Creatine and Depression: Can It Be A Part of a Mental Health Treatment Plan? - Lucid™

Creatine and Depression: Can It Be A Part of a Mental Health Treatment Plan?

Written by: Kat Austin



Time to read 7 min

Depression is a pervasive mental health condition that affects millions worldwide, and traditional treatments are often hit and miss, potentially resulting in several unwanted side effects. The search for additional or alternative treatments has led many to question whether creatine, a popular dietary supplement primarily known for its benefits in sports and bodybuilding, could help manage depression.

We're going to explore the potential role of creatine in alleviating depressive symptoms and whether it can be a viable part of a mental health treatment plan.

Let's start with some basics:

Key Takeaways

  • Creatine shows potential for managing depression by improving brain energy metabolism and enhancing cognitive function.

  • Clinical studies indicate that creatine can complement standard antidepressant treatments, potentially providing faster symptom relief and enhancing overall efficacy.

  • While promising, creatine supplementation should be approached with caution, under the guidance of healthcare professionals, and as part of a holistic treatment plan including diet, exercise, and therapy.

What is Depression?

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is characterized by persistent sadness, lack of interest in activities, and a range of physical and emotional problems. It affects how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, often leading to significant impairment.

According to the World Health Organization, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Traditional treatments include antidepressants, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes, but not all patients respond adequately to traditional treatments. Often, a combination of medication, supplements, and lifestyle changes are most effective at managing depression.

What is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in muscle cells. It helps produce energy during high-intensity exercise and is commonly used as a supplement to enhance athletic performance.

Recently, though, creatine has gotten attention for its potential nootropic effects, or the ability to boost cognitive function. It only makes sense to acknowledge that creatine may have many potential benefits for neurological health. To better understand how creatine may impact a condition like depression, let's take a deeper look at how it works in the body:

Creatine's Mechanisms in the Brain

Chemically, creatine is an amino acid derivative synthesized in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas, and stored in muscles and the brain. It works by increasing the availability of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of cells, which is crucial for energy-demanding processes

The brain has a high energy demand and relies on creatine and ATP to maintain homeostasis. Low brain creatine levels have been related to depression, though it's not clear if it is a cause or an effect.

For instance, a 2020 study found that adults in the lowest quartile of creatine consumption were 42% more likely to be depressed than those in the top quartile. Another study confirmed similar results–young adults with depression lacked adequate creatine in their prefrontal cortex.

Neurons have only small energy reserves, and they rely on the phosphocreatine in the cells for energy supply when the brain's energy demand is high. Without it, neurons cannot perform properly, leading to low production or uptake of crucial neurotransmitters implicated in depression, including serotonin and dopamine.

So, is creatine a cure for depression? There's no definitive answer, but it's clear that it's one part of the equation. Let's look at the research available linking creatine and depression:

Research on Creatine and Depression

Scientific interest in creatine's potential mental health benefits has grown due to its role in brain energy metabolism. Various studies and clinical trials have investigated its effects on depression.

Clinical and preclinical evidence suggests that creatine could help remedy depression, likely by restoring brain homeostasis and improving brain energy levels. According to this body of research, some possible mechanisms by which creatine may impact depression include:

  • Working to enhance the effects of SSRIs ( 2012 )

  • Increasing dopamine production ( 2012 )

  • Activating 5HT1A receptors ( 2013 )

Further research finds that the results may be faster, with creatine helping to improve depression symptoms in as little as 1-2 weeks compared to 4-5 weeks for traditional antidepressants.

In fact, a study published in 2015 found that creatine was similarly effective to ketamine, another popular alternative depression treatment, at managing symptoms of depression.

A 2015 study reported that women with major depressive disorder who took creatine showed significant improvement in their symptoms compared to a placebo group. These findings indicate that creatine may enhance the efficacy of standard antidepressant treatments.

Overall, more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects and potential applications of creatine in treating depression. Large-scale, randomized controlled trials are essential to confirm these preliminary findings and to explore optimal dosing strategies, safety profiles, and the mechanisms underlying its antidepressant effects.

Potential Benefits of Creatine for Depression

The potential benefits of creatine in treating depression are multi-faceted and may include:

1. Cognitive and Mood Enhancement

Creatine has been shown to improve cognitive function and reduce mental fatigue. Improved brain energy metabolism may help alleviate depressive symptoms by enhancing overall brain function.

2. Improvement in Energy Levels and Motivation

Depressed individuals often experience fatigue and lack of motivation. By boosting cellular energy production, creatine might help increase energy levels and motivation, contributing to better mood and activity levels.

3. Neuroprotective Effects

Creatine has neuroprotective properties, potentially protecting brain cells from damage and supporting neuronal health. This could be particularly beneficial in managing depression, which is often associated with neuroinflammation and neuronal damage.

Considerations and Risks

While creatine shows promise, it is essential to consider potential risks and side effects:

Potential Creatine Side Effects

Common side effects of creatine supplementation include weight gain, gastrointestinal discomfort, and muscle cramping. These are generally mild and can be managed with proper dosage and hydration. 

Interactions with Other Medications

Creatine may interact with certain medications, particularly those affecting liver and kidney function (although it is a myth that creatine is not safe for the liver). It is crucial for individuals to consult healthcare providers before starting supplementation.

Individual Differences

Responses to creatine supplementation can vary based on individual factors such as genetics, diet, and overall health. Personalized approaches are necessary to determine its suitability for each person.

Consult with Your Healthcare Provider

Before incorporating creatine into a treatment plan, individuals should seek advice from healthcare professionals to ensure it is safe and appropriate for their specific condition.

Tips for Integrating Creatine into a Mental Health Treatment Plan

For those considering creatine as part of their mental health regimen, here are some guidelines:

  • Lower doses may be sufficient: A typical dose of creatine is around 5 grams per day. However, lower doses of around 3 grams per day may provide nootropic and other brain-supporting benefits with fewer side effects. It is essential to start with a lower dose to assess tolerance and gradually increase if necessary.

  • Consider morning doses: Many people find that taking creatine in the morning avoids potential sleep disturbances and provides a mental and physical energy boost for the day.

  • Keep a journal: Keep track of your dosage and how you feel for at least the first 4-6 weeks. Take the information with you to your doctor. Regular monitoring by healthcare professionals is vital to track progress, manage any side effects, and make proper adjustments to your dosage.

  • Use creatine as a compliment, not a replacement: Creatine should not replace standard treatments but rather complement them. A holistic approach, including diet, exercise, and therapy, can enhance overall outcomes. Be sure to talk to your doctor about whether you can safely mix creatine with your current medications.

  • Drink plenty of water: Creatine may alter the way your body uses water by drawing more water into the muscles. Drink plenty of water while taking creatine to avoid dehydration, which can worsen symptoms of depression.

  • Pair creatine with exercise: Some research has found that exercise may be even more effective than traditional antidepressants at relieving some symptoms of depression. Creatine can enhance workouts, giving you a double win in the fight against mood disorders.


Creatine shows potential as a beneficial supplement for managing depression, offering cognitive and mood enhancement, improved energy levels, and neuroprotective effects. It may pair seamlessly with your current treatment plan.

However, it is essential to approach supplementation with caution, under the guidance of healthcare professionals. Ongoing research and personalized treatment plans are crucial to fully realize the potential of creatine for depression.

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  1. “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”

  2. “Antidepressant-like effect of creatine in mice involves dopaminergic activation”

  3. “Evidence for the involvement of 5-HT1A receptor in the acute antidepressant-like effect of creatine in mice”

  4. “Creatine, similarly to ketamine, affords antidepressant-like effects in the tail suspension test via adenosine A1 and A2A receptor activation”,effects%20%5B19%2C%2021%5D .

  5. “Effects of Creatine Monohydrate Augmentation on Brain Metabolic and Network Outcome Measures in Women With Major Depressive Disorder”