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Downsides and side effects of creatine
Downsides and side effects of creatine

Downsides and side effects of creatine

  • Reading time: 9 min.

Do you want to use creatine to get more out of your strength training? Before you start using a given supplement, you of course want to know more about how it works and what its effects are. This also includes whether there are any possible downsides associated with creatine. You've probably heard and read stories about kidney problems, fluid retention and intestinal complaints due to creatine powder. But what is fact and what is myth?

Fortunately, creatine is the world's most researched food supplement. Therefore, we can dispel all your worries about creatine use in this XXL Nutrition blog. We'll look below at all the alleged downsides and side effects of creatine and let you know the truth!

What are the downsides of creatine?

Increasing numbers of strength athletes use creatine because it's an inexpensive supplement of proven effectiveness. For example, creatine helps improve performance and stimulates muscle growth during explosive training. Therefore, creatine appears to be an elixir for both bodybuilders and recreational power athletes. But is creatine safe? Or does creatine have downsides for your health?

There are always a lot of myths about supplements doing the rounds. This means you've probably heard about the side effects of creatine at the gym. Unfortunately, these claims are often baseless. This is why we are going to use this blog to list frequently heard claims about creatine downsides and side effects for you. Frequently stated downsides of creatine include:

  • Creatine makes you retain fluid
  • Creatine elevates blood pressure and increases cholesterol
  • Creatine can cause hair loss
  • Stomach and intestinal complaints as a result of creatine
  • Creatine harms your kidneys

Creatine side effects researched

The above-mentioned side effects of creatine can sound pretty alarming if you're thinking of using creatine for the first time. But it goes without saying that not everything that you read or hear is true. Therefore, it's good to research the downsides of creatine. Because what does science say about creatine use?

Read more below about the downsides of creatine and to what extent these side effects actually occur among creatine-using power athletes.

Fluid retention as a result of creatine use

The first downside of creatine regards increased fluid retention and weight gain. It is true that creatine use draws more fluid to your muscles. More fluid is stored in your muscles which makes you a little heavier and your muscles feel bulkier. Because every body reacts to creatine differently, weight increase varies from person to person. Research[1] shows that creatine users gain approximately 0.8% to 2.9% in body weight.

However, do not confuse fluid retention from creatine with edema. Edema makes you to retain fluid in places where normally you'd hardly have any. For example, in your ankles, legs or feet. Edema is a medical conditional with potentially serious causes and effects. Therefore it's totally unlike the fluid you store in your muscles during creatine use.

Furthermore, many athletes do not consider being a bit heavier and having bulkier muscles to be a downside of creatine at all. It actually helps with their training sessions and often promotes self-confidence because they appear 'better built'. Although some people retain fluid as a side effect of creatine, it has no negative influence on their health.

Blood pressure and cholesterol

It is often claimed that creatine use raises blood pressure and can also raise cholesterol levels. Raised blood pressure can cause headaches, fatigue, shortness of breath and nausea. High cholesterol levels can make blood vessels narrower and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. But are these side effects of creatine use?

People who consume a lot of salt and have a high level of the enzyme creatine kinase in their body, excrete less salt. The muscles in their blood vessels also constrict more. This causes their blood pressure to rise. Fortunately, a number of studies have demonstrated that the use of creatine supplements has no direct effect upon blood pressure.

This study[2] shows that creatine monohydrate has no effect on blood pressure and the activity of creatine kinase. It seems above all that excess salt intake has a negative effect on your blood pressure. A Florida State University study[3] shows that creatine has a positive effect on your blood pressure during exercise. This study showed that heart rate and blood pressure increased less quickly during strength training among athletes who use creatine.

Creatine does not have a negative effect upon your cholesterol either. This study[4] of the long term use of creatine turned up no side effects or health complaints.

Is liver damage is side effect of creatine?

Liver damage is often stated as a downside of creatine. Where does this come from? Creatine use can cause a slight increase in your blood creatinine levels. And creatinine is often measured to diagnose liver problems. That creatine use can increase in your creatinine levels is actually not an indication that it is bad for you liver.

The body converts unused creatine into creatinine and this is then excreted through the urine. Therefore, it's logical that your creatinine levels are higher when you use creatine powder. Various studies have shown that creatine is not bad for your liver. This study[5] looked at the effect of creatine on the liver and kidneys. The researchers concluded that long term creatine use has no effect upon liver and kidney function.

Is creatine bad for your kidneys?

And how about your kidneys then? Does creatine have harmful side effects on kidney function? No, you'd don't have to worry about this either. Scientists haven't found any evidence of this either. Creatine is not harmful to the kidneys of healthy people.

This too comes from the assumption that creatine can cause kidney damage through creatinine. Are you having your creatinine levels measured? Then always let it be known that you do strength training and use creatine. When you have more muscle mass, you also produce more creatinine. Providing your kidneys are healthy and function properly, there is absolutely no reason not to use creatine. Creatine is safe for your kidneys and this is supported by several long term studies, such as this study[6] by the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

But watch out: creatine can have downsides if you already have kidney or liver damage. If this is the case, then always discuss using creatine supplements with your doctor beforehand. And of course, stick to a maximum dose of 5 grams a day.

Does creatine make you bald?

The following creatine side effect has no influence on your physical health but does affect your appearance. It's often been said that creatine makes your hair fall out. But does creatine make you bald or is this a myth?

Not a single scientific study has demonstrated a direct link between creatine use and hair loss. However, one study has shown that creatine can cause an increase in dihydrotestosterone (DHT) production. And increased DHT levels can cause hair loss. However, this is only applies to men who are sensitive to it. Therefore they already have a genetic predisposition to baldness (often at a young age).

Moreover, only one study[7] has shown this indirect link between creatine and male baldness. This study only lasted three weeks and was conducted on 20 men. Therefore, there is too little evidence to claim that hair loss is a side effect of creatine.

Stomach and intestinal complaints with high dosage

Creatine causes stomach and intestinal issues in some athletes. This includes diarrhea, gassiness and stomach cramps. These creatine side effects are especially prevalent with high dosages, such as 10 - 20 grams or more. Are you doing a loading phase when using creatine? Then you may experience problems with your stomach and intestines during this first week.

Particularly, when you take doses larger than 5 grams at one go you can get diarrhea and feel nauseous. You can avoid this during the loading phase by splitting your creatine powder up into four smaller doses. It's also important to drink more water, seeing that creatine draws fluids to your muscles.

Various studies have also made clear the importance of a well-thought through creatine dosage. For example, one study[8] showed that a 5-gram dose caused no stomach and intestinal issues, whereas a 10 gram dose all at once did. The probability of diarrhea increased by 37%. If you take a maximum of 5 grams of creatine per dose, the likelihood of side effects like diarrhea and nausea are minimal. This was also demonstrated in this literature review[9] on stomach issues cause by creatine.

Creatine is safe for strength athletes

Therefore is creatine safe? After reading this blog on the downsides and side effects of creatine we can say yes. Scientific studies have shown it to have no harmful effects on your health. Creatine is not bad for you providing you are healthy and follow the recommended dosage. Just like with bodybuilding, we believe in the power of repetition. So we will repeat the conclusions about the alleged downsides of creatine below.

  • Creatine can help you retain fluid in your muscles and gain weight. This is a real positive for strength athletes.
  • Creatine has no negative effects upon your blood pressure and cholesterol. It can actually lower your blood pressure during strength training.
  • When liver function is healthy, creatine does not cause liver damage.
  • Researchers have not found any proof of kidney damage through creatine use.
  • Have you got a liver or kidney complaint? Then always consult your doctor beforehand.
  • No direct link has been found between creatine and male baldness.
  • Stomach and intestinal issues only occur with excessive dosage.

Do you want to start using creatine?

As you have been able to read in this blog, creatine has no harmful side effects or downsides. It is safe to use and this is one of the reasons why it is one of the supplements most used by athletes. Do you want to get started with creatine now? We recommend that you begin with creatine monohydrate. This is the type that works best for most people. Adhere to the daily recommended dose and enjoy the benefits that creatine offers!

Would you like to read more about how creatine works? In this blog we will tell you all about what creatine does and what its benefits are!

Sources

[1] https://europepmc.org/article/med/14636103/reload=0

[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10694109/

[3] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21249385/

[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11224803/

[5] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12500988/

[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28615996/

[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19741313/

[8] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/15438620701693280

[9] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21424716/

Marvin Grouw
This blog is written by:
Marvin Grouw
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