Adverse Effects of Creatine Supplementation

Fact or Fiction?

Abstract

The consumption of oral creatine monohydrate has become increasingly common among professional and amateur athletes. Despite numerous publications on the ergogenic effects of this naturally occurring substance, there is little information on the possible adverse effects of this supplement. The objectives of this review are to identify the scientific facts and contrast them with reports in the news media, which have repeatedly emphasised the health risks of creatine supplementation and do not hesitate to draw broad conclusions from individual case reports.

Exogenous creatine supplements are often consumed by athletes in amounts of up to 20 g/day for a few days, followed by 1 to 10 g/day for weeks, months and even years. Usually, consumers do not report any adverse effects, but body mass increases. There are few reports that creatine supplementation has protective effects in heart, muscle and neurological diseases. Gastrointestinal disturbances and muscle cramps have been reported occasionally in healthy individuals, but the effects are anecdotal. Liver and kidney dysfunction have also been suggested on the basis of small changes in markers of organ function and of occasional case reports, but well controlled studies on the adverse effects of exogenous creatine supplementation are almost nonexistent.

We have investigated liver changes during medium term (4 weeks) creatine supplementation in young athletes. None showed any evidence of dysfunction on the basis of serum enzymes and urea production. Short term (5 days), medium term (9 weeks) and long term (up to 5 years) oral creatine supplementation has been studied in small cohorts of athletes whose kidney function was monitored by clearance methods and urine protein excretion rate. We did not find any adverse effects on renal function.

The present review is not intended to reach conclusions on the effect of creatine supplementation on sport performance, but we believe that there is no evidence for deleterious effects in healthy individuals. Nevertheless, idiosyncratic effects may occur when large amounts of an exogenous substance containing an amino group are consumed, with the consequent increased load on the liver and kidneys. Regular monitoring is compulsory to avoid any abnormal reactions during oral creatine supplementation.

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Acknowledgements

We are indebted to the Direction Générale des Sports (Communauté Française de Belgique) for their support and to Flamma SpA (Italy) who provided the creatine monohydrate. We also thank Mrs F. Louppe-Reding, Mrs V. Godaert and Mr J. Michotte de Welle for their efficient technical help.

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Correspondence to Professor Jacques R. Poortmans.

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Poortmans, J.R., Francaux, M. Adverse Effects of Creatine Supplementation. Sports Med 30, 155–170 (2000). https://doi.org/10.2165/00007256-200030030-00002

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Keywords

  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Creatine
  • Myofibrillar Protein
  • Creatine Supplementation
  • Muscle Cramp