Body image disorders are so commonly associated with girls and women that society often fails to recognize the pressure on men for healthy physical stature. As supplementation becomes increasingly prevalent among men trying to accumulate muscle mass for a stronger-looking appearance, more are turning to creatine, a performance-enhancing compound that has undergone minimal experimentation and research.
Thought to improve strength, increase lean muscle mass and help muscles recover more quickly, creatine has received mixed scientific reviews, according to articles on WebMD. While some studies have determined that creatine can help improve performance during short periods of athletic activity, no evidence proves that it helps with endurance sports, or that it is free of side effects.
Creatine has shown the potential to cause a number of side effects, including weight gain, anxiety, breathing difficulty and fatigue. Some users have reported diarrhea, fever, headache, kidney problems, nausea and rash. The odds of these effects occurring are increased when users exceed the recommended dose, also according to WebMD.
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In their quest for dramatic results, many consumers try to absorb vast amounts of the supplement rather than taking what is appropriate based on weight, age and training regimen. As described by the University of Iowa “Eat to Compete” website, high doses of creatine for prolonged periods will increase stress on the kidneys – the exact organs that must excrete the substance.
Additionally, because creatine can improve the explosive energy production of muscle cells without stimulating mechanical strength of muscles, ligaments and tendons, the possibility of muscle strains is thought to be a related consequence. Muscle strains result when the unusually powerful contractions produced in creatine-loaded muscles tear apart the not-yet-reinforced muscle cells and connective tissues, informed an article in Sports Performance Bulletin.
“The No. 1 risk with adolescent boys and girls taking creatine is tendon and ligament rupture due to bad training protocols and nutrition as they enter puberty and increased strength production due to increased hormone production,” explained Clint Fuqua, fitness trainer, health coach, speaker and author of the book Personal Health Care Reform. “Creatine will enhance strength gains and protect the muscle fibers at times due to the expense of other tissues that have a much slower repair rate and are under constant strain from the growing process until puberty ends.”
As reported in a study published in the British Journal of Cancer, testicular cancer risk is especially high in men who began taking creatine before age 25, who have used multiple supplements and who have been using creatine supplements for years. Tongzhang Zheng and coauthors linked muscle building supplements such as creatine to a higher likelihood of developing testicular cancer.
The Zheng study found that testicular cancer incidence rose to 5.9 cases per 100,000 men in 2011, compared to 3.7 cases in 100,000 in 1975. The researchers also found that men who used supplements had a 1.65 odds ratio (a 65% greater risk) of developing testicular cancer in comparison to men who did not use supplements.
“To err on the cautious side, young men using the supplements should at least be aware of the association and may indicate an even more pronounced need for them to be doing their monthly testicular exams,” stressed Mike Craycraft RPh, a cancer survivor who founded the Testicular Cancer Society.
Other Potential Dangers
In addition, certain medications appear to have negative results when paired with creatine, and therefore people who are being treated with these medications should consult a healthcare provider prior to taking the supplement. For example, research performed at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) found that taking creatine with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may increase the risk of kidney damage.
The center also suggests that caffeine may inhibit the body’s ability to use creatine while simultaneously increasing the risk for dehydration. Diuretics, cimetidine, probenicid and other kidney-targeting drugs moreover increase the risk for kidney damage. While further research is necessary, UMMC alerted that some physicians additionally believe creatine to be a cause of irregular heartbeat and the skin condition purpuris dermatosis, a group of chronic and relapsing dermatoses. Contaminated creatine supplements have been documented, causing further health concern in users.
“The problem with supplements is that they aren’t regulated. This can lead to contaminated products resulting in adolescents taking something unknown,” said Brandon Roberts, a doctoral student in muscle biology at the University of Florida.
Ultimately, while the potential risks of creatine could affect the health of users, insufficient research exists to firmly reach conclusions about harmful health outcomes. As the number of people using the supplement continues to rise, more research is needed to clearly identify its effects and side effects.
Lindsey Nolen is a staff writer. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.