high-quality creatine monohydrate products:
There are two main ways to supplement creatine — by loading or taking a maintenance dose.
The loading phase involves supplementing with 20–25 grams of creatine daily for 5–7 days followed by 3–5 grams thereafter to maintain elevated creatine stores (1).
Skipping the loading phase and supplementing with the 3–5-gram dose daily is the second option.
Both methods are equally effective in increasing creatine stores, but it takes 3–4 times longer to experience creatine’s benefits if you skip the loading phase and supplement with the maintenance dose.
This is because creatine’s benefits are only realized after your stores are saturated, which takes less time with the loading phase.
The time in which you take creatine does not seem to matter, so take it when it’s most convenient or when you’re most likely to remember.
Of the various types of creatine, creatine monohydrate is the best choice. You can supplement creatine by following a loading protocol or taking a maintenance dose of 3–5 grams daily. Both strategies are effective, but you can experience creatine’s benefits faster by following the loading protocol.
The bottom line
Creatine is a compound produced naturally in the body. It’s also found naturally in meats, chicken, and fish.
Supplementing with creatine can increase muscle size and strength, support bone health, and enhance cognitive function and mood in older adults.
Creatine is remarkably safe and poses little risk for side effects.
If you want to try creatine or recommend it to a loved one, opt for creatine monohydrate as it’s the most well-studied and cost-effective form of creatine.