Warning teens against creatine: Supplement is 'loaded with risk'
By Dr. Helen Minciotti | Columnist
Published: 8/3/2009 12:10 AM
He was quick to deny using any bodybuilding steroids, but the young teen did admit to a desire to try creatine.
His mother turned to me for help in persuading her son not to use the supplement. I emphasized that medical experts consider creatine a dangerous experiment for young athletes and caution against its use, as long-term side effects are unknown.
The boy was exceedingly polite during our conversation but I could tell that he was skeptical. After all, his go-to source of information - his friends - had already shared with him the suburban myth that creatine automatically turns all food eaten into bulging masses of new muscle.
I couldn't blame the kid. Who wouldn't want to try a powder that's supposed to magically transform any individual into a superb, well-built athlete, without the hassle of all that "proper nutrition and exercise" nonsense?
Well, it turns out nothing in life is that easy, and, in fact, creatine use not only fails to live up to its billing but is also loaded with risk. In fact, in a policy statement issued in 2005 and reaffirmed in 2008, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness "-strongly condemns the use of performance-enhancing substances and vigorously endorses efforts to eliminate their use among children and adolescents."
The biggest problem is that creatine and other performance-enhancing products are medical "black holes," as they have not been formally studied in kids under 18 years of age. As a result, there are little to no safety data available to help young athletes make informed decisions regarding use of these uncontrolled substances. And who would want to take a drug, whether over-the-counter or prescribed, without first knowing its safety profile, its cost-benefit ratio, or its long-term effects?
What is known, AAP experts point out, is that creatine does not enhance endurance for distance events and does not increase strength. Ingesting creatine can lead to an increase in weight, but this increase is found to be largely due to gains in water weight.
Creatine's recognized negative side effects include stomach and muscle cramps, dehydration, and in some cases involving high dose use, kidney overload. Specialists at the University of Maryland Medical Center also warn of a further increased risk of renal damage if creatine is taken in conjunction with the heartburn medication cimetidine (Tagamet), diuretic medications, or the more commonly used NSAIDs or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen.
Despite creatine's reported side effects and lingering questions regarding its long-term safety, the Maryland team notes that Americans spend an incredible 14 million dollars on this substance each year.
In addition, a New York study published in the journal Pediatrics in 2001 reveals that 28 percent of college athletes admit to creatine use. Six percent of 10- to 18-year-old athletes also take creatine, and while all grades have some level of involvement, it is the high school seniors who have the dubious distinction of reaching the highest rate of creatine use, at 44 percent of athletes in their class.
The New York researchers also established that creatine use is more common in boys than in girls, and is taken most often by athletes involved in football, wrestling, hockey, gymnastics and lacrosse.
Ã¢?Â¢ Dr. Helen Minciotti is a mother of five and a pediatrician with a practice in Schaumburg. She formerly chaired the Department of Pediatrics at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights.