Updated: Oct 12
Creatine is one of the most popular and beneficial supplements, taken by many people such as athletes, bodybuilders and just the general gym goer.
But is it really safe to take and does creatine have any side effects?
There are some claimed side effects, in this article we will cover everything you need to know.
We will debunk the myths of creatine and explain the science behind it's claimed side effects.
Table of Contents:
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What Is Creatine
To summarise; creatine is a naturally occurring compound responsible for the cycle of energy and ATP in your body.
It is found in higher concentrations in your muscle cells - around 95% of creatine is found in your muscles and the other 5% is found in other organs like the brain, liver and kidneys. (Source)
It is actually very similar to amino acids, your body can also produce creatine from the amino acids; glycine and arginine.
Taking this dietary supplement is very popular among fitness enthusiasts, bodybuilders and other athletes.
Further Reading: What Is Creatine?
What Are Creatine's Side Effects
Creatine has some claimed side effects.
Keep in mind these side effects are only anecdotal and have not been proven.
We will cover most of these separately and in more detail below.
One myth is that creatine is an anabolic steroid, therefore it's unsuitable for teenagers and women and should only be used by bodybuilders and athletes - this is not true whatsoever. More on this at the bottom.
Despite all of these claimed side effects, creatine is actually one of the safest supplements available.
In fact, studies lasting up to 4 years on the long-term safety of creatine have found no adverse effects. (Source)
Continue reading for a breakdown of each creatine side effect.
Baldness & Hair Loss
A commonly claimed side effect of creatine is that it causes hair loss and baldness.
There isn’t much or any evidence that suggests creatine supplementation causes hair loss.
Much of this evidence is purely anecdotal and not proven or studied.
However, a small study in 2009 did find around a 40% increase in DHT levels following supplementation of creatine. (Source)
DHT is a hormone responsible for promoting baldness - therefore it is theoretically possible that creatine could promote the rate of hair loss.
However, this is not proven but cannot be ruled out.
Therefore, it is possible but not proven that creatine supplementation could promote hair loss and baldness.
Further Reading: Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?
Dehydration & Cramps
Creatine also alters the way your body stores water, it has an effect called volumization.
This means that it draws extra water into the muscle cells.
This fact may be why it has been theorised to cause dehydration.
However, the difference in cellular water content is not major and there is no research to suggest this.
In fact, studies suggest that it can actually reduce the incidence of cramps and dehydration during high intensity endurance exercise in high temperatures. (Source)
Either way, it is still important to maintain optimal hydration and water intake.
Further Reading: How Much Water To Drink While Taking Creatine
Kidneys & Liver
Creatine can slightly raise the levels of a molecule called creatinine in your blood.
Creatinine is a commonly used indicator of kidney or liver problems - this is likely why people claim that creatine is bad for the kidneys and liver.
However, this does not mean that creatine is causing harm or damage to the kidneys. (Source)
One long term study with college athletes found no indications of kidney or liver issues. (Source)
Other studies measuring biological markers in the urine also found no difference after creatine ingestion.
However, people who have pre-existing kidney or liver issues should speak to their doctor before supplementing with creatine, or avoid using this supplement altogether.
Therefore, it's not true that creatine harms the kidneys and liver, though people with pre-existing issues should be careful.
Bloating & Weight Gain
Another common claim is that creatine causes weight gain and bloating.
Studies suggest that creatine does in fact increase weight.
After one week loading creatine, around 20 grams per day, your weight will increase by around 2-6 lbs due to increased water content in your muscles. (Source)
However, this weight gained is not due to fat but instead due to increased water content within cells. (Source)
Over the long term, studies suggest that this weight gain may continue to rise faster than when not using creatine - likely due to muscle growth. (Source)
As this weight gain is a desirable effect for most people taking creatine, it is not widely regarded as a side effect.
To conclude, creatine does cause weight gain due to increased cellular water content and increased muscle growth.
Another claimed side effect of creatine are digestive issues.
As with many different supplements or medications, excessive dosages may cause or worsen pre-existing digestive issues.
In one study, a 5 gram dose (recommended long-term dose) caused no digestive issues, while a 10 gram dose did cause an increased risk of diarrhoea by around 37%. (Source)
A review of several studies and research papers suggest that creatine does not significantly increase the risk of digestive issues when taken at the recommended dosages. (Source)
Because of this, we recommend to use the loading program for around one week only and split the dose into 3-4 separate dosages.
This is why it's important to use trusted and high-quality products.
To summarise, it's possible for creatine to increase risk of digestive issues if used over the recommended dosage; however, it is safe for use with minimal risk at recommended dosages.
Other Side Effects & Misconceptions About Creatine
There are claims of other side effects from creatine.
These other reported side effects will be discussed below.
Some people claim that creatine can increase your risk of rhabdomyolysis, this is caused by muscle breaking down and leaking proteins into the blood - however, this is not supported by any evidence or studies.
This myth came about after noticing an increase of creatine kinase in the blood. (Source)
The slight increase found is different from the high amounts of creatine kinase associated with rhabdomyolysis and in fact, some researchers suggest creatine may actually protect against the condition. (Source)
There is a claim that creatine can cause something called compartment syndrome, where excessive pressure builds up in an enclosed space.
One study did find an increase in muscle pressure during heat training, however, it resulted primarily from heat and exercise induced dehydration - this was short lived, insignificant and not from creatine. (Source)
Unsuitable For The Elderly, Women & Children:
As said at the start of this article, people also confuse creatine with anabolic steroids, but this is a myth and not true.
Creatine is commonly found in foods such as meat, it is completely natural and safe with no link to steroids. (Source)
There is also a misconception that creatine is unsuitable for the elderly, women or children.
However, no research suggests that it is unsuitable when recommended doses are used for women or older adults. (Source)
Further Reading: Creatine Myths
Creatine Drug Interactions
According to drugs.com creatine has a total of 5 known interactions.
Of these creatine interactions, 2 are moderate interactions and 3 are minor interactions.
If you are taking any of these medications, please consult your doctor before supplementing or avoid taking creatine altogether.
Is Creatine Safe
Creatine is an extremely popular supplement and has been used for many years, it has over 500 studies documenting its safety and effectiveness.
There are long term studies, some up to 4 years long, indicating it's safe for use.
Creatine is one of the safest, most well-researched and effective supplements on the market.
Creatine's Side Effects Summary
Many of creatine's side effects are largely anecdotal and not backed up with evidence.
There are also many misconceptions and myths associated with creatine.
It is widely regarded as safe - over 500 studies have proven it's effects and safety.
In fact, creatine is now being used as a treatment for some medical conditions.
However, if used at dosages above the recommended it may result in mild side effects such as diarrhoea.
We believe that creatine is safe for use at the recommended dosages.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does creatine affect you sexually?
A: There have been no effects reported. There have been claimed sexual side effects, such as decreased libido or functioning, however, this is largely anecdotal and unproven.
Q: What does creatine do to your body?
A: Creatine has been proven to improve exercise performance, strength and muscle growth. It increases your bodies capacity and production of energy, called ATP.
Q: Can creatine affect your mood?
A: In healthy individuals, creatine shouldn't effect your mood. However, those with pre-existing mental health conditions may be at higher risk when taking creatine.
Q: Should I take creatine?
A: Creatine is one of the safest, most effective and most well-researched supplements. It has been used for over a century.
You can read our supplement articles here.