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Creatine boosts muscle strength for elderly

A recent study in which creatine was found to boost muscle strength in those afflicted with muscle-wasting diseases such as muscular dystrophy may also be good news for the elderly. One of the most debilitating symptoms of aging is a loss of muscle strength, and consequently, independence. An inability to climb stairs or to walk even a short distance without resting can make independent living impossible. One cause of this muscle degeneration is a reduced level of creatine in aging muscles- the same characteristic found in younger patients with neuromuscular diseases such as muscular dystrophy, according to Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, MD, Ph.D.

Dr. Tarnopolsky recently led a study at McMaster University Medical Center in Hamilton, Ontario, which found positive results on 81 patients with neuromuscular diseases after a 10-day regimen of creatine in powder form. Results of the study were published in the March 10 issue of the journal Neurology, a publication of the American Academy of Neurology, of St. Paul, Minnesota.

In the study, the patients were tested at the beginning and end of the 10-day period to measure strength gains. On average, the patients exhibited improvements of 10 to 15% in hand, foot and leg strength. Along with the muscle strength, these patients also experienced weight gains and an increase in lean muscle mass.

Creatine is actually a combination of two amino acids, and is produced mostly in the liver. It is also found in lean red meat and fish. Once in the body, creatine is carried in the blood to skeletal muscles, the heart, and the brain. Dr. Tarnopolsky describes creatine's function as giving one a bridge between one energy source and another, allowing for higher energy output over a longer period of time.

While there is certainly more research to be done, the McMaster University study offers much hope for those whose natural levels of creatine have been depleted, either through age or disease. (Tarnopolsky M, et al. Creatine monohydrate increases strength in patients with neuromuscular disease. Neurology. 1999 Mar: 10;52(4):854-7.)

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