Nutrition Myth 19: Creatine will damage your kidneys

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Creatine is one of the most widely-used supplements on the market, and one of the few whose effects are backed by evidence. Unfortunately, with it’s wide use and popularity, it has become subjected to many different myths - among them that it will cause kidney damage, hair loss and increase your testosterone levels. Each of these claims are either wrong, or highly unlikely at best (hair loss).

What we need to preface all of the explanations with is the fact that creatine is one of the most well and widely-researched supplements on the market - with the depth and breadth of research available, we can be pretty confident in our assessment of creatine’s effects on the human body. Most of the research indicates that creatine is safe (and effective) for long-term use, so it is not something we should be worried about taking.

Creatine assists in muscle development by allowing your body’s cells to regenerate ATP (an energy source) more easily. However, there is no strong evidence to suggest that it raises testosterone levels. There have been a few small studies showing a statistically significant (which is different from practically significant) increases to testosterone levels from taking supplemental creatine. However, there have been more studies, with a greater number of participants, have shown no effect on testosterone levels, even at creatine intakes of 25g (which is a lot of creatine). If you’re trying to optimise your testosterone levels, you are better off focusing on things such as sleep, exercise and your calorie intake.

Now, the myth about hair loss comes from an even weaker base of evidence - a single study which showed a small but significant increase in something called DHT (dihydrotestosterone). When DHT binds to DHT receptors on the hair follicles of the scalp, the follicles can shrink and stop growing hair. However, there is only this one study which has tested creatine’s effect on DHT. Very few studies have shown an increase in testosterone, however, and it is unlikely (but possible) that DHT increases without testosterone increasing.

So, it is technically possible that creatine supplementation could have an effect on hair loss - but it is highly unlikely to be the case. So lads, don’t start blaming creatine for your rapidly receding hairline!

Now, the myth you are most likely to have heard about creatine is it’s potentially damaging effects on your kidneys. Now, this comes from the fact that blood levels of creatinine are used as an indicator for kidney function, but elevated levels from supplemental creatine aren’t sign that your kidneys are not functioning optimally.

What all of the current evidence (of which there is plenty) suggests is that there is no potential harm from creatine in healthy individuals. In fact, studies have shown no adverse effects to kidney function in individuals taking up to 10 grams of creatine per day (both short-term and long-term trials show this). Studies on creatine levels of 10-25g have shown no short-term adverse effects (though long-term studies are very few in number, so we should be cautious of such high levels.

Even individuals with less-than-optimal kidney function taking up to 5 grams of creatine per day have exhibited no adverse effects, though studies of such individuals are very few, so again we should be cautious. Essentially, any healthy individual, with no pre-existing kidney issues, should not be worried about taking creatine on a regular, long-term basis. It will improve recovery, and aid you in building both muscle size and strength. An intake of 3-10g per day is perfectly safe and effective, and would be what is usually recommended.