Creatine may hold the key

Deana Stokes Sullivan
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MUN researchers say the natural compound may prevent fatty liver condition

Creatine supplementation may prevent fatty liver disease in humans, according to positive findings from research using rats at Memorial University. — Photo by Thinkstock.com

 

Researchers at Memorial University may have found a food supplement to prevent fatty liver disease in humans, a condition that can lead to insulin resistance, fibrosis, cirrhosis and even liver cancer.

Dr. Sean Brosnan, a biochemistry professor who co-authored a research paper published recently in the Journal of Nutrition, says creatine supplementation showed promise in lab rats that were fed high-fat diets.

The creatine was added to their drinking water and, during the experiment, the rats didn’t develop fatty liver disease, despite their poor diets.

Brosnan said he’s worked at MUN for about 40 years and “a passion of his life” is amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins, but also synthesize neurotransmitters used by the brain.

“One of the other big things that amino acids do is synthesize a molecule called creatine,” which is abundant in all types of fish and dairy products, Brosnan said.

 

He said creatine has been studied for some time and it was suggested that it might be useful to prevent fatty liver disease, which is when the liver accumulates excess fat. There are two known types of fatty liver disease, caused by excess alcohol intake and high-fat diets.

The condition is fairly common in Newfoundland, Brosnan said, because of the traditional diet in the province being high in fat.

On its own, he said, it isn’t terribly damaging, but it can lead to other things, including insulin resistance, which is associated with diabetes, fibrosis, cirrhosis and, in a small number of people, even liver cancer.

“Knowing what we know about how fat is synthesized and deposited in the liver, and knowing what we know about creatine and how it’s synthesized in the liver, we thought that there might be a sort of connection between them, such as if we fed the animals a lot of creatine and placed them on a diet where they would normally get fatty liver, it wouldn’t occur,” Brosnan said. “And, wonderful to behold, that’s what happened.”

What’s particularly interesting, he said, is creatine seems to have a pretty good safety profile and is a compound the body already makes.

While it hasn’t been used as a drug, Brosnan said, hundreds of thousands of young athletes use creatine monohydrate to increase their strength.

In high intensity, short duration exercise, like weight lifting, he said, it “absolutely works” and isn’t a banned drug at the Olympics.

Brosnan said he would caution, however, that this is one experiment in rats and it won’t be known if it applies to humans as well without proper clinical trials.

“So, I absolutely must caution, I’m not saying go out and take creatine for this purpose,” he said.

Rats are very useful in many ways, Brosnan said, but a rat’s lifespan is only about three years.

So while they would develop disease quicker, he said, fatty liver disease develops in humans over 10 to 20 years.

Brosnan said he wouldn’t be able to do clinical trials himself because he’s not a clinician, but he will be talking to clinicians interested in fatty liver research.

Creatine is not expensive itself, he said, but doing any study like this on humans would be expensive and require experimentation approvals, the enrolment of patients and a research grant.

If such a trial is undertaken, he said it would take a couple of years before it could begin.

Brosnan said this project was a “great joy” involving a whole team of researchers, including a student, Rafael Deminice from Brazil, who came to MUN to get some experience in modern research techniques.

Robin da Silva of St. John’s, who’s finishing a PhD at MUN was also part of the team and Brosnan said they collaborated with Rene Jacobs, a Fogo native who studied at MUN and is now an assistant professor at the University of Alberta.

“So we brought together all of these talents and produced a really interesting paper, which has potential for human medicine,” Brosnan said.

 

dss@thetelegram.com

Organizations: University of Alberta

Geographic location: Newfoundland, Brazil, Fogo

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  • Stephen
    December 01, 2011 - 20:18

    I would be interested to see what the outcome may be if processed foods, grains and refined sugars replaced the high fat diet. Would creatine still help reduce fatty liver disease?

  • mike
    December 01, 2011 - 18:39

    The physiologic reason for creatine use and its response in the body is far more complicated than a comment on the telegram can do justice. Creatine plays a role in your anerobic energy system in conjunction with ATP. Supplemental creatine augments the natural ATP-CP system and allows for more high intensity work to be done. In short yes it does have a positive benifit on strenght and power. When it comes to matters of science, you opinion does not matter. Do a proper lit reveiw and the overwhelming proof of the benifits of creatine are well documented. Dr. Brosan et al. have now added to the literature in a very significant way to further support the positive effects of creatine. Just be ware of sales men tryign to use this one study as a sales pitch. fanatastic research! Well done Dr. Brosnan.

  • mike
    December 01, 2011 - 18:34

    The physiologic reason for creatine use and its response in the body is far more complicated than a comment on the telegram can do justice. Creatine plays a role in your anerobic energy system in conjunction with ATP. Supplemental creatine augments the natural ATP-CP system and allows for more high intensity work to be done. In short yes it does have a positive benifit on strenght and power. When it comes to matters of science, you opinion does not matter. Do a proper lit reveiw and the overwhelming proof of the benifits of creatine are well documented. Dr. Brosan et al. have now added to the literature in a very significant way to further support the positive effects of creatine. Just be ware of sales men tryign to use this one study as a sales pitch. fanatastic research! Well done Dr. Brosnan.

  • Chris
    December 01, 2011 - 10:42

    The web site "Creatine": http://www.creatinesite.com/ has a list of 13 possible side effects, one of which happens to be "Liver ailments". So if you don't mind asthma, digestive disorders, kidney problems (including kidney stones), etc., etc., go for it.

    • Tony Ingram
      December 01, 2011 - 14:21

      Stop scaring people. Here are the POSSIBLE side effects of ASPIRIN: Mild: Heartburn; nausea; upset stomach. Severe: Severe allergic reactions (rash; hives; itching; difficulty breathing; tightness in the chest; swelling of the mouth, face, lips, or tongue); black or bloody stools; confusion; diarrhea; dizziness; drowsiness; hearing loss; ringing in the ears; severe or persistent stomach pain; unusual bruising; vomiting.

    • Fraser
      December 01, 2011 - 15:50

      Regarding CHRIS's comment - I am working on a masters degree in human nutrition, and I would have to say that creatine supplements are one of the benign (least harmful) supplements available. Surely you can't concern yourself with all POSSIBLE side effects of a substance or practice, in the face of overwhelming potential benefits. Let's all just avoid walking... I heard that breaking your legs is possible side effect.

    • David
      December 01, 2011 - 19:56

      Let's get this straight people, you want to supplement an alcoholics diet with Creatine so he won't get Cirrhosis???? or better yet, supplement an over weight person with Creatine so they can develope some other condition like heart disease. Go back to the knowledge of simple times with expressions like " Everything in moderation" and educate people to have a better lifestyle of eating and exercise. Be more practical and less scientific.

    • TheBeast
      December 02, 2011 - 22:24

      Really Chris? I bet you are one of those "all natural" vegan "types"....Creatine is one of the most studied and test substances, even more so than Vitamin C! Here's some knowledge....don't listen to DEA/ FDA on anything as they are profit fueled! Steroids for example are SOOOOO dangerous that it kills 2 people a year.....yeah that's less than multi-vitamins, yet it is so demonized that the SHEEP believe what ever baaaaaaaa their master the media say! Creatine is even safer that that! And I even have a bachelors in Nutritional Science! So, used it, love it and get healthy!

  • Kent
    December 01, 2011 - 09:57

    Karl Kautsky I didn't say it didn't increase muscle mass... Rather I said the claims of increase in muscle strength were dubious at best. Increasing muscle size does not always equate to increasing muslce strength.

    • Noseworthy
      December 01, 2011 - 10:19

      You must look at sport or activity specificty as well. Creatine for a runner, for example a person interested in training for a tely 10 etc is not beneficial in comparison to short term anaerobic bouts with work to rest ratios of 1:5 or greater. (Example, may be good for a hockey player who player on a team that roles 4 lines and may only see the ice for 30 seconds every 4 minutes)! Excellent research going on at mun these days by faculty and students! Keep it up!

    • Karl Gambino
      December 01, 2011 - 10:30

      Kent is right Karl. The strength gain from recieving proper sleep as opposed to non proper sleep is much greater than the said strength increases one will experience by taking creatine. Hypertrophy and strength are mutually exclusive for the most part.

  • Karl Kautsky
    December 01, 2011 - 09:35

    Kent, you're wrong. Creatine does help increase muscle mass when used as a supplement by athletes. This is a great story and good to read about the fascinating research done at MUN.

  • Ranter
    December 01, 2011 - 09:17

    I believe Rene Jacobs is from Fogo Island, not Fogo!

  • Kent
    December 01, 2011 - 06:59

    Creatine does not improve strength. This is a myth and largely anecdotal pushed by the supplement industry. An athlete's strength varies from work-out to work-out for all sorts of reasons e.g. their work-out regimen, irregular sleep, overtraining, under-training, stress, food intake. Many researchers couldn't properly recognize what exactly is responsible for strength gains losses, since there are simply too many variables that come into play.

  • Stephanie Woodford
    December 01, 2011 - 06:50

    I find this article very interesting as I have been just diagnosed with a Mitochondrial Disorder called CPEO. I went to Ontario to get a muscle biopsy done and it confirmed my diagnosis. There is no cure for this but part of the thearpy for this is called a MITO COCKTAIL. This includes lots of vitamins and CREATINE. The Mic Masters University did studies and trials and it has proven to slow done the progression. So for anyone out there that may have a mitochondrial disorder there is some help! Creatine being one of them. So I think the money will be well spent for a clinical trial as you never know waht else they may come up with! I support this 100% as I had to go out of the province to get a diagnosis!! Well done guys! Stephanie Woodford!