Creatine may fight major depression in women

7 August 2012 Women battling stubborn major depression may have a surprising new ally in their fight—the muscle-building dietary supplement creatine. In a new proof-of-concept study, researchers from three South Korean universities and the University of Utah report that women with major…

7 August 2012

Women battling stubborn major depression may have a surprising new ally in their fight—the muscle-building dietary supplement creatine.

In a new proof-of-concept study, researchers from three South Korean universities and the University of Utah report that women with major depressive disorder (MDD) who augmented their daily antidepressant with 5 grams of creatine responded twice as fast and experienced remission of the illness at twice the rate of women who took the antidepressant alone. The study, published Aug. 3, 2012, in the American Journal of Psychiatry online, means that taking creatine under a doctor’s supervision could provide a relatively inexpensive way for women who haven’t responded well to SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) antidepressants to improve their treatment outcomes.

“If we can get people to feel better more quickly, they’re more likely to stay with treatment and, ultimately, have better outcomes,” says Perry F. Renshaw, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A, USTAR professor of psychiatry at the U of U medical school and senior author on the study.

If these initial study results are borne out by further, larger trials, the benefits of taking creatine could directly affect many Utahns. The depression incidence in Utah is estimated to be 25 percent higher than the rest of the nation, meaning the state has an even larger proportion of people with the disease. This also brings a huge economic cost to both the state and individuals.

According to numbers recently compiled at the U of U, the state of Utah paid an estimated $214 million in depression-related Medicaid and disability insurance in 2008. Add the costs of inpatient and outpatient treatment, medication, and lost productivity in the workplace, and the total price of depression in Utah reached $1.3 billion in 2008, according to the U estimate. With those large numbers, any treatment that improves outcomes not only could ease the life of thousands of Utah women but also would save millions of dollars.

“There has been a misunderstanding of how crippling and common this disease is in Utah,” says Renshaw, who’s also medical director of the Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Salt Lake City Veterans Affairs Health Care System. “It begs that we understand it better than we do.”

Creatine is an amino acid made in the human liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It also is found in meat and fish. Inside the body it is converted into phosphocreatine and stored in muscle. During high-intensity exercise, phosphocreatine is converted into ATP, an important energy source for cells. For this reason, creatine has become a popular supplement among bodybuilders and athletes who are trying to add muscle mass or improve athletic ability.

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