Study: Creatine Effective in Treating Depression

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A physical performance-enhancing supplement has similar effects on the depressed mind.

RTR2DIH6main.jpgReuters

Problem: A major roadblock to the successful treatment of major depression is that medical interventions are inexact and slow to elicit change. Antidepressants can take up to eight weeks until any noticeable improvement takes place, and it can take several periods of trial and error to arrive at the optimal drug and dosage. Medical costs accrue while the depressed individual continues to suffer.

Creatine, a performance-enhancing supplement, has previously been shown to aid in treatment of depressed female rats. Recently, it was tested for the first time on women suffering from depression as a booster to standard antidepressant regiments.

Methodology: In a small, 8-week study, 52 South Korean women with major depressive disorder were treated with the antidepressant Lexapro, an SSRI, along with either creatine supplements or a placebo. Every two weeks, researchers assessed the women's depression using a widely accepted test. Results were based on the 39 women who ended up completing the entire trial.

Results: At two weeks, those who had taken creatine showed a 32 percent improvement in their symptoms of depression, while those taking a placebo only improved by 3.7 percent. At four weeks, the improvement rates were 68 percent with creatine and 29 percent without. By the end of the study, half of the women in the creatine group were depression-free, placing them at twice the success rate of the group that took Lexapro alone.

Conclusion: This early evidence indicates that creatine can both speed up and improve women's response to anti-depressants.

Implications: Further study is needed to confirm these findings and to understand why creatine has the effect that it does. It has also yet to be determined whether this is a viable treatment option for men. For the male rats, it wasn't. But that creatine can improve the success rate of SSRIs, and do so quickly, could have major implications for the treatment of depression. Add to that a lack of major side effects, and creatine may one day be commonly known far beyond the context of bodybuilders.

The full study,"A Randomized, Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial of Oral Creatine Monohydrate Augmentation for Enhanced Response to a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor in Women With Major Depressive Disorder," will be published in the American Journal of Psychiatry .

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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