Since creatine is found naturally in human muscle cells, it’s reasonable to assume that taking creatine should be harmless. However, there are some side effects and potential dangers of creatine that are worth knowing about.
7 Potential Dangers of Creatine
- Weight Gain
- Increased Anxiety
- Digestive Problems
- Heightened Fatigue
- Kidney Problems
- Respiratory Problems
Research has found that creatine, when taken in proper dosages, is a safe supplement to consume.
However, many people who take creatine ignore the dosage recommendations and take a higher dose of creatine than is necessary in an attempt to further boost their gains.
If a little creatine is good, a lot is not necessarily better—after all, there is a reason recommended doses exist.
Creatine has been reported to have several potential side effects that include: weight gain, water retention, fatigue, breathing difficulties, as well as anxiety, headaches, fever, rashes, diarrhea, and nausea.
Further side effects of creatine may include dizziness, gastrointestinal pain, and heat intolerance. Possibly the most dangerous side effect of creatine is potential kidney problems, as the kidneys are the mechanism of excreting creatine.
Heart and liver damage are other possible side effects of creatine consumption. But are these side effects plausible or even proven? Has research shown them to be valid?
Weight Gain and Water Retention
Due to several research studies, it has been discovered that supplementing with creatine may cause weight gain—but not in the way you think. This weight gain is due to a short term increase of water in the muscles, and a long term increase in muscle growth (not body fat).
Thus, according to research published at The University of Memphis, creatine does exactly what it’s supposed to do—it increases muscle mass.
So, for people who start taking creatine and see a jump in weight—don’t panic. You’re either seeing a short term increase of water in the muscles or a long-term increase in muscle mass.
As is common with the majority of supplements, taking more than the recommended dose can cause digestive problems and stomach upset.
Studies show that sticking with the recommended dose of creatine: four servings of 5 grams spread out over a day is safe.
This dosage causes no digestive upset. But, according to research published in the journal Research in Sports Medicine, increasing the dosage to 10 grams per serving boosts the probability of diarrhea by as much as 37%.
Furthermore, one of the main causes of diarrhea when supplementing with creatine is the inclusion of additives or contaminants created during the processing of the product.
Thus, purchasing a high-quality creatine supplement from a trusted source is vital to maintaining digestive health while taking creatine.
Despite the possibility of digestive upset with creatine supplementation, one study conducted at the University of Trieste found that sticking to a recommended dose of creatine will not cause any issues.
Kidney and Liver Effects
Blood creatinine, the substance typically measured to diagnose liver and kidney conditions, can be raised with the supplementation of creatine.
However, this is not necessarily an indicator that your kidneys or liver are being harmed by creatine. In fact, several studies on college athletes have found no correlation between creatine supplementation and liver/kidney function.
To date, there has only been one study, reported in the Journal of Renal Nutrition, that found one male weight lifter who took creatine acquired kidney disease.
One case, however, is statistically insignificant and there is no evidence that it was the creatine that resulted in the kidney disease. Other factors such as alcohol consumption, smoking and a poor diet are all factors that contribute to kidney problems.
However, if you have a history of kidney or liver disease, you may want to consider using creatine carefully.
You probably have nothing to worry about, but talk to your doctor and check your creatinine levels to maintain optimal health if you plan on supplementing with creatine and you’re worried any side effects.
Interactions with Medicine
As with any supplement or medication, it’s always best to inform your doctor before using a new supplement. In addition to possible interactions with liver or kidney medications, there are a few drugs that may pose problems for creatine users:
- Blood sugar management medications
- Nephrotoxic drugs
Furthermore, the efficacy of creatine may be reduced when combined with caffeine. When combined with caffeine and ephedra, this combination can increase the potential for serious side effects, such as a stroke.
It has also been suggested that creatine may cause compartment syndrome—when pressure builds up within an arm or leg—or rhabdomyolysis, where protein leaks into the bloodstream due to muscles breaking down.
Both of these side effects have been studied extensively, and both have been proven to be myths.
Research at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that creatine does not cause these conditions but actually protects against them. The confusion arises from the fact that creatine kinase in the blood is slightly elevated when supplementing with creatine.
It’s also been implied that creatine is only appropriate for male athletes, but this is not the case. There is no research suggesting that women, children, and older adults cannot supplement with creatine in a healthy way.
In fact, creatine has been given to children for medical reasons in cases of certain conditions, such as muscle loss and neuromuscular disorders. The journal Neurological Research reports that creatine causes no harmful side effects in children.
There are still a few groups who should avoid creatine, however; pregnant and breastfeeding women should steer clear of creatine just to be safe.
Asthma sufferers may experience worsened symptoms with creatine use, and for people who are allergic to creatine, creatine can cause rashes and itching and possibly shortness of breath.
If you fall into one of these categories or experience any side effects of allergic symptoms, it’s best to stop taking creatine immediately.
Is Creatine Safe?
Despite the hype and rumors surrounding creatine and its potential side effects, studies repeatedly show that creatine is one of the safest and most beneficial supplements on the market today.
Unless you fall under the (rare) category of someone who is allergic to creatine, or you have a medical condition that might conflict with creatine, creatine is both healthy and safe to use—as long as you stick to the recommended dose.