As a newcomer in the fitness world, one of the first questions you may have is what supplements should you be taking. If you ask a lot of people, one frequently mentioned supplement is creatine.
Now, some people will tell you that it is safe and absolutely necessary that you take creatine, but others will tell you that it is harmful to your body, more specifically to your kidneys. You do not want to be taking something that will hurt your body, but you want to get results.
So, who should you believe? Is creatine safe? Well, let’s take a look at what science has to say.
What Is It?
Before we get into the specifics, I think it is important to learn what exactly creatine is. I am not going to go into a long discussion about what it does, its benefits, and dosages because there are many articles already written on this topic.
The main point I want to bring to your attention is that creatine is a compound that is found/produced in the body and used to give energy to your muscles. Creatine is produced in our livers, and most of it gets stored in our skeletal muscles (5).
Our bodies can only contain a certain amount of creatine, meaning it will only be effective up to a point (1). Basically, if you are consistently taking creatine, your body will eventually become saturated and maintain those levels, so there is no need to be taking a lot (more than 10 grams) of creatine a day.
Now, you may be wondering if you should be taking creatine, but you have heard that it is bad for your body, an in particular, your kidneys.
Is this true, does creatine really harm your body? To answer that, let’s take a look at what the studies have shown…
If you are a healthy individual and take creatine in moderate doses, then you should not worry about harming your kidneys.
Some people think that creatine could harm your kidneys, liver, or your heart function, but there has not been any conclusive evidence connecting high doses of creatine and any negative effects (1).
If you have healthy kidneys, then you should not worry about developing any adverse effects to your kidneys from taking creatine.
A review of 12 different studies on the effect of creatine on kidney function concluded that creatine supplementation “appears safe when used by healthy adults” when taking appropriate amounts (6). There was even a study done that gave an individual with only one, slightly damaged kidney 20 grams of creatine a day, 15 grams more than what is generally recommended, and no problems arose (2).
Of course, there is a slight caveat to this information. In people with already impaired kidney function, negative effects are possible (2). So, with this in mind, it is important to know your health history and any conditions you may have before beginning to take creatine, or any supplement in general.
Where Did These Ideas Come From?
You might be thinking, “Well, I heard this from a person I trust, and if some people think that there could be side effects, then there must be a little chance that something bad could happen.” I completely understand this perspective, because only a couple of years ago I was under this opinion as well.
I remember listening to my Wellness teachers in school tell us about the “dangerous supplement” creatine and how it is really bad for you, and that is what I began to believe. Once I started to do my own research, I found that this was far from the truth.
Okay, if creatine is as safe as it is claimed to be, then how did the idea of kidney problems arise. Well, one possible explanation is that when you ingest creatine, it causes your levels of creatinine, which is formed after creatine is metabolized, to rise. This substance, creatinine, is a “diagnostic criteria for kidney problems”, so supplementing creatine causes a false reading for kidney problems (2). This explains how the rumor that creatine causes kidney problems was started.
Another common source of the idea that creatine is harmful to your kidneys, and one that I have personally heard used to cast creatine in a bad light, stems from the death of rugby player Jonah Lomu. Lomu died unexpectedly in 2015 from a heart attack which could have stemmed from his kidneys not functioning properly (3).
Soon after his death, a former teammate told sources that he believed that the creatine he and Lomu took while plying rugby could have been the cause of his problems, but Lomu’s personal doctor quickly denied this.
The doctor said that Lomu never took creatine and that his kidney condition was discovered before the reported creatine usage (4). This does bring up the point that if you do have a kidney condition, then creatine may be harmful to you and it is important that you talk to your doctor before taking any supplements – otherwise, there shouldn’t be any suspicion of danger.
Take Home Message
So, is creatine this big bad drug that will harm your kidneys?
In short, most likely not. There have been a multitude of studies done that have shown creatine to be safe and that it does not cause harm to normal functioning kidneys. Of course, if you have a pre-existing condition, then that could complicate matters and you would need to seek the supervision of a licensed physician.
I would also like to mention one final thing, and that is to do your own research. In this day and age, it is so easy to go online and really read into a topic, that there is no excuse to claim ignorance. Also, do not just take others word as fact, look into for yourself and make your own decisions when it comes to what you are putting into your body.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this site is intended for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for advice, diagnosis or treatment by a licensed physician.