The Ancient Greeks and Romans had their myths about gods and demi-heroes, but modern folks have their own myths too. This is especially noticeable about health trends and beliefs.
Some think it’s OK to eat dropped food if it’s been less than 5 seconds on the floor. Chocolate is supposed to lead to acne. Coffee stunts your growth. None of these are true.
Today, there are also myths regarding the negative side effects of creatine that have been debunked by rigid scientific data.
Creatine, on the face of it, is too good to be true. It helps athletes gain bigger muscles, helps with bone growth, and even enhances short-term memory.
It fights off fatigue and can even help with diabetes. It’s so good that it’s probably the most used health supplement by athletes in the world.
But nothing can be that good, right? There has to be something wrong about it.
So some myths have spread about the supposed creatine side effects, brought on by overzealous competitors, fake news activists, click-bait journalism, and the reach of social media.
So now we have myths regarding how creatine consumption can lead to liver and kidney damage, cramps and dehydration, various digestive ailments, and even weight gain.
Does creatine cause kidney stones? No, but some people think it does—because there must be something wrong with it.
Some people even think that it’s an anabolic steroid. They believe this because of the sheer number of athletes who take creatine.
Never mind that creatine is expressly legal to use and not banned by athletic leagues. These creatine myths seem easier to believe.
So What Happens When Creatine Enters the Body?
Creatine isn’t a weird laboratory-made synthetic compound. It’s, in fact, a natural compound found in much of living tissue, and it’s found naturally in muscle cells.
What creatine does is to stimulate your muscles to produce energy when you’re working out intensely. Obviously, having more creatine in your system makes you stronger with more energy to fight off fatigue.
You can get creatine naturally from fish and meat, and your body produces creatine from amino acids.
The problem here is that the creatine amounts you get via these methods aren’t enough to make a difference. That’s why athletes take creatine supplements—it’s too difficult to obtain through diet alone.
A typical person has about 120 mmol/kg of creatine in storage. With creatine supplementation, this can be increased up to 150 mmol/kg.
About 95% of the creatine in your body can be found in your muscles.
Now you have more creatine to work with when you exercise.
You boost your workout and athletic performance because the creatine gives you more energy in your cells and you’re less apt to get tired.
It is possible that you can consume too much creatine. But the excess is broken down by your body into creatinine. This is metabolized by your liver, and then you just expel it when you urinate.
The Supposed Dangers of Creatine
So let’s take a look at some of the more outrageous myths about creatine and how real science has debunked these myths.
1. Creatine Leads to Obesity
It is true that creatine can lead to weight gain. Intense creatine supplement in just a week can cause your weight to go up by 2 to 6 pounds. But this is because your muscles increase its water content during this time.
In the long run, you do gain weight. But that’s because when you exercise and take creatine, you’re better able to gain more muscle. That’s what’s causing the weight gain.
You’re not becoming obese or even overweight due to excess fat storage, which is a problem. When you gain more muscle, it’s a benefit.
When you’re an athlete, having bigger muscles is generally helpful. It improves athletic performance.
You only need to see Barry Bonds before and after his increase in body size and muscles to realize why he was hitting so many home runs all of a sudden.
So it’s not true at all that creatine leads to obesity. The weight gain here isn’t a side effect at all. It’s, in fact, one of the reasons why athletes take creatine in the first place.
They take creatine supplements to make their workouts more effective. They get bigger muscles in a shorter amount of time, and that causes them to bulk up.
2. Creatine Leads to Liver and Kidney Damage
The propagation of this myth may have something to do with how it’s often mistaken for anabolic steroids. These anabolic steroids cause liver and kidney problems; ergo creatine has the same side effect.
In fact, one of the favorite cases that mass media loves to cite is about this male weightlifter who took creatine and then subsequently developed kidney disease.
It’s also a fact that creatine is perhaps the most studied health supplement of them all with thousands of research studies involving its use. None of these other studies have indicated the same effect.
In fact, various long-term studies indicate that there aren’t any side effects at all that affect the liver or the kidneys. Some of these studies go as long as 4 years.
It’s true that creatine can increase the level of creatinine somewhat, and creatinine levels are measured to diagnose problems with the liver or kidneys.
But just because creatine leads to slightly higher creatinine levels does not mean that it causes liver or kidney problems.
3. Creatine Leads to Digestive Issues
Lots of health supplements for muscle-builders lead to various digestive problems like bloating or diarrhea. So creatine may have the same side effects, right? Well, this is not quite accurate.
It’s true that taking too much creatine can lead to an increased risk of diarrhea. Your chances of getting diarrhea go up by 37% when you take a dose of 10g.
But that’s why doses are set to only 3 to 5 grams. At this level, creatine causes no increased risk of diarrhea at all.
Even when you’re loading 20g of creatine a day, you can just take 5g with 4 servings over the course of the day and you’d have no problems.
So yes, if you take too much creatine then diarrhea may be a side effect. But that’s like saying that too much water can lead to death—which is actually true when you drown.
The other problem, though, has to do with low-quality creatine offered by unknown manufacturers.
Who knows what ingredients they’ve mixed in with their supplement? You’re not even sure that it contains creatine at all.
That’s why you need to make sure you’re buying from a respected creatine manufacturer.
4. Creatine Leads to Dehydration and Cramps
Since people gain weight right at the start with creatine due to the increased water content in muscle cells, some think that this may lead to dehydration and cramps.
But the fact is that this shift cellular water content is actually minor. So these supposed negative side effects of creatine don’t actually happen.
In addition, there have been no studies (among the thousands) that indicate that creatine use does lead to dehydration. In fact, some studies contradict this theory.
One study lasted 3 years and involved college athletes. Afterward, it was found that the group of students who took creatine ended up with fewer cases of dehydration, or other muscle injuries and muscle cramps.
This creatine group also missed fewer workouts, practices, and games due to injury or illness.
What about working out in the heat? That can normally increase the risk of dehydration and cramping. But various studies show that creatine didn’t cause dehydration in this scenario either.
Another study, in fact, indicated that creatine can actually reduce the chances of cramping. This was discovered in a study involving patients undergoing hemodialysis.
This treatment can cause muscle cramps, but it turned out that the patients on creatine had cramping incidents reduced by 60%!
5. Creatine and Compartment Syndrome
Compartment syndrome refers to a condition when there’s too much pressure in the muscle compartment.
Since muscle cells retain more fluid with creatine supplementation, and muscle tissues suddenly become larger, shouldn’t compartment syndrome become a side effect of creatine use?
Some reports cite the case of a single bodybuilder who used creatine and then developed acute compartment syndrome.
But it turned out that he was using 25g a day, which is too much.
So nobody knows if the bodybuilder develops compartment syndrome because they used too much—or if it was due to some other supplement or incorrect training methods.
6. Creatine Supplementation Leads to Rhabdomyolysis
Rhabdomyolysis is the severe breakdown of skeletal muscle because of an injury. It often comes with elevated creatine kinase levels.
Now the New York Times published an article saying that rhabdomyolysis developed in some high school players due to creatine supplementation.
The article somehow didn’t mention that rhabdomyolysis can happen when a player exercises too much in a hot humid climate, especially when this continues for several days.
That’s what these athletes were doing. In fact, none of these players even indicated that they were taking creatine at all.
No such finding has even been backed by a real scientific study. It’s true that creatine elevates creatine kinase levels, but not to the level associated with rhabdomyolysis.
Again, because of creatine’s effect of increasing water retention, it’s more likely that creatine helps prevent rhabdomyolysis.
What about Creatine and Drug Interactions?
Many supplements warn users that they should consult with their doctors first before using the supplement.
This is especially true when they’re taking prescription medication. So this should be true with creatine as well, shouldn’t it?
Well, it’s always a good idea. This is especially true if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you have a major health problem like cancer or heart disease.
You can’t always be sure that creatine will affect how your medication will work.
Since creatine can enhance blood sugar management, you should talk to your doctor about using creatine when you’re also taking drugs that affect your blood sugar.
You may also want to avoid creatine when you’re taking drugs for liver or kidney problems—just so you won’t blame creatine when something and happens.
In the end, creatine has proved to be among the safest health supplement around. This has been verified by thousands of studies and by the many people who have taken it.
You may or may not be convinced about its effectiveness—but you shouldn’t worry about its safety.
Its safety profile is simply excellent, and the stories about the negative side effects of creatine are simply stories. They’re fiction, but certainly not fact.