A common nutritional supplement, creatine, has been deemed safe for women of all ages following a large review of pre-existing research studies involving women.
The answers provided by the review could pave the way for future clinical trials testing creatine as a pregnancy supplement, to support the development of healthy babies.
Creatine is an essential part of healthy development, at a cellular level. It supplies and helps to renew energy for our cells. Half our daily creatine requirement comes from fish, meat and dairy products. Our bodies make the other half naturally. During pregnancy, creatine is transferred from mother to baby through the placenta.
Creatine is also a common nutritional supplement used to enhance exercise and athletic performance. It’s safety profile has mostly been studied in males.
Hudson Institute researchers have previously found, in a preclinical model, that supplementing the mother’s diet during pregnancy improved the likelihood of having a healthy baby at birth.
This discovery suggests a nutritional supplement could be beneficial for a healthy pregnancy and baby.
Dr Stacey Ellery, the leader of creatine research program, said, “Our pre-clinical trials indicate that creatine supplementation may be beneficial in pregnancy. With this safety review, our team are confident of trialing it as an additional supplement in pregnancy.”
Midwife and PhD student, Deborah de Guingand, the first author of the systematic review published in the journal Nutrients, said the study bridged a gap in the knowledge of creatine’s safety profile.
Creatine Monohydrate (CrM) is a dietary supplement routinely used to enhance athletic performance, and as a potential drug to modify neurodegenerative disease or musculo-skeletal disorders, including Huntington’s disease and some muscular dystrophies. It became a popular sports supplement after it was first reported to increase the total creatine content in the skeletal muscle of men. There is a lack of current safety data in females, despite up to 65 per cent of female athletes using exercise supplements such as this.
The purpose of the systematic review was to report the number of adverse outcomes – events and effects – in women taking oral creatine supplements. This included deaths, life-threatening events requiring hospitalisation, disability, side effects and other unwanted effects such as weight gain.
The systematic review identified 656 studies involving creatine supplementation as the primary intervention. Fifty-eight – nine per cent – were female-only studies. Only 34 reviews have addressed the safety of this supplement.
“We found no mortality or serious adverse events associated with creatine supplementation in females, which agrees with previous safety reviews in male or mixed sex populations,” Mrs de Guingand said. “This provides reassurance that this dietary supplement appears safe when the recommended doses are followed.”
How can creatine support a healthy pregnancy?
Mrs de Guingand said low levels, or lack of, oxygen to the baby during birth – known as intrapartum asphyxia – is the third leading cause of newborn deaths worldwide. In 2015, about 2.5 million newborns died from the condition.
She said creatine supplementation could potentially enhance and stabilise fluctuating placental and pregnancy energy requirements, leading to healthier mothers and babies.
“The simplicity of this approach is very exciting for women everywhere,” Mrs de Guingand said. “In particular, women in developing countries who have higher infant mortality rates, due to poorer access to quality healthcare. An oral creatine supplement is a safe, low-cost treatment with the potential to reduce pregnancy complications associated with low or lack of oxygen, from mother to baby, during pregnancy.
“The next step is to find the right dose of creatine supplementation for pregnant women. After this critical stage, we will have the evidence needed to conduct a clinical trial to test whether taking this supplement during pregnancy can protect babies from energy depletion.
“Every woman, regardless of where she lives in the world, should have the opportunity for a healthy pregnancy and baby,” Mrs De Guingand said.