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Creatine for Boosting Brainpower

There are a number of supplements that can improve the functioning of the brain. But there is one that is of particular importance to vegetarians. It is creatine, which is normally found in meats, and which has been used for about one hundred years for improving athletic performance. After it became popular among athletes about twenty years ago, some noticed that it also seemed to make them feel smarter. It was not their imagination. Research a decade ago showed that supplememtation with creatine might be one of the easiest and least expensive ways to boost that brainpower.

Perhaps the research that is known best is the Australian study that tested the effects of this substance on brain function. The results were published in Proceedings B, a journal published by the Royal Society, and have been published in the United States on the NIH (National Institute of Health) website a well. Here is the link to that source: Creatine monohydrate supplementation improves brain performance.

The research showed improvement in working memory and general intelligence resulting from creatine supplementation. The dose used in the study was 5 grams per day. This is about the same level that has been (and is) used to boost sports performance, and is as much as you'd normally get in about four pounds of meat, according to lead researcher Dr. Caroline Rae.

Why is this of particular importance to vegetarians? In part it is because researchers were careful to do their testing on young adult vegetarians or vegans only. This was a way to make it easier to accurately monitor how much creatine each participant really took in, since there would be no natural source prior to the start of the study, at least for the vegans. The vegetarians would have had some in their diet from dairy products and eggs (if they ate them), but these more limited sources were easier to keep track of.

The other reason vegetarians and vegans will be happy to hear about this research is that it was a synthetic formulation that was used in the study, and which is normally use by athletes as well. Supplements are usually taken in the form of creatine monohydrate, which the body converts into creatine phosphate in the muscle tissue. Creatine ethyl ester is another common supplement, but according to research reported on Wikipedia it's inferior to creatine monohydrate.

The form that you buy online or in health food stores or pharmacies is usually made from sarcosine (or its salts) and cyanamide. These are combined under heat and pressure in a reactor with catalyst compounds. The result is then purified in a centrifuge, vacuum dried, and milled into a fine powder for improved bioavailability. In other words, there are no animal products used in its production, making it acceptable even to strict vegans.

The 5 gram level was chosen for the Australian study because it had been noted to increase brain creatine levels previously. Study participants were divided into two groups. For six weeks one group received the supplements while the other group received a placebo. Then there was no intake of placebo or natural creatine by either group for six weeks. For the final 6 weeks, the control and placebo group were switched.

Memory and intelligence testing were done at the start of the trial, at the end of the first six weeks, and at the start and end of the final six-week period. The results were clear in all cases: a measurable increase in brain power. Specifically, the study showed that increased creatine levels in the brain correlated with improved memory and intelligence, as well as a reduction in mental fatigue. Other studies have shown similar results.

The risks? They are minimal, although the Wikipedia entry cites evidence of accelerated the growth of cysts in people with Polycystic Kidney Disease who ingest these supplements regularly. There is also a possibility that users will gain a couple pounds, although this is argued to be either temporary water retention or enhanced muscle growth, neither of which will concern most users. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has suggested that long-term intake (orally) of 3 grams daily of pure creatine is risk-free. Several studies refute claims of liver or kidney damage from creatine monohydrate use.

It seems evident that this stuff really works, and may be especially beneficial to those who are either vegetarian or vegan, since their normal intake of natural creatine is minimal. You can find it at a health food store. You can also find it in many grocery stores, including WalMart, and it is not very expensive.


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