Phil Chilibeck

Over 50 and female? Pumping iron with creatine could help save your bones

If you're female and over 50, regular trips to the weight room followed by creatine supplements could be just the thing to keep your bones healthy, according to new Saskatchewan research.

A study led by co-investigators Phil Chilibeck from the University of Saskatchewan and Darren Candow from the University of Regina found that weight training combined with creatine preserves bone mass in an analysis of 33 post-menopausal women. Creatine is produced naturally by the body and also occurs in the diet in foods such as red meat and fish.

"Creatine helps supply energy to muscle cells and supports nerve function, features that have long made it popular with athletes looking to build strength and speed," says Chilibeck, a professor in the U of S College of Kinesiology. He explains that some studies show that bone cells also use creatine for energy and growth, something that is borne out in this latest work, which was supported by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation and published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

"The simple combination of creatine and weight training, three times per week, for one year preserved bone mass and increased upper body strength," says Candow, associate professor and associate dean of Graduate Studies and Research in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies at the U of R. "Our findings have enormous potential for the aging population and the health care system."

Bone fractures and related ailments are estimated to cost the Canadian health care system more than $3 billion annually, according to Osteoporosis Canada. The Saskatchewan team's research has the potential for cost savings but more importantly, help the country's aging population maintain a higher quality of life. Candow explains this new knowledge could help decrease incidence of chronic diseases such osteoporosis and sarcopenia (age-related muscle loss), as well as improve people's ability to perform tasks of daily living.

"This study is important as there have been some studies in rats and mice that suggested creatine may enhance bone function," explains Dr. Mark Tarnopolsky, Director of the Neuromuscular and Neurometabolic Clinic at McMaster University's Medical Centre in Hamilton, Ontario. "But this is the first clinical trial to show this in an at-risk human population."

Informed by these latest results, Chilibeck and Candow, whose five-year clinical trial is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), are now following up with further trials to see if the results hold true when a larger group of women is assessed.
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