Creatine Side Effects

What Is Creatine?

creatine side effectsCreatine is an organic compound, a nitrogenous organic acid that can be found in all vertebrates one Earth. Its primary function is to bring the necessary supply of energy to cells, especially to the muscle cells. Despite what most people think, creatine IS NOT a steroid.

The main source of creatine found in human diet is meat. Also, cows’ milk has a high content of creatine.

In human body, creatine is synthesized from 3 main aminoacids: L-methionine, L-arginine and glycine. It forms in our liver and kidneys and it’s taken via bloodstream, to the muscle tissue. In our body, muscle tissue stores cca 95% of the amount of creatine.

Although creatine is not an essential, life-supporting nutrient, it’s used on a large scale by many athletes, especially bodybuilders or sprinters to increase their muscle mass. The average athlete that is on a “creatine diet”, consumes around 3 times the normal amount of this compound, than the amount contained by a diet with a high contents of protein.

National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), as well as the International Olympic Committee allow the consumption of creatine, for increased athletic performance. There is no solid reason to ban this organic compound and currently there isn’t any effective method to detect the supplemental use of creatine.

Creatine isn’t used only for athletic performance improvement. It’s also used for Parkinson’s disease, gyrate atrophy, congestive heart failure, high levels of cholesterol, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and even depression. Creatine is also used in some cases to delay hyperglycemia.

Creatine Side Effects

There aren’t many side effects related to the intake of creatine. And some of the adverse effects that were thought to occur due to the consumption of this ergogenic supplement, were never based on any scientific proof. Also, recent studies have shown no significant side effects in healthy individuals that take an average of 5g or creatine orally per day.

The most common concerns related to creatine use were diarrhea and muscle cramping. However, studies have shown that none of these adverse effects are related to the consumption of creatine. There is a more solid explanation regarding these two so called creatine side effects. Since athletes put their muscles to a lot of stress, sooner or later muscle cramps will show up. Also, no matter what energetic diet you’re at, you’ll still have to consume food whether or not you’re taking creatine, because creatine is not a nutrient. So, diarrhea may occur due to the consumption of various other foods. Plus, many athletes consume their own cocktails of supplements, combining them with milk, which may induce diarrhea or gastrointestinal distress.

Two other creatine side effects were also refuted after various studies. These are dehydration and thermoregulation. According to one study, 10 healthy, heat-acclimatized and physically active males were put on a test consisting in low and high intensity exercises, in a 60% humidity, 35°C environment. For the first week they were administered 5g of a placebo, and for the next week the placebo was replaced with 5g of creatine monohydrate. The creatine monohydrate produced a notable increase in the body weight. And the exercise produced an increased loss of water to the subjects, an increased core temperature and changes in the plasma. However, results were pretty much similar. There were no significant thermoregulations or dehydration between the placebo and creatine. The athletic performance of the subjects under the effects of creatine was improved though, especially their sprint performance.

Creatine use was also thought to induce kidney damage, to be more specific, interstitial nefritis. However, recent studies have shown that moderate long-term intake of creatine (3-5g per day) is safe to take and has no impact on the kidneys whatsoever. Although there are little or no kidneys or liver creatine side effects, it’s recommended that if you have a liver or kidney disease, or history with a kidney or liver disease, to use creatine supplements with caution.

About Creatine Use

Most bodybuilders and athletes that supplement their diet with creatine start with a phase of “creatine loading”. This period usually lasts between one and two weeks, and the usual daily dose is 20-25 grams of creatine.

Creatine is rather quickly consumed by the body. Usually a dose persists in the human system for up to 3 hours.

To maintain a peak plasma level of creatine at all times, during the “creatine loading” phase, it’s best that the daily dose of 20 or 25 grams to be split in 4-5 smaller doses, taken every 3-6 hours. For example, if you set your loading up creatine dose at 25 grams, you should take it in 5 doses of 5 grams.

Once the loading up period has expired, maintaining a high plasma level of creatine is not necessary. A dose of 5 grams per day is enough, in fact it’s the standard amount that most athletes take.

It’s said that certain agents, like coffee and citrus fruits juice diminish the absorption of creatine, so if taking this supplement it’s best not to drink coffee and/or orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime or tangerine juice. However, there’s no scientific study to support this theory. It may as well be false.

On the other hand, taking mixing creatine with various juices, rich in carbohydrates, on an empty stomach, will enhance its absorption. That’s because carbohydrates are broken down in glucose into your system, which will stimulate the emission of insulin. Insulin helps the transfer of the creatine to the muscle tissue.

Since there isn’t any scientific information regarding the effects of creatine during pregnancy or during breast-feeding, this ergogenic supplement can’t be recommended. However, it is known that human milk has a lower content of creatine than cows’ milk.

Conclusions:

Creatine is in general, a safe supplement to take for athletic performance improvement. Taken in normal doses of 20g/day for load up, and 5g/day for post-load up, has a very low chance to enable any creatine side effects. In fact, this ergogenic supplement hardly has any side effects. However, it’s recommended to be taken with caution to people that have a history of kidney and liver disease.