When it comes to sports performance supplements, there are few ingredients better known than creatine. Creatine helps to supply energy to cells, particularly in muscle, by assisting in the formation of the body’s energy currency, adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
But athletes are often unaware that ATP generation requires creatine to first gain entry to muscle. Creatine floating around in the blood is useless if not absorbed by muscle tissue. Yet taken by itself (usually as creatine monohydrate), a significant portion ends-up being simply excreted, i.e., being useless. The reason: low insulin levels.
Insulin normally signals muscles to absorb creatine. But without food to signal insulin secretion, creatine uptake is minimal. Beyond taste, creatine formulas are often packed with sugars for this very reason. But as many performance athletes attempt to reign in their refined sugar consumption and avoid taxing their bodies with insulin spikes, they are left in a bind trying to eliminate caloric load while using creatine effectively.
Russian Tarragon: Sugar-less Creatine to Muscles
Enter Russian Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus). Diabetes research programs have recently demonstrated Russian Tarragon to have insulin sensitizing action.1 This means that although it doesn’t increase insulin secretion, it allows existing insulin levels to have a stronger influence on the body. This is important in Metabolic Syndrome (a.k.a. insulin resistance syndrome) in which there’s plenty of insulin in the body, but the body’s receptors have become “hard-of-hearing.”
For healthy individuals, this presents an alternative way to induce creatine clearance from blood without the caloric load or insulin spike. Recent research in healthy males demonstrated that taking one gram of a Russian Tarragon extract along with creatine monohydrate under test conditions led to a significantly greater clearance from blood (and presumably into muscle). The effect was comparable to that achieved by using 75 g of glucose or 50 grams of protein plus 47 grams of carbohydrates.2 Five hundred milligrams taken 30 minutes prior to creatine supplementation did not affect whole body creatine levels and retention, however, meaning that a good response requires at least one gram per day.3
Glycostat® Bitter Melon: More Insulin Sensitivity & Creatine Uptake
Bitter melon (Momordica charantia) is another botanical that has a history of use in food and medicine. Like Russian Tarragon, bitter melon has shown tantalizing results in stimulating insulin sensitivity. This implies it may be useful in helping to induce creatine uptake from blood into muscles, an effect found with glucose also to be expected with amino acids.4 Work in diabetic animals suggests that a one-gram dose of a particular Wild Bitter Melon extract in humans can lead to a sustained 15 percent increase in the muscle uptake of nutrients like creatine for hours after ingestion.
Other research has shown that bitter melon is useful in the mobilization of fats for energy via beta-oxidation.5 Everyone knows fat is an excellent source of energy, but sometimes the body forgets how to utilize it. Bitter melon helps provide a reminder.
The biggest trick with bitter melon is finding a dried extract that retains the activity of the fresh fruit. Many do not. Glycostat® Wild Bitter Melon appears to be head-and-shoulders above the rest.6
Help enlighten those who take creatine. There are other ingredients out there that can make it more effective—without the added sugar.
- Cefalu WT, et al. Botanicals and the metabolic syndrome. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Feb;87(2):481S–7S.
- Jäger R, et al. The effect of Russian Tarragon (artemisia dracunculus L.) on the plasma creatine concentration with creatine monohydrate administration. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2008, 5(Suppl 1):P4.
- Oliver JM, Jagim AR, Pischel I, Jäger R, Purpura M, Sanchez A, Fluckey J, Riechman S, Greenwood M, Kelly K, Meininger C, Rasmussen C, Kreider RB. Effects of short-term ingestion of Russian Tarragon prior to creatine monohydrate supplementation on whole body and muscle creatine retention and anaerobic sprint capacity: a preliminary investigation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014 Feb 26;11(1):6.
- Wang ZQ, et al. Bioactives from bitter melon enhance insulin signaling and modulate acyl carnitine content in skeletal muscle in high-fat diet-fed mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2011 Nov;22(11):1064–73.
- Chan LLY, et al. Reduced Adiposity in Bitter Melon (Momordica charantia)–Fed Rats Is Associated with Increased Lipid Oxidative Enzyme Activities and Uncoupling Protein Expression. J. Nutr. 2005; 135(11):2517–23.
- Clouatre DL, Rao SN, Preuss HG. Bitter Melon Extracts in Diabetic and Normal Rats Favorably Influence Blood Glucose and Blood Pressure Regulation. J Med Food 2011 Dec;14(12):1496-504.
Russian Tarragon & Bitter Melon: Creatine’s Overlooked Sidekicks
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Dallas Clouatre, PhD
Dallas Clouatre, Ph.D. earned his A.B. from Stanford and his Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. A Fellow of the American College of Nutrition, he is a prominent industry consultant in the US, Europe, and Asia, and is a sought-after speaker and spokesperson. He is the author of numerous books. Recent publications include "Tocotrienols in Vitamin E: Hype or Science?" and "Vitamin E – Natural vs. Synthetic" in Tocotrienols: Vitamin E Beyond Tocopherols (2008), "Grape Seed Extract" in the Encyclopedia Of Dietary Supplements (2005), "Kava Kava: Examining New Reports of Toxicity" in Toxicology Letters (2004) and Anti-Fat Nutrients (4th edition).