Side Effects of Creatine – What Should You Be Looking Out For?

“…the evidence is not definitive and/or it is incomplete to indict the practice of creatine supplementation as a health risk; at the same time, our lack of information cannot be taken as an assurance the Cr supplementation is free from health risks. Ignorance provides little comfort of untoward effects yet to be discovered.” – American College of Sports Medicine Roundtable; Physiological and Health Effects of Oral Creatine Supplementation, 2000

Creatine side effects?!  Should you be worried?

You should know how does creatine work and does creatine work for everyone.  If not, re-read those posts before you learn about the possible bad effects of creatine that you may experience when taking this particular sports supplement.

First medical advice… creatine can be produced by your body.  It is a combination of 3 amino acids.  ATP is energy and creatine is critical in energy production.

Second …the majority of creatine’s accepted negative effects can be avoided if you follow the recommendations set forth in this blog or the supplement reference guide.

But with all supplements, there are possible negative effects of creatine.

Possible Side Effects of Creatine

  • stomach pain
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • muscle cramping
  • harm to kidney, liver, or heart functions
  • stroke risk when combing with caffeine or herb ephedra (also called Ma Huang)
  • a skin condition called pigmented purpuric dermatosis
  • dehydration
  • water weight gain
  • increase the production of formaldehyde

Why would anybody in their right mind want to take a sports supplement with a list like the one above?

Take a deep breath because none of the negative effects of creatine listed above have been linked to anything conclusive that makes a direct correlation.   You can gain some water weight while taking creatine.  That’s because the cells retain more water (volumization) during their use.  If you take too much creatine (dosages beyond 20 grams per day) you can experience some stomach discomfort.  5 to 7 percent of people experience either stomach aches, diarrhea, or both. It’s much better to follow the recommended guidelines.  Taking more product beyond the muscle’s ability to store it will not help.

What Happens When You Stop Creatine?

When we use creatine, we cause changes in our creatine levels (especially in muscle mass), which leads to the well-known increase in creatine in your blood (and therefore, creatine storage in your muscles) and resistance to L-citrulline in your muscles. So, the decrease in L-citrulline observed in strength athletes on creatine supplementation may be the result of a decrease in creatine stores in your muscles. In strength athletes, creatine is converted to L-citrulline. So, if you exercise too hard, you may cause a depletion of creatine monohydrate stores and a reduction in L-citrulline in your muscles, which results in decreased strength. We can test for this with an amino acid absorption assay.

What is Creatine in the Body?

Creatine is a water-soluble essential salt that works by increasing the energy levels of the muscles. In more scientific terms, creatine aids muscle power by increasing the amount of energy in the muscles. Your body does not manufacture creatine; however, it is ingested as a supplement. Creatine supplements are very useful for people who need to improve the speed of their body, such as sprinters, distance runners, weightlifters, and the army. It is also useful for people who have been on a strict weight-loss regimen and lack stamina, such as endurance athletes with high-intensity workouts in the long term.

Below are the guidelines of how much creatine you should take to get the benefits you are looking for: Injuries to the muscles can be prevented by increasing the energy levels in your muscles against muscle dystrophy. By increasing the energy levels in your muscle dystrophy, you are ensuring that you have the ability to exercise performance more.

Preliminary clinical studies also suggest that creatine’s ability to increase muscle mass and strength may help fight muscle weakness associated with illnesses, such as heart failure and muscular dystrophy.

Should I Stop Creatine?

Creatine was created for a very specific purpose: to give the body a supplement that gives it a “boost” without causing a spike in blood sugar, which it was once believed to cause. As creatine becomes more widely known, more users are asking about whether they should stop taking creatine in the short-term. You should start with creatine and slowly taper off because creatine can increase your blood pressure and slow down your metabolism.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Creatine OK to Take Everyday?

Creatine is safe to take daily for most individuals. Numerous studies have shown that regular creatine supplementation, within recommended dosage guidelines, is generally well-tolerated and does not pose any significant health risks. However, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement regimen, especially if you have any pre-existing medical conditions or concerns. While rare, some individuals may experience mild side effects such as stomach discomfort or bloating. It is advisable to drink plenty of water when taking creatine to help maintain hydration levels and minimize any potential digestive issues.

Can Creatine Boost Testosterone?

There is limited evidence to support the claim that creatine directly boosts testosterone levels. While creatine is a widely studied supplement known for its ability to enhance athletic performance and promote muscle growth, its effects on testosterone are not well-established. Some early studies suggested a potential link between creatine and increased testosterone levels, but subsequent research has not consistently replicated these findings. Therefore, it is more accurate to view creatine as a supplement that primarily affects cellular energy production rather than directly influencing testosterone levels.

What to Expect After Taking Creatine?

After starting creatine supplementation, several notable effects can be expected. Firstly, creatine helps improve athletic performance, particularly during high-intensity, short-duration activities like weightlifting or sprinting. This is because creatine enhances the body’s ability to generate energy rapidly, leading to increased strength, power, and overall exercise capacity. Additionally, creatine can promote muscle growth and size over time, especially when combined with resistance training. Some individuals may experience slight weight gain during the initial stages of supplementation due to water retention within muscle cells. However, it is important to note that individual responses to creatine can vary, and not everyone may experience the same effects.

How Does Creatine Make You Feel?

Creatine typically does not produce noticeable subjective effects or alter mood directly. Its primary mechanism of action is related to enhancing cellular energy production by replenishing ATP (adenosine triphosphate) levels in muscle cells. The effects of creatine are more physiological than psychological, meaning it primarily influences physical performance rather than emotional or mental states. However, due to the improved exercise capacity and potential muscle growth associated with creatine supplementation, individuals may experience a sense of increased strength and power during workouts, which can contribute to a positive overall mindset and improved confidence in athletic pursuits.

How Much Creatine is Safe for Kidneys?

Creatine is generally considered safe for the kidneys when used within recommended dosage guidelines. The majority of scientific studies have not shown adverse effects on kidney function with moderate creatine supplementation. The key factors to ensure safety for kidney health when using creatine are as follows:

  1. Recommended Dosage: The standard and widely accepted dosing regimen for creatine supplementation involves a loading phase of 20 grams per day (divided into four doses) for 5-7 days, followed by a maintenance phase of 3-5 grams per day. Staying within these guidelines helps minimize the risk of overburdening the kidneys.
  2. Hydration: Adequate hydration is essential when taking creatine. Maintaining proper fluid balance ensures that the kidneys can process and excrete waste products effectively. Drinking plenty of water helps prevent dehydration and minimizes any potential kidney stress.
  3. No Pre-existing Kidney Conditions: Individuals with pre-existing kidney conditions, such as chronic kidney disease, should exercise caution when using creatine. In such cases, consulting a healthcare professional is highly recommended to assess whether creatine supplementation is appropriate.
  4. Regular Monitoring: If an individual is concerned about kidney health or has a history of kidney issues, it may be wise to have kidney function regularly monitored by a healthcare provider when using creatine supplements. This monitoring can help detect any changes in kidney function and address them promptly.
  5. Avoidance of Excessive Dosing: Excessive creatine intake beyond recommended levels may pose a risk to kidney health. It’s crucial to follow established guidelines and avoid “mega-dosing” to prevent potential strain on the kidneys.

In conclusion, creatine supplementation, when used responsibly and within recommended dosages, is generally considered safe for kidney health in healthy individuals. It is essential to maintain proper hydration, adhere to suggested dosage guidelines, and consult a healthcare professional if you have underlying kidney issues or concerns. The safety of creatine is well-documented, but individual responses and sensitivities can vary, so a personalized approach, especially for those with specific health conditions, is advisable.

Is Death a Side Effects of Creatine?

There have been some rare cases where creatine supplementation has resulted in death.  Those 2 cases are the rarest of exceptions.

Case #1:  Individual took much more than a normal dose for an extended period of time.  Well beyond 20 grams per day.

Case #2: The individual had a pre-existing renal (kidney) problem.

How to Avoid the Negative Effects of Creatine

This leads me to the following super simple safety guidelines.

  • Do not use creatine if you have pre-existing kidney problems
  • Do not use creatine if you cannot or will not stay properly hydrated.  This is a supplement that requires hydration
  • Do not use creatine if you are unwilling to calculate a proper creatine dosage
  • Do not use cheap, low-quality products

Creatine is one of the most well-researched and arguably significant in terms of overall health benefits next to protein and water.  Even though 20-30% of the population is not responsive to creatine supplementation, the proven benefits far outweigh the nonconclusive negative effects of creatine.

In fact, many have been disproved but are still listed as negative effects of creatine on thousands of websites.  Ge the facts on creatine and hundreds of other supplements by using the supplement goals reference guide.

Additional Resource:

WebMD – Uses and Side Effects of Creatine