Creatine is a naturally occurring amino acid typically associated with providing fuel for intense bursts of energy during high-intensity, short-duration exercises, such as lifting weights or sprinting.
A new study finds the dietary supplement may also help women overcome major depression.
In a new study, researchers found that women with major depressive disorder (MDD) — also known as clinical depression — 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.
Researchers say 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,” said psychiatrist Perry F. Renshaw, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A, senior author on the study.
Although researchers are quick to point out that the findings need to be replicated in larger trials, the benefits of taking creatine could help many Americans battling major depression.
Improving treatment of depression will not only help individuals, but will also provide significant savings in both hospital and ambulatory based care settings. Experts say the economic windfall would bring a significant boost to state and federal coffers.
In Utah alone, the state 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.
The mechanism by which creatine works against depression is not precisely known, but Renshaw and his colleagues suggest that the pro-energetic effect of creatine supplementation, including the making of more phosphocreatine, may contribute to the earlier and greater response to antidepressants.
The eight-week study included 52 South Korean women, ages 19-65, with major depressive disorder. All the women took the antidepressant Lexapro (escitalopram) during the trial.
Twenty-five of the women received creatine with the Lexapro and 27 were given a placebo. Neither the study participants nor the researchers knew who received creatine or placebo.
Eight women in the creatine group and five in the placebo group did not finish the trial, leaving a total of 39 participants. Participants were interviewed at the start of the trial to establish baselines for their depression, and then were checked at two, four, and eight weeks.
In the study, researchers used three measures to check the severity of depression, with the primary outcomes being measured by the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS), a well-accepted tool.
Investigators discovered that the group that received creatine showed significantly higher improvement rates on the HDRS at two and four weeks (32 percent and 68 percent) compared to the placebo group (3.7 percent and 29 percent).
Remarkably, at the end of eight weeks, half of those in the creatine group showed no signs of depression compared with one-quarter in the placebo group. There were no significant adverse side effects associated with creatine.
The findings are important because antidepressants typically don’t start to work until four to six weeks. Still, research suggests that the sooner an antidepressant begins to work, the better the treatment outcome.
As a result, Renshaw and his colleagues are excited about the outcomes in this first study. “Getting people to feel better faster is the Holy Grail of treating depression,” he says.
Researchers say that future research efforts will test creatine supplements in both men and women.
The South Korean University and University of Utah study is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry online.
Source: University of Utah