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Creatine: What It Is, What It Does, and Its Side Effects

Posted By: Dr. Gary Bellman on July 14, 2017

Even if you’re not a weight lifter, you’ve undoubtedly heard of creatine, one of the most researched supplements.
 
It’s a combination of amino acids produced by the liver, kidney, and pancreas.
 
Creatine is not a steroid--
it’s naturally found in muscle, red meat and fish, though at far lower levels than in the powder form sold on bodybuilding websites and at your local GNC.
 
How does it work?
Creatine reduces fatigue by transporting extra energy into your cells.  For a muscle to contract, it breaks off a phosphate molecule from ATP.  As a result, ATP becomes ADP (adenosine diphosphate).  The problem: You can’t use ADP for energy, and your body only has so much stored ATP.  The fix: ADP takes a phosphate molecule from your body’s stores of creatine phosphate, forming more ATP.
 
If you have more creatine phosphate, (which you do if you take a creatine supplement) you may be able to work out longer and do sets of, say, eight reps instead of six.  Over weeks and months, that added workload allows you to add lean muscle mass, lift heavier weights, and become stronger.
 
But should you worry about side effects?  Does creatine cause you to lose weight when you stop it, or does it hurt your kidneys, like you may have heard?  Here are the key myths and facts you need to know.
 
Creatine can help you build muscle mass without hitting the gym. Myth.
It shows some improvement in kids with muscular dystrophy, even if they’re not exercising, [But] the best effect in healthy humans is seen when creatine is combined with resistance exercise training.
 
Creatine causes gastrointestinal upset. True—but it’s rare.  Studies show 5%-7% percent of people experience either stomach aches, diarrhea, or both.
 
Creatine causes weight gain. Fact.

It pulls H2O into your muscles, which causes water-weight gain and makes muscles look bigger initially. (You don’t actually gain muscle fibers until you work out.)  No two people will have the same results. 
 
Creatine doesn’t work well for everyone. True.
One major factor with creatine is that some people have high levels in muscle naturally.  Meat and fish eaters are less likely to respond than vegans, who have low levels in their diet. Your muscle makeup plays a factor as well.
 
Creatine users will lose muscle when they stop taking the supplement. Myth.
Your muscles may look smaller because creatine adds water volume.  The real question is, "Will you maintain your strength and muscle mass, dry muscle mass, when you discontinue the use of creatine?”  The answer to that is absolutely yes. Once you have built the muscle, as long as you continue to lift, you will maintain it.
 
You shouldn’t take too much creatine. Fact.
It's not logical to take more than 20 grams a day for a week max or seven grams a day for months.  There is no evidence that this would do anything more in terms of loading the muscle.  Anything in large quantities-- sugar, coffee, fat, protein, salt, taken in excess can lead to health issues.
 
What is the recommended method to take creatine?

You’ll see several different forms of creatine on your supplement store’s shelves. The one you want to purchase is creatine monohydrate. 
 
The fine print: See your doctor first if you have high blood pressure or diabetes, if you regularly take any prescription meds or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (which can tax the kidneys), if you’re over age 40 (since kidney function slowly declines after age 30), or if you have a history of kidney or liver disease.

For an appointment or consultation with Dr. Gary Bellman, please contact the office or call 818-912-1899



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