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Could creatine also diminish depression?

You’re a being, I’m a being, and now I’m being perfectly honest. Hearing someone say, “It’s time to feed a fed horse,” irritates me to no end.

But since December 2018, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suggests saying that as a way “to cultivate positive relationships between all beings” and to stop sending the “mixed signals [that] normalize animal abuse.” Instead of what first popped into my head as a spot-on intro to a topic I’ve already tackled a half dozen times.

“It’s time to beat a dead horse.”

As you may recall, I poked fun at PETA for suggesting animal-sensitive idiomatic replacements - like “Take the flower by the thorns” instead of “Take the bull by the horns” - once before. It occurred in this year’s July 2 article about the health supplement creatine that argued you should take 5 grams of it per day “forevermore.”

Picking on PETA’s push to replace animal-offensive idioms again strikes me as apropos because the topic today is the same. Back then, after I halfheartedly apologized for killing two birds with one stone in order to bring home the bacon, you learned that creatine, the health supplement that’s far and away the best at increasing or maintaining muscle mass, had recently been found to be a potent antioxidant.

Combine that with the results of a study that found type 2 diabetics taking 5 grams of daily creatine to be “promising” and prior ones that suggest the same daily dose may help treat diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s, as well as improve memory and brain function in older adults and vegetarians, and you should see, I reasoned, the use of forevermore was not an off-the-wall exaggeration but a sensible suggestion.

It becomes even more sensible in light of yet another study on creatine, one I first missed when published in an obscure journal, Translational Psychiatry, in February 2020. In it, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine reviewed data accrued from 2005 to 2012 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), specifically looking for a connection between the consumption of creatine and what they call “depression prevalence.”

They did so because a study published in 2006 by Neurology to see if creatine supplementation could help slow the progression of Parkinson’s also found creatine was associated with a “significant reduction in depressive symptoms following a two-year treatment course” when compared to a placebo. Subsequently, the Translational Psychiatry study notes, six other studies found that creatine supplementation “enhances and/or accelerates antidepressant response.”

But a seventh did not, so researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine scoured the dietary info found in NHANES to make sense of that.

Creatine, a chemical that can be created to some extent in the body, is also found in significant amounts in red meats, game meats, organ meats, processed meats - like hot dogs, sausage, and luncheon meats - poultry, fish, shellfish, and to a lesser extent milk and cranberries.

After eliminating anyone in the NHANES study who had consumed creatine as a supplement 30 days before the two-day survey, the researchers divided the remaining 22,692 participants, ranging from 20 to 85 years of age, into quartiles based on the amount of creatine they received from their diets. They then factored in the participants’ race, gender, age, education level, body mass index, healthcare access, smoking status, physical activity, and antidepressant medication use and ultimately assessed their degree of depression.

Doing so revealed that just about 6 of 100 participants calculated to be in highest quartile of creatine consumption suffered from depression occasionally compared to a bit more than 10 of every 100 in the lowest quartile, a difference of 42 percent.

Studies like this are what cause Will Brink - a consultant to some of the largest supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies in the world and better known for the hundreds of health and fitness articles he’s penned over the last 30 years - to declare “Creatine does a body and brain good.”

Brink wrote this on his Brinkzone Blog about a year after the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition released a position paper on creatine that touted its efficacy in enhancing athletic endeavors. In the paper, the society states that because of the overall health benefits inherent in creatine all individuals should consume about 3 grams per day, “particularly as one ages,” and that creatine stores “can generally be maintained” by ingesting 3 to 5 grams per day.

While I’d never advise you to put all your eggs in one basket (and not just because PETA would take offense), I will tell you about one out of every six Americans will at some point have what the medicos call a major depressive disorder.

And that the aforementioned position paper suggests ingesting creatine with carbs or carbs and protein “to more consistently promote greater creatine retention,” as well as the fact that many people add it to tea or coffee because creatine works synergistically with caffeine.