The popular workout-boosting supplement Creatine could potentially ease fatigue associated with long Covid for the estimated 16 million Americans who suffer from the symptom lasting long after they’ve recovered from the virus.
Creatine supplements are usually taken by athletes and weight lifters to turbocharge energy production in the muscles, which improves performance and helps build strength.
However, researchers at the University of Novi Sad in Serbia found people with long Covid, a condition encompassing a wide range of lingering symptoms after recovering from the virus, saw relief in their chronic feelings of fatigue when they took a creatine supplement every day for six months.
An estimated one in 13 adults in the US has long Covid, which includes persistent feelings of exhaustion that interrupt daily life and even a person’s ability to parent and go to work. And, up to 35 percent of people who report symptoms of long Covid are likely to continue to experience fatigue six months later.
Creatine is a popular supplement among athletes and gym-goers to help their muscles produce more energy, optimizing their performance and work out
If creatine, an easily accessible dietary supplement, could be used to treat long Covid symptoms, it would be a breakthrough for potentially millions of people.
The amino acid is a naturally-occurring substance made by the human body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is also found in red meat and seafood, though not at concentrations as high as what is found in supplements.
Doctors from Serbia, Norway, and Hungary conducted a trial that included 12 adults who had tested positive for Covid in the previous three months.
All of them had been experiencing lingering fatigue due to long-haul Covid and were randomized to take either a placebo supplement or four grams of creatine monohydrate, the same kind that can be found at pharmacies and vitamin shops.
Study participants ingested powdered supplements mixed in with water every day at breakfast for six months and were monitored throughout.
Researchers took measurements of the volunteers at the start of the study, including levels of creatine in tissues, levels of fatigue, and other markers of long Covid. Those same measurements were taken again at the three-month mark, and again at six months.
Participants who took creatine reported a significant improvement in their general fatigue at three months and their improvement in fatigue continued to the six-month mark. Mental fatigue and reduced motivation saw the greatest improvements from baseline to three months and again at six months.
People who took a placebo, however, saw their general, physical, and mental fatigue worsen at both the three- and six-month follow-ups.
The supplements increased creatine levels in skeletal muscles, including in the brain, by up to 33 percent. Researchers also observed that the six people who had been taking creatine had a 78 percent reduction in difficulty concentrating. By six months, they had no concentration problems.
At six months, several other symptoms of long Covid also improved, including breathing difficulties, body aches, headaches and loss of taste.
The researchers did not say conclusively what gives creatine its long Covid-busting abilities. However, researchers noted the compound replenishes supplies of a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which drives energy production in cells.
The brain also relies on ATP, which could explain its benefits for bolstering cognitive function.
To measure the effect of creatine on Covid-linked fatigue, the team of doctors started by administering the Multidimensional Fatigue Inventory test to the subjects, which asked them to rank their fatigue on a scale from one to five – one being agree the most and five being disagree the most.
The test measures five dimensions of fatigue, including general fatigue, physical fatigue, reduced motivation, reduced activity, and mental fatigue with a list of 20 statements such as ‘I am rested’ and ‘It takes a lot of effort to concentrate on things.’
The researchers measured levels of creatine in tissue using an MRI-like imaging technique at the start of the trial, at three months and at six months.
The participants were also made to walk on a treadmill at varying speeds so researchers could measure the amount of time it took for them to become exhausted.
Those who had been taking creatine for six months lasted a little over a minute longer on the treadmill than those who had been taking placebo.
The authors wrote: ‘We found that creatine out competes placebo to improve brain and skeletal muscle creatine levels…and reduces several features of post-COVID fatigue syndrome, including lung and body pain, and poor concentration.
‘Creatine induced no major side effects, and might be thus recommended as a safe and effective intervention to tackle post-COVID-19 fatigue syndrome.’
Long Covid is a sweeping diagnosis made up of a constellation of different health issues ranging from chronic fatigue, brain fog, chest pain, heart palpitations, body aches and depression.
The symptoms can last for months or even years after recovering from the coronavirus. Some epidemiologists believe the true total number of Americans with long Covid is actually much higher given many people may not realize what they are experiencing is linked to their prior Covid infection.
And because the symptoms could be associated with different health issues, such as heart problems or chronic fatigue syndrome, long covid can be easily overlooked as a possible diagnosis.
Compounding the difficulty in pinpointing the cause of the problems, doctors treating a patient complaining of long Covid symptoms are likely to find normal X-rays, blood tests, and other lab results.
The Serbian study is not the first to examine the possible benefits of creatine for chronic fatigue, though it was not related directly to Covid, and fibromyalgia, a condition that causes pain all over the body and is often accompanied by fatigue.
But this is the first human study to test the efficacy and safety of creatine for long Covid-linked fatigue specifically.
The study was published in the journal Food Science & Nutrition.
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