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Is Creatine Bad for You? (Myths Debunked)

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

TL;DR: Creatine isn't bad for you. In fact, creatine has many benefits, especially for people who are exercising and trying to gain muscle, strength, and endurance.

Creatine is a very popular and effective supplement, it is able to increase muscle mass and strength.


But there have been many rumours surrounding this supplement, such as creatine makes you go bald or makes you gain fat.


In this article, I'll discuss the side-effects and myths of creatine, and find out the truth.


Table of Contents:


is creatine bad for you

What Is Creatine & How Does It Work?

Creatine is a naturally occurring chemical present in your body's cells. It is found in greater quantities in muscle cells; about 95% of creatine is found in muscles, with the remaining 5% located in the brain, liver, and kidneys. (1)


Your body can also generate creatine from the amino acids glycine and arginine, which are extremely similar to amino acids.


Fitness fanatics, bodybuilders, and other athletes are big fans of this supplement.


Your phosphocreatine reserves will rise if you take creatine supplements. Phosphocreatine is a kind of stored energy that aids in the production of ATP, your body's primary energy source.


Your body and muscles may perform better when more ATP is available.



How It Works

Creatine's primary function in enhancing exercise performance during high-intensity activity is to enhance phosphocreatine reserves.


These extra phosphocreatine reserves may be utilised to generate more ATP, which is the main energy source in high-intensity and high-resistance workouts.


It does the following things in order to help build muscle.


  • Increases workload

  • Increases anabolic hormone levels

  • Improves anabolic cell signalling

  • Increases intra-cellular hydration

  • Reduces myostatin

  • Reduces muscle protein breakdown


All of these factors combine to help you build muscle.



Side-Effects

The following are some of the potential adverse effects of creatine.


  • Bloating

  • Compartment syndrome

  • Dehydration

  • Digestive problems

  • Kidney damage

  • Kidney stones

  • Liver damage

  • Muscle cramps

  • Rhabdomyolysis

  • Weight gain


Although this list of side-effects is lengthy, creatine is one of the safest supplements on the market, according to leading experts who have researched it for decades. (2)


After using creatine supplements for 21 months, one study looked at 52 health indicators. It had discovered no negative consequences of creatine usage. (2)


Strangely, some individuals believe that creatine is an anabolic steroid, and that it should only be taken by elite athletes or bodybuilders, and that it is inappropriate for women or adolescents. This is completely false, creatine has nothing to do with anabolic steroids.


Despite the bad publicity, the International Society of Sports Nutrition considers creatine to be one of the most effective sports supplements available. (3)


Creatine is even utilised to treat a variety of illnesses and health issues, such as neuromuscular disorders, concussions, diabetes, and muscle loss. (3, 4, 5)


The outstanding safety profile of creatine has been repeatedly verified by research. There's also no indication that it causes rhabdomyolysis or compartment syndrome.



Creatine Myths

Besides the side-effects listed in the section above, creatine has some myths surrounding its usage, commonly spoken about on forums, such as the following.



In the following sections, I'll dive into the research and studies about these myths and find out the whether they're true or not.


Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss & Baldness?

Creatine has been shown to increase DHT, which is the primary hormone responsible for male-pattern baldness.


According to a 2009 study, creatine increased serum DHT by 56% after 7 days and stayed 40% higher than baseline after 14 days. (6)


DHT is a steroid hormone that may cause hair loss in certain individuals. However, not enough research has been done to see whether creatine promotes hair loss directly.


As a result, it's conceivable that creatine does play a role in male-pattern baldness and hair loss, but it is still largely unknown.


Creatine is safe to use for most people. However, if you're prone to hair loss or have family members with male-pattern baldness, you may want to avoid creatine.


To summarise, creatine may play a role in male-pattern baldness and hair-loss, but research on the matter is still lacking. You may want to avoid creatine if you have a family history of male-pattern baldness.




Does Creatine Cause Weight Gain?

Creatine can promote weight gain, but it's more likely to be due to water retention or muscle development in the long run.


Due to the effect creatine supplementation has on water retention and intra-cellular water content, it is likely that any weight increase is due to extra water. Some people may even gain between 2 and 6 pounds during the first week of supplementing with creatine. (7)


Creatine has no direct impact on fat, at least not when it comes to growing fat mass. Increases in fat mass are most likely related to your diet or another factor.


In fact, creatine supplementation has also been linked to a reduction in fat mass. (8)


To summarise, creatine supplementation does cause weight gain, but it is most likely due to water retention and not due to fat gain.




Does Creatine Cause Digestive Problems?

Excessive dosages, just like with many vitamins or medicines, may cause stomach problems.


In one research, the standard 5 gram dosage produced no digestive issues, while a 10 gram dose raised the incidence of diarrhoea by around 37%. (9)


As a result, the suggested serving size is 3-5 grams. Over the course of a day, the 20 gram loading procedure is divided into four 5 gram doses. (3)


When taken at appropriate levels, creatine does not exacerbate digestive issues, according to one expert who examined numerous trials. (10)


However, additions or impurities produced during the industrial manufacturing of creatine may cause problems. (11, 12)


As a result, it is advised that you buy a reputable, high-quality product.


To summarise, when the proper doses and loading requirements are followed, creatine does not cause stomach problems.



Does Creatine Damage Your Kidneys & Liver?

Creatine may modestly increase creatinine levels in the blood. Creatinine levels are often checked to rule out renal or liver issues. However, just because creatine increases creatinine levels doesn't imply it's bad for your liver or kidneys. (11)


There were no adverse effects linked to liver or renal function in a long-term investigation of collegiate athletes. Other studies that looked at biological indicators in the urine after taking creatine showed no change. (15)


Creatine has no harmful side effects, according to one of the longest trials to date, which lasted four years. (16)


No indication of damage to these organs has been found in studies of creatine usage in healthy people. (3, 13, 14)


Another well-known research that has been widely covered in the media revealed renal damage in a male weightlifter who used creatine supplements. This one case study, however, provides inadequate proof. Other variables, such as extra supplements, also had a role. (17, 18)


To summarise, according to current studies, creatine does not harm the liver or kidneys. If you have liver or kidney problems, creatine supplements should be avoided just to be safe.



Does Creatine Cause Dehydration?

Creatine has a "sponge" effect on water because of the way it functions, which means it pulls water into and around your body's cells. If you don't adapt your water consumption to your creatine dosage, you can increase your risk of dehydration. (19)


Although the water is technically still in your body, it pulls water from your blood, producing dehydration-like symptoms, while simultaneously providing a hydrating effect on your cells.


This is one of the reasons why creatine promotes cell volumization, and your muscles appear somewhat larger and fuller after a few days of taking creatine, and you acquire approximately 2-4 pounds of weight. (20)


This dehydration can be avoided by properly managing your water intake when taking creatine.


To summarise, creatine has a "sponge" like effect on water, increasing the risk of dehydration and its symptoms. It can be avoided by managing your water intake.


Interactions

If you are on any medicines that impair liver or renal function, you should avoid creatine supplements.


Medications including cyclosporine, aminoglycosides, gentamicin, tobramycin, and anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen, among others, may interact with creatine.


Creatine may assist with blood sugar control, so if you're taking medicine that affects blood sugar, talk to your doctor about taking it before you do.


If you are pregnant, nursing, or have a severe illness like heart disease or cancer, you should also get medical advice.


To summarise, blood sugar-lowering medications may interact with creatine and should be avoided. Other anti-inflammatory drugs may also interact. Pregnant, nursing, and people with severe illness like heart disease and cancer should consult a doctor first.


Note: Before beginning a diet or supplement, speak with a doctor or other medical expert.



Is It Safe?

Creatine has been utilised for over a century, and over 500 studies back up its efficacy and safety, it is one of the most well-researched supplements available on the market.


It also has many advantages for muscle and performance, as well as the potential to enhance health indicators, and is even being utilised to treat a number of illnesses.


Creatine is one of the most affordable, effective, and safe supplements accessible.


However, there is a select few people and medications it may interact negatively with, click here to read more about its interactions.

 

Written by Billy White

billy white

Billy White is a qualified Kinesiologist and Personal Trainer. He is an aspiring bodybuilder, fitness enthusiast, and health and fitness researcher.


He has multiple years of experience within the fitness, bodybuilding and health space. He is committed to providing the highest-quality information.



 

References

This section contains links to research, studies, and sources of information for this article, as well as authors, contributors, etc. All sources, along with the article and facts, are subjected to a series of quality, reliability, and relevance checks.

Real Muscle primarily uses high-quality sources, such as peer-reviewed publications, to back up the information in our articles. To understand more about how we fact-check and keep our information accurate, dependable, and trustworthy, read more about us.

This evidence-based analysis of the safety and myths of creatine features 20 references, listed below.

1. Persky AM, Brazeau GA. Clinical pharmacology of the dietary supplement creatine monohydrate. Pharmacol Rev. (2001, Jun) (Review) ✔

2. Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen CJ, Greenwood M, Lancaster S, Cantler EC, Milnor P, Almada AL. Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Mol Cell Biochem. (2003, Feb) ✔

3. Buford TW, Kreider RB, Stout JR, Greenwood M, Campbell B, Spano M, Ziegenfuss T, Lopez H, Landis J, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2007, Aug 30) (Editorial) ✔

4. Zhu S, Li M, Figueroa BE, Liu A, Stavrovskaya IG, Pasinelli P, Beal MF, Brown RH Jr, Kristal BS, Ferrante RJ, Friedlander RM. Prophylactic creatine administration mediates neuroprotection in cerebral ischemia in mice. J Neurosci. (2004, Jun 30) ✔

5. Felber S, Skladal D, Wyss M, Kremser C, Koller A, Sperl W. Oral creatine supplementation in Duchenne muscular dystrophy: a clinical and 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopy study. Neurol Res. (2000, Mar) (Case Reports) ✔

6. van der Merwe J, Brooks NE, Myburgh KH. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. Clin J Sport Med. (2009, Sep) (Randomised Controlled Trial) ✔

7. Buford, T.W., Kreider, R.B., Stout, J.R. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2007) ✔

8. Forbes SC, Candow DG, Krentz JR, Roberts MD, Young KC. Changes in Fat Mass Following Creatine Supplementation and Resistance Training in Adults ≥50 Years of Age: A Meta-Analysis. J Funct Morphol Kinesiol. (2019, Aug) ✔

9. Ostojic SM, Ahmetovic Z. Gastrointestinal distress after creatine supplementation in athletes: are side effects dose dependent? Res Sports Med. (2008) (Randomised Controlled Trial) ✔

10. Jäger R, Purpura M, Shao A, Inoue T, Kreider RB. Analysis of the efficacy, safety, and regulatory status of novel forms of creatine. Amino Acids. (2011, May) (Review) ✔

11. Bizzarini E, De Angelis L. Is the use of oral creatine supplementation safe? J Sports Med Phys Fitness. (2004, Dec) (Review) ✔

12. Carvajal R. Contaminated dietary supplements. N Engl J Med. (2010, Jan 21) (Comment) ✔

13. Poortmans JR, Francaux M. Adverse effects of creatine supplementation: fact or fiction? Sports Med. (2000, Sep) (Review) ✔

14. Poortmans JR, Kumps A, Duez P, Fofonka A, Carpentier A, Francaux M. Effect of oral creatine supplementation on urinary methylamine, formaldehyde, and formate. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2005, Oct) ✔

15. Mayhew DL, Mayhew JL, Ware JS. Effects of long-term creatine supplementation on liver and kidney functions in American college football players. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2002, Dec) ✔

16. Schilling BK, Stone MH, Utter A, Kearney JT, Johnson M, Coglianese R, Smith L, O'Bryant HS, Fry AC, Starks M, Keith R, Stone ME. Creatine supplementation and health variables: a retrospective study. Med Sci Sports Exerc. (2001, Feb) ✔

17. Thorsteinsdottir B, Grande JP, Garovic VD. Acute renal failure in a young weight lifter taking multiple food supplements, including creatine monohydrate. J Ren Nutr. (2006, Oct) (Case Reports) ✔

18. Gualano B, Ferreira DC, Sapienza MT, Seguro AC, Lancha AH Jr. Effect of short-term high-dose creatine supplementation on measured GFR in a young man with a single kidney. Am J Kidney Dis. (2010, Mar) (Case Reports) ✔

19. Powers ME, Arnold BL, Weltman AL, Perrin DH, Mistry D, Kahler DM, Kraemer W, Volek J. Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water Without Altering Fluid Distribution. J Athl Train. (2003, Mar) ✔

20. Buford, T.W., Kreider, R.B., Stout, J.R. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: creatine supplementation and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. (2007) ✔

Citations with a tick indicate the information is from a trusted source.

 

The information provided in this article is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the guidance of a physician or other competent professional before following advice or taking any supplement. See our terms and conditions.


Real Muscle leads the way in terms of transparency and privacy, which is why we want to let you know that some of the outbound links in this article may be affiliate links in which we may earn a small commission through. Despite this, our product recommendations are completely unbiased.



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