WebMD Medical News
Louise Chang, MD
Feb. 2, 2007 -- The nutritional supplement creatine can help strengthen the
weakened muscles of people with muscular dystrophy, a review of past research
Best known as a legal performance-enhancing supplement for athletes looking
to build muscle mass, creatine appeared to help muscular dystrophy patients
build muscle mass as well.
The supplement’s effects were modest, say the researchers who conducted the
Twelve studies involving 266 people were included in the review. When the
results were combined, taking creatine, either short-term or long-term, was
found to improve muscle strength by an average of 8.5% among patients with
various types of muscular dystrophy.
Creatine users also gained an average of 1.4 pounds of lean body mass
compared with patients taking placebo treatments.
The review was commissioned by the Cochrane Collaboration, an independent
organization that produces systematic reviews of research into current medical
practices. The findings are published in the latest issue of the organization’s
journal, The Cochrane Library.
“These studies show that creatine is a useful symptomatic therapy,”
researcher Matthias Vorgerd tells WebMD. “It is not a cure, and its effects
were modest, but this is something that patients should consider.”
Creatine is produced naturally in the body. For decades, bodybuilders and
other athletes have taken creatine in supplement form in an effort to boost
athletic performance. Its use is allowed by amateur and professional sporting
People with the group of disorders collectively known as muscular dystrophy
often have low levels of natural creatine. The thinking has been that raising
these levels with creatine supplements could help improve muscle function.
Though this seems to be true in patients with muscular dystrophy, creatine
supplementation was not found to be useful in patients with a related group of
disorders known as metabolic myopathies.
In muscular dystrophy patients, the proteins that make up the muscles are
either damaged or missing, while in patients with metabolic myopathies, the
defect lies in body chemicals that can affect the muscles.
Vorgerd says it is not clear why muscular dystrophy patients seemed to
benefit from creatine supplementation while those with metabolic myopathies did
In their newly published report, the researchers called for new studies to
address this and other unanswered questions.
Muscular Dystrophy Association Medical Director Valerie Cwik, MD, says the
research suggests creatine may be more beneficial for some forms of muscular
dystrophy than for others.
“Responses have been variable across the different dystrophies, and I don’t
think the review really makes that clear,” she tells WebMD. “That is why it is
so important that patients talk to their treating physicians about the pros and
cons of creatine supplementation.”
SOURCES: Kley, R.A. The Cochrane Library, 2007; online edition.
Rudolf Kley, Ruhr University Bochum, Bochum, Germany. Matthias Vorgerd, Ruhr
University Bochum, Bochum, Germany. Valerie Cwik, MD, medical director and vice
president for research, Muscular Dystrophy Association.
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