Gym Junkies’ Favourite Supplement Surprisingly Effective At Fighting Depression

"Creatine can also be used as a way to increase mood and to improve the symptoms of major depression."

Creatine is a molecule found naturally in muscle cells, and so most people will know it for its association with the fitness industry, with gym bros around the world taking it in supplement form to help them build their muscle size and strength. But, some studies have found that creatine has other benefits, which could include reducing depression.

Brought to our attention by Andrew Huberman, an American neuroscientist and associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, during an episode of his Huberman Lab podcast, creatine has been studied for its effects in reducing depression.

Andrew begins the podcast by saying he’s only referring to major depression and not bipolar depression. The two are different, and you would have likely heard of the latter due to its relation to bipolar disorder, which is categorised by highs and lows in mood.

Major depression, conversely, is also known as unipolar disorder, because it only has severe lows. During the podcast, Andrew discusses various signs and causes of depression, which makes for incredibly interesting listening, but it was a section focusing on creatine and its potential role in improving mood, that caught our attention.

Andrew admits that creatine has found popularity with those who do resistance and/or endurance training because, as a supplement, creatine “draws more water into muscles and can increase power output from the muscles.”

After promoting its proven effects for gym bros, Andrew explains there is also a phosphocreatine system in the brain. He explains this system, “has everything to do with the dialogue between neurone and other cells types called glia.” Andrew goes on to say that phosphocreatine system at the front of the brain in particular has been shown to be involved with “mood regulation and some of the rewards pathways, as well as in depression.”

He adds there are at least 3 studies that suggest creatine “can also be used as a way to increase mood and to improve the symptoms of major depression.”

Elaborating further, Andrew says that studies have found that “increasing the activity of the phosphocreatine system in the brain can be beneficial, or is at least correlated with improvements in mood.”

Referencing a 2012 study conducted by the American Journal of Psychiatry, Andrew goes on to say it found “creatine supplementation seems to either lower the required dose of SSRI required to treat depression, or it can improve the effectiveness of a given dose of SSRI.”

One other review Andrew makes reference to has been published in the National Library of Medicine. This study highlights the fact that conventional antidepressant medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) aren’t always effective, “roughly 53% of persons with depression fail to respond to an initial trial of these medications,” it claims.

This review profiles a wealth of information, referencing other studies that looked at the effects of creatine supplementation in rats with depression. But, ultimately, Andrew explains that creatine supplementation has been found to kickstart a chain reaction in the brain.

Specifically, creatine supplementation can increase the activity of the phosphocreatine system in the front of the brain, and this then can “relate to changes in the way the NMDA receptor functions and may lead to some of the changes in neural circuits that underly the shift from negative mood to positive mood.”

NMDA receptors are receptors in the brain that only activate when presented with strong stimulus, such as an experience or a drug. They don’t participate in the everyday function of the brain, but they are “a key node in shifting brain circuitry.”

So, while Andrew admits more in-depth research is needed to prove this suggestion, it could well prove that creatine will no longer be a supplement reserved solely for gym junkies, but it could be used as a far more cost-effective and accessible way to treat people with depression.

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