WASHINGTON – Government scientists want to know if a dietary supplement thought to boost muscles might boost the brains of Parkinson’s patients. The National Institutes of Health began a major study Thursday to see if creatine might help preserve the nerve cells that die off in Parkinson’s, and thus slow the disease’s worsening. The study will enroll more than 1,700 people with early-stage Parkinson’s – using doses higher than usual with today’s over-the-counter brands, said Dr. Debra Babcock, a neurologist with NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Moreover, “creatine is not completely benign,” she said, cautioning patients not to try the approach on their own. Kidney failure and muscle and heart problems are potential side effects. It is the second dietary supplement under NIH scrutiny for Parkinson’s; a study of coenzyme Q-10, thought to help cells’ energy production, is under way. Parkinson’s affects 1.5 million people in the United States and 6 million worldwide. It gradually destroys brain cells that produce dopamine, a chemical crucial for the cellular communication that controls muscle movement. What results are increasingly severe tremors, periodically stiff or frozen limbs, slow movement and impaired balance and coordination. Standard treatments eventually quit working and don’t fight the disease’s underlying cause. Muscle cells produce creatine, and athletes often swallow more in hopes of improved performance and muscle bulk. But because dietary supplements are only loosely regulated, there is little scientific proof of how, or even whether, it works. With Parkinson’s, the theory is that creatine may boost cellular energy or act as a cell-protecting antioxidant. In a pilot study, patients given a high-dose, drug-like version of creatine didn’t seem to worsen as much over a year as those given a dummy drug. The new study will more stringently track participants’ functioning for five to seven years.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!