Creatine is unquestionably one of the more effective food supplements available. While its main function is to serve as a backup source of energy restoration for ATP synthesis in muscle, it has many other overlapping functions. For example, creatine may help buffer excess acidity in muscle, which itself would help maintain energy output. It may also be involved in the cell-volumizing effect that’s a harbinger of cellular anabolic processes and may promote muscle protein synthesis.
A new study found that creatine can serve as an antioxidant, protecting against the destructive effects of free radicals,1 which are constantly produced during oxygen metabolism. While the body does have antioxidant mechanisms, such as glutathione and the superoxide dismutase systems, they can be overwhelmed at times, and we need all the help we can get to protect against their noxious effects.
The study found that creatine effectively protected against the onslaught of aqueous ions, or free radicals, active in a water environment such as the blood. Creatine was less effective against free radicals that attack fatty structures, but for that we can rely on fat-soluble antioxidants, such as vitamin E and beta-carotene.
The news that creatine offers antioxidant activity isn’t as surprising as it initially appears. One of the dietary precursors of creatine synthesis in the body, the amino acid L-arginine, is itself an antioxidant, even though it’s also the immediate precursor of nitric oxide, a free radical that has many beneficial effects, including stimulation of sexual erectile tissue in both sexes.
When compared to glutathione, creatine showed weaker activity, leading the authors to suggest that its antioxidant role is more supportive than primary. On the other hand, since creatine is dispersed throughout muscle tissue, it may help protect muscle cells from the free-radical activity that occurs during exercise, which would reduce muscle fatigue and blunt muscle protein breakdown. The latter effect is due to free-radical stimulation of a muscle degradation sequence known as the ubiquitin pathway.
The antioxidant effect of creatine also explains why it may be able to treat certain neuromuscular diseases that are marked by out-of-control oxidation, including degenerative brain conditions, such as Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.
1 Lawler, J.M., et al. (2002). Direct antioxidant properties of creatine. Biochem, Biophysical Res Commun. 290:47-52.