Why Vegetarians Should Supplement With Creatine
Creatine is a naturally occurring nutritive compound stored in the muscles and brain, and it works to build lean muscle, as well as to feed the mitochondria (our energy producing cells).
Creatine (as a supplement) is usually thought of as something used only by athletes, and bodybuilders. However, past studies have shown it to also be of benefit in preventing brain damage in those who suffer a stroke, and to provide energy for those suffering from problems with their mitochondria (e.g. chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia).
Some creatine is produced in the body, but it is also found in foods, especially red meat and seafood, and in smaller amounts in dairy products. Therefore, people who do not eat animal products (strict vegetarians and vegans) will generally have lower creatine levels in their bodies than those who eat meat.
Some scientists decided to see if supplementing vegetarians with creatine would have any cognitive benefits (however, they did not examine the physical benefits that creatine provides by way of enhancing muscle growth).
At Stetson University in Florida, researchers compared vegetarian subjects to participants who ate 10, or more servings of animal protein each week (beef, chicken, pork and/or fish).
Both the vegetarians and the meat-eaters were split into two groups, one group supplementing with creatine, for four weeks, and the other group not receiving the supplement. All subjects took a standardized neurocognitive function test, both before and after the trial.
The vegetarian group which supplemented with creatine showed the most improved brain function. Their improved cognition was greater than the vegetarian group which did not take creatine, and they also had a greater improvement in brain function that the meat eaters.
"Meat eaters did not show any significant improvement of cognition following supplementation because [their] creatine levels were already elevated [from their diet]," explained Kaitlyn Smith, first author of the study. "This is a pilot study for future research in the field of cognition, and specifically in vegetarians, as [there is] a shift to meat- and dairy-free alternatives in society," Smith added.
Other Nutrients Required by Vegetarians
There are other nutrients that strict vegetarians should consider supplementing with, nutrients only found in animal proteins, but required for good health.
The first and foremost is obviously vitamin B12. I have gone into detail on vitamin B12 in two previous blogs: B12 Supplementation: Not Just for the Elderly
Testing for Vitamin B12
But, the long and short of it is the medical community used to believe that the liver would store vitamin B12 for up to 5 years. Therefore, there was no rush for a new vegetarian to supplement with B12, however, recent studies have shown otherwise. In fact, it has been discovered that, within the first year of discontinuing the consumption of animal protein, vegans begin to have problems with healthy DNA replication. This means their cells do not reproduce in a healthy manner but are prone to oxidative damage, something that eventually leads to ill health and premature aging. Thus, it is essential that vegans and strict vegetarians supplement with B12 shortly after beginning their new dietary regimen. (Quick B12)
Other nutrients only found in animal proteins include creatine (discussed above), and the amino acids carnosine, and taurine.
Carnosine is required for preventing or treating complications from diabetes, such as nerve damage, eye disorders (cataracts), and kidney problems. It is also used to improve muscle strength and exercise performance.
Taurine is found concentrated in the brain, eyes, heart, and muscles, and is particularly required in cases where one has heart disease, or seizures.
Methionine is another essential amino acid, and while small amounts are found in plant foods, higher amounts are required for certain health conditions, and higher amounts are only found in animal proteins (or as a supplement).
Methionine is important to pay attention to if one has a difficult-to-diagnose ailment, especially one that does not respond to treatment. This is because a large portion of society is comprised of what are known as poor methylators (30 - 40%), and those with this genetic malfunction are prone to difficult-to-treat ailments (lupus, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, epstein barr, autism, schizophrenia, heavy metal toxicity, etc). Given that methionine is required for the methylation process, anyone who is vegan, and has a serious ailment, should consider supplementing with it.
Vitamin D3 is found in animal and fish livers, and in fortified dairy products (vitamin D2 is found in mushrooms, but is an ineffective form of vitamin D).
Nutristart offers a liquid vitamin D3 product called Quick D, which, while not being a vegan product (as it is made from lanolin derived from sheep’s wool), it does meet the approval of the American Vegetarian Association. It has their approval and certification because the sheep whose wool is used, are tracked to ensure humane treatment. (Quick D)
Iron, in its most absorbable form, heme-iron, is only found in animal protein (mostly in red meat). Vegetarians and vegans are more prone to anemia than meat eaters, because they don’t get this form of iron in their diet, and plant derived iron is poorly absorbed in comparison to heme iron.
It is my belief that this form of iron is more essential to vegans who are of type O or B, blood, as these blood types are not genetically suited to a plant based diet (unlike blood types A and AB).
If one is a vegan or strict vegetarian, and in poor health, they should find out their blood type. If indeed they are type O (hunter/gatherer) or B (nomad), they may have a dire need to supplement with some of the nutrients mentioned in this article.
For more information on these nutrients lacking in a vegetarian diet, follow this link.