Could a popular gym supplement help reduce menopause-related injuries?

Athletic woman in sportswear with measuring spoon in her hand puts a portion of whey protein powder into a shaker, making protein drink, cropped image.
Creatine is popular among fitness fans and athletes to enhance performance and build muscle. (Getty Images)

Protein supplements are usually associated with muscle-obsessed gym bros and athletes - but they may be more useful for perimenopause and menopause than we think.

Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in the body’s muscles and the brain. It is made by the liver, pancreas and kidney, and can also be consumed through seafood and red meat.

This substance helps supply energy to cells, especially to the muscles. As a supplement, it is often taken by individuals who want to gain more muscle mass and improve their athletic performance.

Most studies on the benefits of creatine are focused on men, and there is a lack of research into how women can benefit from it.

But recently, some studies have suggested that creatine might be beneficial for women going through perimenopause and menopause as well.

A 2021 study by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Creighton University in Omaha, and University of Regina found that post-menopausal women might benefit from taking creatine supplements.

Hand holding a protein scoop over blender with smoothie.
Creatine supplements are often taken blended into a smoothie or protein shake. (Getty Images)

They suggested that creatine supplement consumption could "act as a possible countermeasure to the menopausal related decrease in muscle, bone and strength by reducing inflammation, oxidative stress, and serum markers of bone resorption".

However, more research is needed to determine how creatine might be beneficial for menopausal and post-menopausal women.

We turned to menopause expert Dr Louise Newson, founder of the balance app and The Menopause Charity, to find out what happens to women's muscles during menopause, and how to manage the changes.

How does menopause affect muscles?

Many women experience muscle and joint pains during the menopause due to hormone levels diving. Oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone work as anti-inflammatory agents in the muscles and also help lubricate the joints - so a dip in these hormones leave many women in pain, particularly in the morning when hormone levels are the lowest.

Dr Newson tells Yahoo UK: "Muscle pain can have a knock-on effect on activity and exercise. I surveyed 6,000 women for my book The Definitive Guide to the Perimenopause and Menopause, and while three-quarters (77%) reported that exercise benefitted their mental and/or physical health, almost a third said they exercised less than once a week, or not at all, with 32% citing menopause symptoms as a barrier to exercise.

"Women will often give up the exercise that they've previously enjoyed, and I've been there: I absolutely love yoga, but before the penny dropped that I was perimenopausal, I just couldn't face doing any exercise as my joints were stiff and my muscles were sore."

Watch: Quarter of menopausal women get 'second wave of sisterhood' from the experience

Is a muscle supplement useful for women in perimenopause and menopause?

Before starting any supplements, Dr Newson urges women to see a healthcare professional if they think their muscle pain is related to menopause. Together, you can talk through the symptoms and come up with a plan of action.

"Menopause-related symptoms are due to low hormones rather than being low on certain vitamins and minerals," she explains. "Hormone replace therapy (HRT) is usually the first-line treatment to manage menopause-related symptoms, and it also has benefits for your long-term health."

Dr Newson recommends keeping a diary of symptoms to keep track of the type, severity and frequency of the symptoms, which will help you "build up a picture of your overall health". You can take this diary to your GP and discuss a treatment plan individualised to you, she adds.

"HRT works by replacing the hormones you are lacking, and you should expect to see a difference within a few months. Another treatment to consider is testosterone. Testosterone is recommended in the NICE menopause guidance for low libido when HRT alone is not helping, but in my clinical experience, the benefits extend beyond libido and there is evidence that testosterone can improve muscle mass and strength to reduce muscle and joint pains."

What can I do to reduce risk of injury during menopause?

As the body changes due to hormone levels dipping during menopause, there is a higher risk of injury as muscles and bones become more fragile.

It is important to take a holistic approach to menopause, Dr Newson advises, including having a balanced diet and staying active.

"During perimenopause and menopause, your bone density starts to decrease, which can make your bones weaker, less pliable and therefore more susceptible to breaking and developing osteoporosis," she says.

"Your muscles can also weaken and be harder to build, even with regular exercise. As well as replacing hormones through HRT, strength exercise is a key way to help protect your bones.

"But while exercise is important, you need to listen to your body: you may find that exercise you used to do before menopause isn’t working in the same way it did before. If that is the case, look at ways to adapt your routine and don’t forget to properly warm up and cool down to avoid risk of injury."

Read more about menopause: