Could Creatine Be the Secret Ingredient in Combating Depression?

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Movement boosts mental health, to the point where some research shows physical activity may actually be more effective at reducing mild-to-moderate symptoms of depression than medication or cognitive behavior therapy. But could the supplements that support your workouts enhance those brain benefits even further?

While the world of supplements is a murky one, creatine—an amino acid produced in the body that helps your muscles produce energy—is one that’s generally considered safe. Supplementing up to 30 grams a day was shown to be well-tolerated over at least five years in a 2017 review published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Experts In This Article
  • Ryan Sultan, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the Mental Health Informatics Lab at Columbia University

Most of the creatine (95 percent, to be exact) your body makes or consumes goes to your skeletal muscles, where research shows it can help improve athlete performance, speed up recovery, and prevent injury. But the rest goes to other tissues, including your brain.

Turns out, people who consumed the most creatine in their diet—about one gram a day—showed a 31 percent lower risk for depression compared to those who only got 0.15 grams a day, according to data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Researchers at the University of Utah suggested that creatine might boost brain energy metabolism and capacity, which could ward off the blues.

“One key hypothesis involves creatine's ability to enhance cellular energy metabolism, potentially ameliorating the energy hypometabolism often seen in depression,” says Ryan Sultan, MD, assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and director of the Mental Health Informatics Lab at Columbia University. Evidence has shown that major depressive disorder is linked with impaired energy metabolism in the brain, Sultan explains. Supplementing with creatine might work by helping restore energy balance within the brain.

For people already battling depression, creatine supplementation was shown to enhance antidepressant response in a 2023 review published in Sports Medicine. “Traditional psychotherapies might not effectively address its core symptoms, so using creatine in combination with antidepressants could be a beneficial strategy,” says Sultan. When women who failed to respond to other antidepressants were treated with five grams of creatine daily (along with 200 milligrams of a serotonin precursor for eight weeks), their depression significantly improved, a 2017 study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology found.

Creatine’s therapeutic effects may go beyond energy metabolism, too. People with depression have reduced levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which plays a critical role in generating new neurons in the brain, strengthening the connections of those neurons, and overall brain health, Sultan explains—and “it’s suggested that creatine can increase levels of BDNF.”

But before you go all-in on creatine supplementation, Sultan warns that “while initial data is promising, to really prove that a treatment like creatine is effective for depression, more thorough, high-quality studies would be needed.”

Just like exercise isn’t a replacement for therapy or medication, if you’re dealing with mental health issues, the best place to start is with a professional who can help you get to the root of the issue—not the supplement aisle.

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