Creatine Benefits And Risks

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creatine benefitsWhat is Creatine?

You may have heard of the popular supplement called creatine. Creatine is a naturally-occurring amino acid (building block of protein) that's found in meat and fish, and also made by the human body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It occurs in highest concentrations in skeletal muscle, with lesser amounts in cardiac and smooth muscle, brain, kidney and spermatozoa. It is converted into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine and stored in the muscles, where it is used for energy. During high-intensity, short-duration exercise, (sprinting, lifting weights), phosphocreatine is used as a fuel reserve to generate ATP, a major source of energy within the human body.

 Americans are spending over $14 million on this supplement annually. So, you may be wondering what the hype is all about. Many athletes are attracted by the belief that it may increase lean muscle mass and enhance athletic performance. Creatine monohydrate is the most commonly used form, especially for body builders and competitive athletes. The consensus opinion is that there are some benefits and truth to this belief, especially during high-intensity, short-duration sports (like sprinting, jumping, and lifting weights). Creatine is a naturally-occurring amino acid (protein building block) that's found in meat and fish, and also made by the human body in the liver, kidneys, and pancreas. It is converted into creatine phosphate or phosphocreatine and stored in the muscles, where it is used for energy. This comes in handy during high-intensity, short-duration exercise, such as lifting weights or sprinting.

However, not all human studies show that creatine improves athletic performance. Nor does every person seem to respond the same way to creatine supplements. For example, people who tend to have naturally high stores of creatine in their muscles don't get an energy-boosting effect from extra creatine. Vegans typically have significantly lower levels of creatine stores, and could also benefit from supplementation. (


Also, it is important to mention there are some risks associated with using creatine. Most studies have found no significant side effects at the most commonly recommended dosage of 5g/day. A single 5g dose corresponds to the creatine content of 1.1kg of fresh, uncooked
steak. ) It is worth mentioning that dosing isn't well studied, and many studies recommend "loading" initially with high doses and then maintaining the creatine concentration in plasma with 5g/day. Here are the potential side effects:

  1. Weight gain
  2. Muscle cramps
  3. Muscle strains and pulls
  4. Stomach upset
  5. Diarrhea
  6. Dizziness
  7. High blood pressure
  8. Liver dysfunction
  9. Kidney damage

    People with kidney disease, high blood pressure, or liver disease should not take creatine.

Creatine Benefits - Athletic performance

Most human studies have taken place in laboratories, not in people actually playing sports. Preliminary studies show that creatine supplements improve strength and lean muscle mass during high-intensity, short-duration exercises, such as weight lifting. In these studies, the positive results were seen mainly in young people, around 20 years old. Researchers often hypothesize that it may allow the body to use fuel more efficiently during exercise and increase muscle production. For example, scientific studies have observed that participants who were dosed with creatine were able perform a greater number of reps than controls. Studies also show "an increased rate of phosphocreatine resynthesis between reps and sets. These positive effects were attributed to an increased total creatine pool resulting in more rapid adenosine triphosphate (ATP) regeneration between resistance training sets allowing athletes to maintain a higher training intensity and improve the quality of the workouts along the entire training period." "Regardless of the form, supplementation with creatine has regularly shown to increase strength, fat free mass, and muscle morphology with concurrent heavy resistance training more than resistance training alone." (


Studies show that 1 hour after receiving the recommended 5g of creatine, creatine reached peak concentration in plasma. Therefore, the optimal time to use is 1 hour before intense exercise. (

Creatine does not seem to improve performance in exercises that requires endurance, like running, or in exercise that isn't repeated, although study results are mixed.

Bigger Picture:

Besides simply helping you hit a new personal record or supporting your goal of gaining muscle, recent studies indicate a potential bigger picture upside to creatine supplementation. In fact, preliminary clinical studies suggest that creatine's ability to increase muscle mass and strength may help fight muscle weakness associated with several serious illnesses including heart disease muscular dystrophy.

Heart disease

Preliminary studies suggest that creatine supplements may help lower levels of triglycerides (fats in the blood) in men and women with high concentrations of triglycerides.

In a few studies of people with heart failure, those who took creatine in addition to receiving standard medical care, increased the amount of exercise they could do before becoming fatigued, compared to those who took placebo. Getting tired easily is one of the major symptoms of heart failure. One study of 20 people with heart failure found that short-term creatine supplementation in addition to standard medication helped to increase body weight and improved muscle strength. Other studies, however, showed no improvement.

Creatine has also been reported to help lower levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is associated with heart disease, including heart attack and stroke.


Preliminary studies suggest that creatine may have anticancer properties.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

One study found that people with COPD who took creatine increased muscle mass, muscle strength and endurance, and improved their health status compared with those who took placebo. They did not increase their exercise capacity. More research is needed.

Muscular dystrophy

People who have muscular dystrophy may have less creatine in their muscle cells, which may contribute to muscle weakness. One study found that taking creatine led to a small improvement in muscle strength. However, other studies found no effect.

Parkinson's disease

People with Parkinson's disease have decreased muscular fitness, including decreased muscle mass, muscle strength, and increased fatigue. One study found that giving creatine to people with Parkinson's disease improved their exercise ability and endurance. In another study, creatine supplements boosted participants' moods and reduced their need for medication compared to those who didn't take creatine. More research is needed.

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease)

Creatine appears to slow the progression of ALS and improves patients' quality of life. More research is needed.

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