A Weapon Against Lou Gehrig's Disease?

Since creatine arrived in health-food stores in the early 1990s, athletes have been using the supplement to help build muscles. Now, thanks to two new studies published this month, creatine's market could expand to a new group of users: people with neuromuscular diseases. Researchers say extra doses of the substance, which occurs naturally in the body, help bolster strength and may slow the progress of debilitating illnesses like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig's disease.

Creatine is an amino acid produced in the liver, kidneys and pancreas that increases energy supply to the muscles. For athletes, that means more power; for people with neuromuscular diseases--who have low levels of creatine in the muscles--it could mean better quality of life. One study, reported in the journal Neurology, found that daily doses of 5 to 10 grams improved muscular strength by 10 to 15 percent in patients with various neuromuscular ailments. The second study, published in Nature Medicine, found that creatine not only improved endurance in mice with an animal form of ALS, but also extended their lives. In that study, researchers say, the compound worked twice as well as riluzole, the only drug currently approved for the disease. Though more studies are needed to test long-term safety, some researchers believe creatine might one day prove useful in treating Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, as well as combating muscle loss in the elderly.