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Creatine helps women cheer up but not men

Down in the dumps? Feeling blue? If you're a woman, creatine may help. At least, you could conclude this from a study done on rats at Tufts University and published in Neuropsychopharmacology. In male rats, creatine has the opposite effect: the bodybuilding supplement seems to encourage depression.

The researchers, who were financed by the American government, were curious to know whether people suffering from depression can be helped by taking creatine.

Neurologists suspect that creatine is good for the brain. Some studies suggest that creatine raises your intelligence slightly [Proc Biol Sci. 2003 Oct 22;270(1529):2147-50.], and that it keeps you alert if you've had little sleep.

Psychiatrists have observed that people suffering from depression recover more quickly if they take creatine. [Bipolar Disord. 2007 Nov;9(7):754-8.] Mice given creatine live longer as it protects the brain cells against ageing. And there are human trials in which creatine has been given to people suffering from Parkinson's, in the hope that the supplement will delay the disease's progression.

So, the Americans thought, maybe creatine can also help against depression. To see whether this was the case, they gave male and female rats feed containing 2 or 4 percent creatine for a period of 5 weeks. Control groups were given food that did not contain creatine.

When the 5 weeks were up, the researchers threw the rats into an aquarium a couple of times, where they had to swim if they didn't want to drown. The rats' behaviour says something about whether or not they have depressive tendencies. You can measure how long it is before the rats stop trying to get out of the aquarium and just start floating around. If you give the rats an antidepressant it takes longer before they give up trying. The longer it takes before they give up, the longer the antidepressant is effective in humans.

The figure below shows how long it took before the male rats gave up trying to get out of the aquarium. You can see that the male rats that had had creatine gave up more quickly.

Creatine helps women cheer up  but not men

The figure below shows the effect of creatine on the female rats. In the females, creatine extended the amount of time before they gave up.

Creatine helps women cheer up  but not men

The researchers don't exclude the possibility that creatine has a positive effect in males as well. The more creatine brain cells contain, the better people react to antidepressants, "suggesting the possibility that creatine supplementation can modify brain high-energy phosphate metabolism to improve treatment response in patients with depression".

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010 Jan; 35(2): 534-46.