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Supplement boosts brains defenses against lack of oxygen

Staff writer ▼ | January 23, 2015
A common dietary supplement can help protect the brain in low-oxygen environments, such as high altitudes, and against injury and disease, New Zealand scientists said.
Brain oxygen
New Zealand study   An ability to sustain focus
A University of Auckland study found that creatine could increase the amount of usable energy story in muscle and in the brain without requiring oxygen. The study found that creatine was stored in areas of the brain that were easily oxygen deprived, study leader Dr. Nick Gant said in a statement.

"Athletes have been getting an energy boost for their muscles from creatine for over 20 years," said Gant. "Creatine supplementation increases the amount of useable energy stored in muscle and our research shows it has a similar effect within the brain."

The researchers studied the brains of healthy adults who inhaled air that contained only half the normal amount of oxygen, equivalent to breathing at an altitude of 5,500 meters.

The supplement increased the amount of creatine stored in the brain by 9 percent, which prevented the decline in cognitive performance that occurred with a placebo supplement, while increasing neural excitability in parts of the brain that controlled movement.

The ability to sustain attention was the area of mental performance that was improved most by creatine, said Professor Winston Byblow.

"Attentional capacity, or the ability to sustain focus, is the most commonly impaired process with exposure to high altitude and among survivors of brain injury," Byblow said in the statement.

The study opened up a range of therapeutic applications for creatine. "Neurodegenerative diseases cause energetic vulnerability for which there are currently no effective therapeutic strategies. Also, mountaineers, technical divers and those playing sports where head injury is a risk may be able to protect themselves with creatine supplementation," said Gant.