Vegetarians who take the dietary supplement creatine may enjoy improved brain function, according to a study. The research was presented at the American Physiological Society's (APS) annual meeting at Experimental Biology 2019 in Orlando, Florida.
Creatine is a chemical stored in the muscles and brain that helps build lean muscle. In addition to being produced by the human body, creatine is also naturally occurring in red meats and seafood – and in smaller amounts, dairy products. People who do not eat animal products generally have lower creatine levels in the brain than those who consume meat.
Researchers from Stetson University in Florida studied vegetarian volunteers as well as those who ate either up to 10 or 10 or more servings of beef, chicken, pork or fish each week. The volunteers were split into two groups selected randomly. One group took a daily creatine supplement for four weeks, and the other group did not.
Before and after the trial, all participants took the ImPACT test, a widely used standardised measure of neurocognitive function. The vegetarian supplement group scored higher on the ImPACT test than the group that ate 10 or more servings of meat, poultry or seafood per week.
"Meat eaters did not show any significant improvement of cognition following supplementation because (their) creatine levels were already elevated (from their diet)," explained Kaitlyn Smith, first author of the study.
"This is a pilot study for future research in the field of cognition, and specifically in vegetarians, as (there is) a shift to meat- and dairy-free alternatives in society," Smith added.
The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of 4 weeks of creatine supplementation on cognitive function using the ImPACT test in vegetarians, subjects that consumed 1–10 servings of beef, chicken, pork, or fish per week, and subjects that consumed greater than 10 servings of beef, chicken, pork or fish per week. In a randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled study, twenty-five subjects were divided into two groups. One group received creatine while the other group received a placebo. Subjects completed a 5-day loading phase (20 grams per day) followed by a 24-day maintenance phase (5 grams per day). Cognitive function was assessed prior to supplementation and immediately after a 4-week supplementation phase. The ImPACT test was used and provides 6 measures of cognitive function. There were no significant changes in any of the cognitive measures between groups. However, vegetarians in the creatine group scored significantly higher than subjects who consumed greater than 10 servings of beef, chicken, pork or fish per week on the visual memory test. Preliminary analysis suggests that acute supplementation of creatine may enhance cognition in vegetarians but have no effect on those who consume meat regularly in their diet.
Kaitlyn Smith, Caroline Weickel, Jahkeema Petersen, Michele Skelton