Creatine: A Questionable Supplement
Two of the greatest developments of supplements in the Industry for natural athletes is whey protein powder, and creatine. As time progressed, science evolved and certain supplements (creatine, whey protein, branch chain amino acids, etc) became more affordable to consumers. The price of whey protein became much cheaper and more accessible to consumers. Supplement companies started selling many different forms of creatine, all of which did the same thing: create an overall increase the lean muscle mass an individual puts on while exercising. It is one of the most effective supplements that any natural bodybuilder can take. So why are some people so worried about taking it? Creatine is often considered a questionable topic as people do not know what the side effects of taking the supplement are. Now, there are a few forms of creatine known, but in this case the creatine I will be talking about is creatine monohydrate. It’s one of the cheapest forms, and the most effective.
Creatine is a naturally occurring molecule produced in the body. It is commonly found in fish, meat, and is also made by the human body. We all manage to get creatine from eating food everyday, in fact, there is probably a small trace of it in your system right now. A study from Examine.com found that creatine stores phosphocreatine in the body, which is then released into the body, causing the strength increase after the use of creatine as a supplement. As far as athletic performance is concerned, creatine is one of the best supplements an athlete can take, next to protein. creatine is known to increase strength and lean muscle mass, and is found to be most effective in young adults. Creatine will heavily benefit weight lifters, as it provides strength improvements with short-duration exercises. Creatine’s strength benefits alone would make it great for football players. Over time, they would gain mass slightly better and be much stronger, fully utilizing their muscle’s potential. They would be more efficient on the field, and be much more alert. Most natural athletes will add about 5 to 10 pounds to their lifts each month with an optimal diet and training regime. creatine can in some cases increase that rate by 5 pounds, which is astounding for a non-anabolic supplement. Athletes will need to be careful with their dosage on these supplements, as there is a good medium with creatine and shouldn’t be misused. Athletes have the option to load creatine, taking up to 20g a day, spaced out over a period of up to 5 days, or could just take 5-10g a day. Any more than this amount in the maintenance phase is unnecessary and can lead to problems.
Another benefit to taking creatine is that it will increase the amount of work muscles will do. It puts more energy into the muscles as phosphocreatine, this energy becomes readily available during your workout, as long as creatine is present in the body. Many studies can back up this, as well as the fact that creatine has some long term health benefits as well. One of the minor effects creatine has is that it can increase an athlete’s overall aerobic ability. It can be shown to overall improve body function, as its design improves muscle energy, so not only are your muscles used in making you move receiving energy, all muscles(Heart, Kidney, lungs) are receiving this as well. While creatine benefits lifters the most, it also proven effective with those who have syndromes that involve issues metabolizing creatine. People suffering from these creatine deficiencies in their bodies, issues like mental retardation and movement disorders, if given creatine daily, can see vast improvements to their health. In a study done by WebMD, results showed that “taking creatine for up to 8 years seems to improve attention, language, and academic performance in children with the creatine deficiency syndrome called arginine-glycine amidinotrasferase (AGAT) deficiency.” Brain function will overall improve and seizures will begin to stop. Creatine can also be applied to the face in cream form for aging skin. In an article from MedlinePlus, a study reported that “Early research shows that applying cream containing creatine, guarana, and glycerol to the face daily for 6 weeks reduces wrinkles and skin sagging in men.” This can be used to treat older men and when combined with folic acid can revert sun damaged skin. If taken in the proper dosage of around 5g, it can be proven to be a great bodybuilding or athletic supplement.
Creatine supplementation can give the consumer many other great health benefits. Some studies have shown that creatine can counteract fatigue, very helpful in running and other sports that are cardio-intensive. This study tends to have mixed results, so it is safe to say that it can possibly benefit runners/sprinters. It also leads to the possible spike in testosterone levels, naturally of course. This increase in testosterone will undoubtedly benefit weight lifters, as it will ultimately increase strength and muscle mass. Creatine can also be used as a cure for traumatic brain injury patients, children and adolescents are shown to get reduced frequency of headaches when taking the supplement. Due to its strength increase and mass increasing nature, it can help treat people with diseases related to muscle weakness, like muscular dystrophy.
The controversy behind creatine and the effects it has on the body are directly related. Many people do not know the full story behind the supplement, mainly due to the media. They also could be suspicious of the studies that don’t have enough proof but are revealing some harmful effects in certain cases. However, science tends to lean towards the side that creatine is a great supplement, and should be taken by athletes to improve their sport. Some even recommend the supplement, like Kurtis Frank, a lead researcher writing for Examine.com says that “It’s safe, it’s healthy, it’s cheap, and for most people it just works.” Bodybuilders benefit the most from this supplement, but any exercise in general will utilize the effects of the supplement. As far as athletes are concerned, this will make them much stronger and more effective on the field, especially football players and wrestlers(due to the direct contact the sport entails). Creatine as a whole is an excellent supplement, and even though the NCAA does not allow the funding of schools to give their athletes creatine, they should take the initiative themselves to help better their abilities, and become a better athlete.
One of the major causes of creatine receiving a bad name may be due to the increasing reports of bodybuilders overdosing on supplements. In recent years, many bodybuilders taking creatine, and various harmful drugs, such as anabolics or synthetic oil, run the risk of dying at a younger age than normal. They obviously are using various unregulated anabolic substances, and due to the rising popularity from doing shows, the media focuses their attention on them. This brings lots of attention to what they’re taking(their “stacks”) and people freak out when they find out someone who was using creatine died of liver failure or a heart attack. This wasn’t as prominent until about the 80’s or 90’s, as anabolics(steroids) weren’t as potent or developed before. This increase of stacking supplements, led to the media reporting everything that they took. This ultimately led to creatine being looked at as a controversial supplement. Another leading cause could be that these bodybuilders were taking over the recommended dosages of creatine for exercise. A normal dose for someone who is taking creatine is about five grams per day. Bodybuilders have in some cases taken up to thirty grams per day, more than six times the recommended amount. Doing so can cause much worse side effects, and will ultimately tear up the liver. If the media started revealing the amounts they were taking, this could have lead to people getting too much and experiencing the harmful effects in high dosages.
Due to the recent popularity of the supplement, scientists began to start researching creatine to see if it is safe. The results were very mixed, as in some cases, creatine revealed many good effects on the body, while at the same time reporting many various harmful effects. Today, creatine is not allowed to be recommended or offered by coaches to athletes. In a study from the University of Maryland, a study reveals that the “NCAA prohibits its member schools from giving creatine and other muscle-building supplements to athletes, although it doesn’t ban athletes from using it.” Creatine itself is a very controversial supplement. For some reason, as creatine developed and became widely used, it gained a negative hype over time.This could also be due to the studies revealed by doctors and scientists, however, most studies can’t point to any detrimental side effects. The only major side effect only occurs if the consumer has a genetic trait for baldness, and in some cases can bring that trait out (speed up the balding process). This is greatly outweighed by the overwhelming support from scientists and numerous studies about its benefits.
So how can taking creatine make you go bald? One of the biggest issues surrounding the creatine supplement is that it can produce more DHT in the body. For those who don’t know, DHT is an androgen that gives males their male characteristics. Too much of this can lead to male pattern baldness, making creatine seem a little more harmful than it’s made out to be. In a study done by Stellenbosch University, rugby players were given creatine and had their androgens watched over a period of three weeks. The study astoundingly revealed that the athlete’s DHT levels sat at around 56% after seven days of creatine loading and around 40% above baseline during maintenance. This is quite a large jump from when the subjects were not taking creatine, and a scary amount to increase over such a small time period. This is a serious issue as this is a widely used supplement by many athletes and bodybuilders. This issue will affect the people who have the genetic trait for this indefinitely, as there early hair loss will come even sooner. This issue in young adults who take the supplement could branch off into other issues, like depression. With a serious condition like male pattern baldness, supplement companies should be warning their users and labeling their products to show this.
Another major side effect from taking creatine is that it is very water retentive. Depending on the dosage, creatine makes you retain water, generating an increase in body weight. Almost any dosage of creatine will make you water retentive, but the severity varies on the dosage. Due to this, if the user does not drink enough water, this can lead to stomach cramps. The fact that it adds on weight might not affect athletes, as they are constantly active and will probably be burning it off anyway, however, to the normal person this weight gain may be a problem. Another plausible side effect is the fact that creatine increases DHT in the body. This DHT increase can be linked to male pattern baldness, but make note that genetics play a key role in that as well. Depression may also come as a side effect of creatine, as it relates to serotonin. For those looking to lose weight, creatine may not be the supplement for you. In a study from the University of Louvain, “A review of the literature reveals a 1.0% to 2.3% increase in body mass, which is attributed to fat-free mass and, more specifically, to skeletal-muscle mass.” Some people will argue that creatine doesn’t affect weight loss or gain at all, but studies in most cases show that creatine adds weight. Creatine in athletes usually only adds about 2-5 pounds of weight varying per individual, but this can be seen as a negative effect for middle aged men and women who have difficulty losing weight, and don’t want to be excessively muscular. For bodybuilders and athletes, this will not be as big of an issue, as slimmer athletes will bulk up. This issue varies individual to individual, as some will care that they gained weight while with others it won’t even phase them. Regardless of what category you fall into, supplement companies make sure to label their products stating that water retention may occur and that you should drink lots of water while taking this supplement.
A serious issue is that in some studies, researchers found that in large doses it can cause kidney damage. This was found mostly in cases where the subject took an excessive amount of creatine(20+ grams a day). Another prominent issue with taking creatine is found in subjects with bipolar disorder. In a study from WebMD, researchers found that creatine causes people with bipolar disorder to have manic episodes, and can “make mania worse in people with bipolar disorder.” This also revealed that in high dosages can lead to diarrhea and severe dehydration. This issue is present as creatine forces the body to retain water weight. These issues were found when the user took more than 10 grams a day. On the labels of most creatine brands, it shows this and tells consumers not to exceed certain dosages, however, that doesn’t always stop them from doing so. Creatine leads to dehydration also can chain off into muscle cramping, which will greatly hinder your muscular strength and may often need to be massaged. These issues can cause dizziness in the gym, and in some cases people can black out from dehydration. The easiest way to prevent these symptoms from occurring is to drink lots of water while supplementing creatine. We can’t have our athletes passing out in the field. People will complain, games will have to be halted, and parents will freak out. But this for the most part can be avoided if used in normal dosages. Creatine, in a much larger dosage, can also lead to heart issues and liver issues as well. This will ultimately affect the athletes later in life, but early signs of issues such as heart palpitations could be present. These are the types of issues we don’t want our athletes to face, especially with their bodies under the high load from sports.
Another serious issue backed by this supplement is it’s links to depression. A study from examine.com says that creatine slightly decreases serotonin, a neurotransmitter found in the body. Serotonin can be linked to regulating a person’s mood or social behavior, and when there is a deficit, causes depression. This can really negatively affect athletes as if these symptoms take effect they can greatly hinder the player’s mindset and their performance, ultimately undoing the purpose of creatine altogether. This depression in time can also chain off into many other harmful side effects. Depression overall hinder a person’s willpower, and can lead to athletes losing interest in their sport. This is another reason why the NCAA banned creatine from being handed out, as they knew if these symptoms were to occur, there would be no games to watch, just a bunch of sad players in a field.
The main issue with creatine is deciding whether or not it’s possible side effects make it unsafe for athletes. One of the biggest issues is the fact that it could possibly enhance male pattern baldness, but only in those who have the genetic issue. Weighing out all of the pros and cons of taking the supplement, creatine really is more effective than it is harmful for the user. In the case of athletes, I argue it is beneficial for them. Even though it is prohibited by the NCAA to be given to athletes, I highly recommend that they take it as it will help them in their athletic careers. Studies vary in which set amount should be taken, like in a study done by the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, they recommend “a typical loading dose in exercise performance (for adults ages 19 and older): Take 5 g of creatine monohydrate, 4 times daily (20 g total daily) for 2 to 5 days maximum” with a “Maintenance dose in exercise performance (for adults ages 19 and older): Take 2 g daily.” While other studies like from Examine.com state that 5g is the optimal dosage. The best recommendation would be to take 5g a day, as a majority of studies point to this as the effective dosage. By just taking 5g a day, athletes will become much stronger and retain lean mass, not to mention the endurance benefits. In this case, such a small dosage minimizes any side effects, and probably will be the safest and most effective dosage. I personally have used creatine in this dosage for months, and reaped the rewards with no side effects whatsoever. It really matters what the dosage is, as the reasons behind why there are issues surrounding the supplement are due to the fact that people take such large dosages. Creatine as a whole has many good qualities, but after the research was done, also revealed many plausible bad qualities as well. Most of these issues are associated with incorrect dosages, but there are still some side effects present if correctly dosed. Not to mention, there will always be people who will carelessly take it, and think that by “taking more” it will just enhance the effects. Based on the fact that creatine can still be taken by athletes, but not given by coaches, athletes may still take creatine if they think it will help them. Yes, you are more susceptible to liver issues if you take 20g of creatine every day. You can also die from eating too much sugar in life, and get issues like heart disease. As it stands now, I understand why the NCAA had to step in, creatine is a supplement that if taken, must be taken correctly, and carefully.
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