Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are Elevated Iron and Uric Acid Levels Too Much of a Price to Pay for a Creatine-Induced 11% Performance Increase?

Video 1 (GSSI): Notre Dame's Michael Floyd goes all out on the Wingate test (click to watch)
I guess you could say that these are the "classic days", here at the SuppVersity, contrary to my previous post on choline, which is - judged by the few people who still use it today, an "old school supplement" (cf. "Choline: Stronger, Faster, Leaner & More Muscular, or Just Another Dumb-and-Barbell Story?") - yesterday's post on caffeine highlighted the efficacy of a potent ergogenic aid and metabolic activator, with the effects of which most of us are so familiar that we are alway tempted to turn to useless crap like raspberry ketones, when what we are already doing is not only tried and proven, but based on respectable scientific data even more effective than the latest "innovation" from the snake oil industry. And let's be honest, haven't we all been tempted by one or another "new creatine", as well?

+11% peak performance in one week, solely from 5x4g of creatine per day!

A a matter of fact, creatine monhydrate does in fact share the same fate of being proven, but "boring" staple supplement and although that alone should be incentive enough to address the unquestionably outstanding +11% in anaerobic peak performance, +5% in continuous anaerobic performance and a +6% increase in total workload in a classic wingate anaerobic performance test speak, Barros et al. observed in a group of trained male subjects in response to a 7-day creatine loading protocol (20g creatine monohydrate, in 5 doses spread across the day, not glucose / sugar added; cf. Barros. 2012) After all, my gut tells me that the contemporary changes in the concentration of iron in the blood of the subjects in the the creatine arm of the study could revoke the mainstream-media fearmongerish hoopla over the purported dangers of the #1 natural ergogenic.
Figure 1: Basal iron, FRAP, malondialdehyde (MDA) and uric acid levels before and after 7-day supplementation with 5x4g of creatine monohydrate per day (based on Barros. 2012)
I mean, there is no debating, the level of iron in the blood of the creatine supplemented undergraduate students (age, 23.1 ± 5.8 years; height, 175.4 ± 2.3 cm; weight, 81.1 ± 9.3 kg) all of whom had been avid trainees for at least 6 months did increase by no less than 94.3%, while the subjects in the placebo group experienced a -21% reduction of these highly reactive molecules (Just as an aside, the decline in serum iron in the placebo group and the significant difference in baseline levels between the random groups, alone, render any implications at least questionable; I mean, wouldn't you expect the serum parameters to stay the same, when you do nothing extraordinary, aside from popping some sugar pills?).
Figure 2: Changes in wingate anaerobic performance (left) and exercise induced changes iron, FRAP, malondialdehyde (MDA) levels during the wingate test at the end of the supplementation period (based on Barros. 2012)
In conjunction with the likewise highly significant increase in uric acid levels, conventional (blogosphere-)wisdom, which constantly ignores the antioxidative nature of uric acid, which acts as efficient antioxidant and chelating agent for iron ions (Karlsson. 1997), limits the oxidation of polyunsaturated fatty acid in the erythrocyte membrane and prevents hemolysis (= the rupture of red blood cells) in vitro (Einsele. 1987), would suggest that taking creatine takes a close second to fructose on the list of the villains of the bad, bad "neolithic" century.
How dangerous is the creatine induced increase in iron?

Image 1 (Paramount Pictures): I guess, it must have been creatine monohydrate, then, that turned Robert Downey Jr. into Ironman ;-)
Now, despite the as of late publicly propagated concerns about increased iron levels and their potential causative role in the etiology of insulin resistance and diabesity (obesity + diabetes), recent scientific evidence suggests that "high iron", such as all previous scapegoats people like to hold liable, just to make sure not to admit that it is the sickening combination of laziness, convenience and unsound dietary advice that is at the heart of the current obesity epidemic.

Huang et al., for example, did observe a direct effect of iron overload on diabetes risk - the latter was however a result of hereditary hemochromatosis (a genetic defect in iron metabolism) in their 2011 rodent trial (Huang. 2011). Results from two more recent studies by Silva et al. also indicate that the metabolic disturbances lead to differential expressions of the proteins involved in the metabolism of iron and thus substantiate the associative (and not causative) nature of the relation between high iron / ferritin and the metabolic syndrome (Silva. 2011; Silva. 2012).
Iron not causative? So why does phlebotomy help, then? If you read my post on the recently published data from the first controlled human trial that investigated the effects of phlebotomy on markers of blood glucose management, you will be aware that the measures they took, e.g. the HOMA-IR, are not really appropriate to assess the effects of this particular treatment (cf. "Phlebotomy: Can You Bleed Yourself Healthy and Lean?"). Furthermore, it is only logical that the removal of some of this "highly inflammable stuff" from an inflamed body will provide health benefits, even if the latter was totally benign for someone who has a lot less inflammation going on.
What is even more important, though, is that the difference between exercise-induced increases in serum iron and diet and diabesity-related increases in the storage form of iron, ferritin, in the liver. This is particularly true in view of the fact that our understanding of the former, i.e. the exercise induced release of iron into the blood stream is more than limited (Roberts. 1989; Smith. 1994). What we do see in the Barros study, however, is that the overall effect of creatine is rather anti- than pro-oxidative, since the increase in overall antioxidative capacity (as indicated by the changes in the iron-specific FRAP essay; cf. figure 1) did not just...
  • negate the potential negative effects of increased basal iron levels (see lowered baseline MDA levels post supplementation in figure 1), it also 
  • countered the exercise-induced lipid oxidation during the 2nd wingate test (as indicated by lower MDA levels; cf. figure 2). 
Eventually, the scientists say, the increase in antioxidant activity that is brought about by the ingestion of 20g/day creatine irrespective of whether you exercise or not could actually yield "general health benefits" (Barrios. 2012); and I would like to add that evidence for Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, recovery from ischemia and, guess what, diabetes already exists (Tarnopolsky. 2000;"Creatine Ameliorates Type II Diabetes")! Certainly not bad for one of those bodybuilding supplements, "anabolics" or "gateway drugs", as creatine is often mislabeled , when a 100% clueless "journalist" tries to get the attention of his editor-in-chief, wouldn't you agree?

Suggested readings (some also mentioned in the text):
  1. Barros MP, Ganini D, Lorenço-Lima L, Soares CO, Pereira B, Bechara EJ, Silveira LR, Curi R, Souza-Junior TP. Effects of acute creatine supplementation on iron homeostasis and uric acid-based antioxidant capacity of plasma after wingate test. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012 Jun 12;9(1):25. 
  2. Huang J, Jones D, Luo B, Sanderson M, Soto J, Abel ED, Cooksey RC, McClain DA. Iron overload and diabetes risk: a shift from glucose to Fatty Acid oxidation and increased hepatic glucose production in a mouse model of hereditary hemochromatosis. Diabetes. 2011 Jan;60(1):80-7.
  3. Orozco MN, Solomons NW, Schümann K, Friel JK. Response of urinary biomarkers of systemic oxidation to oral iron supplementation in healthy men. Food Nutr Bull. 2012 Mar;33(1):53-62. 
  4. Roberts D, Smith DJ. Effects of high-intensity exercise on serum iron and α1-antitrypsin in trained and untrained men. Clin Sports Med 1989, 1:63–71.
  5. Silva M, Bonomo Lde F, Oliveira Rde P, Geraldo de Lima W, Silva ME, Pedrosa ML. Effects of the interaction of diabetes and iron supplementation on hepatic and pancreatic tissues, oxidative stress markers, and liver peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor-α expression. J Clin Biochem Nutr. 2011 Sep;49(2):102-8.
  6. Silva M, de Brito Magalhães CL, de Paula Oliveira R, Silva ME, Pedrosa ML. Differential expression of iron metabolism proteins in diabetic and diabetic iron-supplemented rat liver. J Biochem Mol Toxicol. 2012 Mar;26(3):123-9. 
  7. Smith DJ, Roberts D. Effects of high volume and/or intense exercise on selected blood chemistry parameters. Clin Biochem 1994, 27:435–440.
  8. Tarnopolsky MA. Potential benefits of creatine monohydrate supplementation in the elderly. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2000 Nov;3(6):497-502.