Ut oh. Creatine dangers are amongst us. If you pay attention to the media, you are probably scared to death.
The media loves to report on creatine risks. If there is even a hint that it could possibly be involved in the death or medical ailment of an athlete, they jump all over the story.
When it is later shown that creatine played no role in the story, they don’t exactly report that with the same enthusiasm.
Creatine is a hot topic these days. It is a hot topic because it is a rare example of a supplement that actually lives up to much of its hype: It works.
Extensive research has been conducted and found supplementation to have no serious side effects.
When something is hot there will always be those willing to sell their souls to cool it off and bring the attention to themselves. This goes a ways to explain not only the media’s approach to creatine but that of the conservative medical establishment. All of this combined has led to great confusion over the safety of creatine usage.
For sure there are concerns regarding use.
Creatine is a relatively new phenomenon and, as such, long-term studies have not yet been completed. Therefore it is not possible to say with absolute authority that there are no potential creatine dangers.
Short-term creatine studies, however, have convincingly shown it to not only be effective but extremely safe.
The 7 Most Worrisome Side Effects Associated With Creatine
Kidney and Liver Damage – This remains one of the legitimate potential creatine dangers although its risks are often misinterpreted and overstated. People supplementing with may show increased levels of creatinine (the waste product of creatine metabolism) in urine concentrations. High creatinine concentration levels in urine are often used as an indicator of kidney problems. While it can be used as an indicator, it is often misinterpreted as a cause. It is not a cause. The increased levels of creatinine in those supplementing will correlate with their increased muscle creatine levels.Studies have not shown creatine to be toxic to the kidneys.
If having medical tests performed along these lines, it is a good idea to inform your doctors if you are using creatine.
People with kidney and liver conditions should evaluate creatine risks at a different level. The kidneys will necessarily have to work harder to remove the excessive creatinine from the body. This also calls into need the importance of drinking lots of water to help the body eliminate the extra creatinine.
Kidney stones are a potential risk and often anecdotally reported. You can do a lot to limit this risk by, again, drinking sufficient water.
Suppression of the Body’s Ability to Synthesize Creatine – The fear here is that the body will lose its ability to synthesize creatine after relying on supplementation for prolonged periods. This would result in the need to continue supplementation indefinitely. Creatine studies have shown that the body has no problem starting production up again after short stints of usage. Again, long-term studies have not yet had time to be completed and therefore the side effects of long-term supplementation are not known.
This fear leads many athletes to cycle their creatine usage. In this way, by allowing the body to resume production by stopping use every couple of months, it is hoped to avoid this and similar potential creatine side effects. (For a discussion on cycling, see the How to Take Creatine Page.) Cycling for this reason is a reasonable thing to do.
However, there have been no documented cases of supplementation suppressing the body’s ability to synthesize creatine.
- Nausea, diarrhea, etc. – Minor creatine side effects such as these are not common but they do happen. Often the problem results from the creatine not getting fully dissolved in the stomach. Switching to micronized powder, adjusting the dosage and/or the delivery method will typically alleviate these problems.
- Muscle Pulls – An increase in muscle pulls has been associated anecdotally with creatine usage. Studies, however, have not noted an increase. A possible explanation for the anecdotal reports is that people may train too hard based on unrealistic expectations of the supplement’s abilities.
- Muscle Cramps – Muscle cramps are thought to be caused in part by the lack of sufficient fluids. Creatine effects include drawing water into the muscle cells and therefore require greater fluid intake especially during a loading phase. Not providing the body with extra fluids during this time could lead to an increase in muscle cramping. Creatine studies, however, have not shown an increased incidence of muscle cramps in properly hydrated individuals.
- Dehydration, Heat Intolerance – Along with muscle cramps, increased risks of dehydration and heat intolerance have been reported anecdotally. Again, studies haven’t backed up the anecdotal evidence but the knowledge that the supplement does draw water into the muscle cells make them plausible creatine dangers and further illustrates the importance of drinking lots of water while supplementing.
- Weight Gain – I know what you are thinking – weight gain listed among creatine dangers? Obviously, this is a positive for those of us trying to gain weight fast as well as most that choose to supplement. Anti-creatine people always list it among their creatine dangers though, and for those athletes who participate in endurance activities it can be among creatine’s negative effects.
While further studies are needed before we proclaim potential creatine dangers to be null and void, there is little reason to believe it won’t measure up here as well. To this point creatine has been the most thoroughly studied performance enhancing supplement and has passed every test before it.
The Hidden Creatine Dangers?
While studies continue to mount up showing supplementation to be extremely safe, anecdotally there have been reports of some scary health consequences. While anecdotal reports are not a reliable indication of anything, there is a plausible reason that the research would show creatine supplementation to be safer than it has actually become in practice.
The studies that repeatedly find no creatine dangers typically use a very high quality pure creatine monohydrate without additives. With the explosion of the supplements popularity, many manufacturers have sought cheaper manufacturing processes to gain a price advantage over their competitors. These processes and additives can mean that you are getting more than you know when you set out to supplement. And that extra stuff can be scary.
The cheaper powders (Chinese creatine and the like) are not only going to be providing less effective product, they can also throw some very dangerous chemicals into the mix.
The creatine I use and recommend on this site is Optimum Nutrition’s Creatine Powder. This product does not contain additives and uses creatine manufactured by Degussa, a large German company that is well respected for its manufacturing practices.
By all indications, creatine use should be very safe for healthy individuals who use the product responsibly. This means making sure that you don’t go overboard with your dosages and keep yourself properly hydrated.
Buying the cheapest creatine on the market is not a good idea as it can present additional side effects. As with all dietary supplements, buy at a reasonable price from a trusted manufacturer.
Creatine dangers are often misunderstood and reported irresponsibly by the media. Understanding the supplement and its true abilities can alleviate concerns and increase results.
Understanding the potential side effects and the potential benefits… Should I use creatine?
Ultimately, that is an individual decision. It comes down to doing the research and deciding if you feel comfortable with it. My opinion is that creatine is safe and can be a valuable addition to an otherwise strong training program.
To help decide if it is for you, check the article, Should I Use Creatine Supplements?