Frank LoVecchio, D.O., is a medical toxicologist at the Banner Poison & Drug Information Center.
Question: Several of the guys on my wrestling team have started taking creatine supplements to enhance their performance. I’ve given this consideration, but have heard about side effects. What risks would I take?
Answer: Creatine supplements are used to presumably enhance athletic performance. Because it enhances energy production and increases the synthesis of muscle protein, creatine is a favorite supplement for body-builders. Creatine is currently not on the list of banned substances for professional or Olympic sports.
Some studies suggest that creatine enhances performance in short-duration, high-intensity exercise. No studies suggest that it enhances performance in endurance sports. Some studies suggest that creatine supplements combined with resistance training increased the maximal weight that young men (under 36 years old) were able to lift.
The adverse health effects have not been thoroughly studied, but to date no known toxicity or serious side effects have been found for most healthy individuals. That said, I would recommend you speak with your physician before adding this to your regimen. Creatine does cause elevation of serum creatinine, so individuals with renal or hepatic disease should use the supplement with caution.
Creatine may alter blood sugar levels in patients, especially diabetes. Individuals taking probenecid, cholesterol lowering drugs or diuretics may find increased side effects, dehydration and electrolyte disturbances.
Typical side effects of the supplement may include weight gain, sudden inflammation of the kidneys and more rapid progression of renal disease especially if pre-existing renal disease is present.
Creatine is better used by the body when taken with carbohydrates. Caffeine may block the presumed beneficial effects of creatine.