It's been shown to strengthen heart function, possibly deter Alzheimer's and other neurodegenerative diseases, lower blood sugar, aid in the repair of bone, prevent arthritis, reduce fat accumulation in the liver, help people with fibromyalgia, lower blood sugar, and yes, grow muscle in athletes.
The way its list of effects is growing, I wouldn't be surprised if it turned out to cure dogs of mange, take stains out of corduroy, and ward off vampires.
Speculative benefits aside, it's recently been found to have a new, hugely exciting super power. Researchers from UCLA have found that creatine can act as a "molecular battery" for immune cells by storing and distributing energy to fuel their fight against cancer.
Creatine and Killer T Cells
Dr. Lili Yang, head of the research team that made the discovery, found that creatine uptake is crucial to the anti-tumor activities of CD8T cells, which are also known by the decidedly much cooler name, killer T cells.
When these killer T cells are called into action to fight a tumor, they have to compete with fast-growing tumor cells for metabolic resources like glucose, amino acids, and lipids. Without an adequate supply of these resources, these killer T cells are literally marching off to war without breakfast... and a hungry army can only go so far.
Creatine, however, supplies these T cells with critical levels of ATP (the energy currency of the cell), thus enabling them to fight with continued fury.
What the Researchers Did
Yang and her researchers engineered mice so that their killer T cells were deficient in the gene that's responsible for creating creatine transporter molecules. That means that their T cells couldn't take creatine in and were consequently far less capable of fighting tumors.
However, when they received creatine supplementation (either oral or IV), their T cells found new life and regained their cancer-fighting mojo. They then tried giving creatine to non-engineered mice with normal transporter molecules and found that they too became more efficient at fighting colon cancer and melanoma tumors.
"...these findings suggest that killer T cells really do need creatine to fight cancer," said Yang, in a press release. "Without it, they simply can't do their jobs effectively."
There's more good news, too. The beneficial effects didn't require the use of creatine doses that would bloat a buffalo. The amount they gave to the mice was comparable to the doses recommended for athletes and bodybuilders.
The Broader Implications
While Yang and her colleagues found that creatine was effective in fighting colon cancer tumors and melanoma, she speculated that the treatment could be of use in fighting many different types of cancer.
Furthermore, she thought that creatine could be combined with many other current cancer therapeutic modalities, as well as traditional chemotherapies and radiation therapies.
How Best to Use Creatine
If you're already using creatine to increase athletic performance or grow more muscle, great. You can take some satisfaction in knowing that it's also doing your body a whole lot of good.
However, if you're not an athlete and you've never dreamed of taking creatine, you should give strong consideration to adding it to your list of mandatory daily health supplements, right up there with your vitamins, fish oil, and fiber. There's just too much good research out there to ignore.
Creatine's a little different than most supplements, though, in that you have to "load up," which is just a way of saying that it takes several days for your cells to reach maximum storage capacity.
A lot of bodybuilders choose to load up on creatine by taking 5 grams four times a day for 5 to 7 days and then continuing at a dosage of 3 to 5 grams, but there's a much easier way to do it.
Just take about 5 grams a day, every day. By the time 30 days have passed, you'll most likely have reached maximum cellular storage capacity, at which point you can just continue with taking 3 to 5 grams a day.
Make sure you use a micronized version where the grains are absorbed better than brands sold by the big box stores or your local drugstore.
- Di Biase S et al. Creatine uptake regulates CD8 T cell antitumor immunity. J Exp Med. 2019 Dec 2;216(12):2869-2882.