Creatine is an amino acid made by your liver, pancreas, and kidneys, and then delivered mainly to your brain and muscles. You can boost creatine intake by consuming more seafood and red meat. Creatine is also available as a popular supplement – typically as creatine monohydrate – used to support athletic performance and to grow muscle mass.
Creatine is essentially a source of energy for your cells that gets stored in your skeletal muscles as phosphocreatine. The phosphocreatine is then broken down during exercise and can serve as energy for muscle contractions. When you take creatine supplements, there’s more creatine available to your muscles. As a result, your body is able to build muscle more effectively, while also resisting fatigue, improving aerobic endurance, boosting strength, and more.
DHT is the shorthand for the hormone dihydrotestosterone. It’s derived from testosterone. (Look carefully: The word “testosterone” is actually tacked onto the word for DHT.) Testosterone is transformed into DHT by the functioning of an enzyme. DHT is what’s called an “androgen” – a sex hormone that’s associated with the growth – and sometimes the loss – of body hair. DHT also plays an important role in promoting prostate growth, sebaceous gland activity, and development of sexual reproductive organs in the embryonic stages.
There’s a reason you’re reading about DHT in an article about creatine and hair loss. It all comes back to one study: In 2009, a study was released that looked at the effects of three-week supplementation of male college rugby players with creatine monohydrate. The study reported a 56% increase in players’ DHT levels during the first week’s creatine loading phase; levels then remained at 40% above baseline levels. These increases in DHT were considered statistically significant compared to the control group.
There are some important caveats, however. First of all, this study did not measure actual hair loss. Secondly, the results of this study have not been replicated. Twelve other studies have looked at the effects of creatine supplementation on testosterone (which, as noted above, can be turned into DHT), and found no statistically significant increases. Finally, this study only focused on male subjects, so we have little knowledge as to whether the results would hold true for females.
No, creatine does not cause hair loss. The belief about creatine causing hair loss is nothing more than a common myth – a myth that has its roots in the one study mentioned above.
While DHT can contribute to hair loss, there’s been no replicated research to demonstrate that creatine boosts DHT beyond normal levels. While it’s possible that creatine supplementation could activate the enzyme responsible for transforming testosterone into DHT, exercise itself has been shown to boost androgenic hormone levels. No study has reported hair loss or baldness caused by creatine supplementation.
If you’re looking to boost athletic performance with a creatine supplement, but you’re worried about potential damage to your hair, fear not. There has been no research to support the claim that creatine can damage your hair.
Some have raised concerns about creatine’s potential to lead to increased body water retention, which can in turn lead to cramping or injury. Since creatine is an osmotically active substance, it stands to reason that increases in the body’s creatine content could lead to greater water retention. Fortunately, there’s not much evidence to support this notion. Several exercise training studies that have included creatine supplementation have shown no increases in total body water. One study did, however, show that people who took 20 grams of creatine per day for six days experienced some water retention. But the results of that study have regrettably been used to draw a faulty inference, which is that creatine leads to longer-term water retention problems. The truth is that the early signs of water retention are generally resolved over the longer term.
While there are some anecdotal accounts of creatine contributing to acne, the good news is that the science says otherwise. Yes, creatine has been linked to increases in DHT, a hormone that is sometimes associated with acne. But, as mentioned above, those who’ve experienced DHT increases while on creatine have still been within normal limits.
To date, there are no studies that have found a direct between creatine and acne. Acne has not been among the listed side effects for study subjects. We shouldn’t simply ignore the anecdotal accounts, but we should recall that there are more likely causes of acne, including stress, diet changes, and hormone changes.
A study that looked at creatine supplementation and the kidneys of athletes didn’t discover any adverse effects of creatine for those athletes who didn’t have any underlying kidney issues. However, researchers still recommend that people with pre-existing kidney issues avoid creatine.
Per the International Society of Sports Nutrition, creatine is generally safe and effective for adults, with minimal side effects reported. However, people with underlying kidney issues should avoid creatine. Adolescents, too, should use caution when using creatine, due to insufficient research. Adolescents should consult with a medical professional before proceeding.
Some common causes of hair loss include aging, childbirth, repeated tight hairstyles, frequent chemical treatments, and genetics. Studies have found that two major causes of hair loss are depleted iron stores and insufficient intake of the essential amino acid L-lysine.
If you find that you’re inexplicably losing large amounts of hair, you should consider talking to a medical professional. They’ll be able to do additional blood work and help you figure out the underlying cause.
Creatine is a safe and effective supplement for boosting athletic performance. While some have raised potential health concerns related to creatine supplementation, the available research suggests that creatine is very safe. Claims that creatine contributes to hair loss have not been borne out by the research. If you’re thinking about taking a creatine supplement, the prospect of losing hair doesn’t have to be one of your concerns.