Hardly any non-scientists know much about them, but the tiny cellular organelles called mitochondria determine, to a large degree, how long we live. They're also responsible for manufacturing ATP, the energy currency of the cell.
Without mitochondria, or without properly working mitochondria, you couldn't even produce enough chemical energy to wipe your snotty nose, let alone hoist an Olympic bar over your head. And, like I said, they play a big part in how long you live by determining the shelf life of your organs.
Now we've known for a while that creatine "feeds" mitochondria. It's transported directly to the cell where it's combined with a phosphate group inside mitochondria to form phosphocreatine, which, when called upon, releases its phosphate group so that it can combine with ADP to form more ATP.
That's old news, but what is breaking news is that creatine has been found not only to "feed" mitochondria, but that it might also promote the birth of NEW mitochondria in skeletal muscle and cardiac muscles. That means more muscular endurance and a stronger, healthier heart, along with possibly extending the human lifespan and ameliorating mitochondrial diseases like epilepsy.
How Did We Find This Out?
This apparent new function of creatine came to light through the work of Egyptian scientists working at Pharos University in Alexandria. They conducted a pretty simple experiment with four groups of rats.
Two groups of rats were forced to swim for one hour a day, five days a week, for five weeks. One of these two groups of rats received 0.5 grams per kilogram of creatine a day while the other group got nada.
Two other groups of rats got to couch-potato it out and didn't have to exercise at all. However, similar to the swim group, one group received a daily dose of creatine and the other didn't.
While most experiments involving creatine are designed to see if the supplement increased the endurance or strength of humans or animals, this one didn't bother. The animals in the swimming groups all swam for an hour, which is well within the endurance limits of healthy rats. In other words, none were forced to swim until failure.
Instead, this study was interested mostly in the cellular effects of the supplement. After the five weeks were over, the rats were euthanized. The scientists then harvested cardiac and soleus muscles to assess the amount of mitochondrial DNA.
Here are their major findings:
- Training increased the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells of the rats. No big surprise there.
- Training plus creatine increased the number of mitochondria in the muscle cells of the rats to an even greater degree. THAT was a big surprise.
- This increase of mitochondria was found in the heart muscle too.
- The rats showed no evidence of kidney or liver adverse effects.
- The combination of creatine and training didn't have any significant effects on the rats' bodyweights.
What seems to have happened is that the creatine increased the production of TFAM and NRF-1. The former is a DNA-binding protein that activates transcription s mitochondrial DNA, while the latter plays a role in the activation of some key metabolic genes that regulate cell growth and, like TFAM, spur the development of mitochondrial DNA.
"It can be concluded that, activity coupled with short-term creatine supplementation increased all factors of mitochondrial biogenesis and improved skeletal muscle functions," wrote the researchers.
How to Use This Info
There are plenty of substances that nurture mitochondria, things like Coenzyme Q-10, acetyl-l-carnitine, nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, but few things that actually make them proliferate like creatine seems to do.
The implications for this are huge. Not only can the increase in the number of mitochondria make you a better weight lifter or endurance athlete, but it can also extend the lifespan of internal organs like the heart, liver, lungs, etc., thus allowing you to live longer.
If you're a newbie to the use of creatine, most articles instruct you to "load" the supplement over the course of several days to force-feed the muscle cells. You don't need to do that. Just start taking 5 grams a day (which approximates the human equivalent of what was given to the rats in the described experiment) every day.
By the end of two to four weeks, your cells will be carrying the maximum amount of creatine they can carry without doing the whole force-feed bit. From thereafter, just continue taking 5 grams a day.
- Gowayed M et al. Enhanced mitochondrial biogenesis is associated with the ameliorative action of creatine supplementation in rat soleus and cardiac muscles. Exp Ther Med. 2020 Jan;19(1):384-392.