Is creatine dangerous?
This is the question we will examine in this article. We will make one very basic assumption throughout this article – you are not abusing creatine. By this we mean you are taking or thinking about taking creatine within the recommended dosage (described in the Dosage article).
This is an important distinction to make, because anything can become dangerous if you take to much of it. Vitamin C can have very harmful effects if you take too much of it – but that does not mean it is unsafe.
So, for the rest of this article when we discuss potential side effects and safety we will assume that you are taking the recommended dosage of creatine.
Are there any short term side effects of creatine?
There have been hundreds of studies done on creatine that all show that it is a safe supplement. There are really very few side effects reported with creatine use but they include: upset stomach, muscle cramping, diarrhea and dehydration.
Most of these side effects can be minimized by drinking plenty of water when taking creatine. In addition, people tend to have more side effects when taking the powder as opposed to a more direct delivery method like serum or effervescent powder.
It is important to understand that creatine does not effect your hormone levels. This means you do NOT get side effects like bad skin and mood swings. It is also important to note that everyone is different. While 95% of the people may have no problems with creatine – it may just really bother your stomach. In the end if you find that creatine causes you problems then it makes sense not to take it.
Are there any long term side effects of creatine?
This is the most hotly debated question out there. We touch on this in our article on Teenagers and Creatine. The problem is there have not been enough long term studies done on creatine use as a supplement. With a lack of clear data people tend to speculate and that leads to controversy.
Many scientist agree that when taken within normal dosage, creatine in theory should pose no long term health risks. On the other hand, other people like to have data saying that it has been tested over a long period before they will say it is safe. They will point to the fact that no study has studied creatine use for over 3 months. Luckily that is all changing now.
On November 12, 1999 at the 19th Annual Southwest American College of Sports Medicine Meeting, two long term creatine studies were presented from the Exercise & Sport Nutrition Lab at the University of Memphis*. Both studies showed that 9 months of creatine supplementation (taking an average of 5 grams per day) in athletes had no negative effects on markers of renal function or muscle and liver enzymes in comparison to athletes not taking creatine.
* Here are the actual studies referenced above
1.Kreider R, Rasmussen C, Ransom C, Melton C, Greenwood M, Stroud T, Cantler E, Milnor P, Almada A, Greenhaff P. Long-term creatine supplementation does not affect markers of renal stress in athletes.
2.Almada A, Kreider R, Ransom J, Melton C, Rasmussen C, Greenwood M, Stroud T, Cantler E, Milnor P, Earnest C. Long-term creatine supplementation does not affect muscle or liver enzyme efflux in athletes.
In fact some studies have shown that creatine can help reduce your chances of heart disease and adult on-set diabetes. It was found that after 51 days of taking creatine the study group had a 22% decrease in VLDL-cholesterol levels and a 23% decrease in blood triglyceride levels. VLDL-cholesterol and triglycerides are risk factors for heart disease and adult on-set diabetes.
We make this point to show that as more studies are done it may be that more benefits of creatine are discovered. Studies don’t always just show negative long term effects. A classic example of this has been the recent discoveries with alcohol. New studies show that 2 drinks a day can have very beneficial effects in reducing your chance of heart disease. Of course, like creatine – if you abuse alcohol it can have negative effects.
So, are you guaranteeing that creatine is safe?
Of course not – there are only two guarantees in life – death and taxes. New studies are being done all the time. The best we can do is operate with the data we have in front of us. Your decision on whether to take creatine should be done with your doctor.
It may be that you have an existing condition that could be harmful if you took creatine. You may be taking a drug that would have a negative interaction with creatine. There are many variables that come into play.
In the end, everyone can interpret studies in a different way. From our view, nothing is out there to indicate that creatine has long term negative effects. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion – but that is the way we feel.
What is this I hear about liver and kidney damage with creatine?
This can be a problem if you abuse creatine. Any creatine your body does not use is excreted as a waste product called creatinine. If you take 20 grams a day of creatine – your body will not be able to use most of it and will have to excrete the excess.
Over time this constant excretion of creatinine can put a lot of work on your kidneys and liver. If you force them to work to hard that can lead to serious problems.
Is creatine safe for teenagers to take?
Please read our our article on Teenagers and Creatine.
Is one form of creatine safer than another?
Not really. It is true that you need to take less creatine when using a creatine serum over a creatine powder – so this helps minimize any excess work by the liver and kidneys. In that way, serum can be safer.
In the end, you want to be able to take the smallest amount possible and still achieve positive effects. If one form has a better absorption rate, than you need to take less creatine – and this can help further minimize any potential risk.