Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?

Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?

CREATINE IS A useful tool if you’re looking to gain muscle. As with many supplements, it has its side effects. But for this one, hair loss is not one of them.

Creatine is a compound that’s both in meat products and derived naturally in the body, and it assists in muscle building function. Supplementing with it has been proven to promote muscle growth when paired with a weight training routine. And, it’s incredibly safe—the few side effects of supplementing with creatine, including muscle cramps and dehydration, have all been anecdotal.

So why does everyone keep spreading the rumor that creatine causes hair loss?

Partly because hair loss is a chief concern among most men. Nearly 70 percent of men will experience it at some point in their lives, according to the Cleveland Clinic—and it’s mostly due to your genetic makeup. Protecting whatever hair you have left means steering clear of whatever could possibly worsen it. Creatine was thought to be one of those threats for a long time.

Substantial new research has since proved that myth wrong. According to exercise physiologist Jose Antonio, Ph.D., of Nova Southeastern University, “Creatine’s been the subject of more than 500 scientific studies. No other food or dietary supplement has as much supportive data.”

And, out of all of that data, nothing has pointed to hair loss being a side effect of taking creatine. Research remains ongoing, but “the current body of evidence does not indicate that creatine causes hair loss or baldness,” says Antonio.

Does creatine cause hair loss?

The hair-loss rumor stems from a single study conducted in 2009 in South Africa in which a group of college-aged rugby players took creatine every day for three weeks. The study showed a “statistically significant” increase in the participants’ levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT), the testosterone byproduct that, in high concentrations, can shrink hair follicles, shorten the hair growth cycle, and cause hair to thin.

However, according to Antonio—who, along with an internationally renowned team of researchers, reviewed the most common creatine misconceptions for the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition—none of the rugby players in the study actually experienced hair loss as a result of taking the supplement. What’s more, the people in the study who received the creatine started out with baseline DHT levels 23% lower than the placebo group, and their measured increase in DHT “remained well within normal clinical limits.” In other words, their DHT levels started out low and they stayed low. “‘Statistically significant’ is not the same thing as physiologically meaningful,” Antonio says.

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Twelve other clinical trials have examined the effects of creatine supplements on testosterone, and, so far, none have replicated the findings of the South African study. Nevertheless, the study made its way to social media and the creatine-causes-hair-loss rumor was born.

What is creatine, anyway?

Creatine is simply an amino-acid derivative. It helps create and store the molecule phosphocreatine (PCR), which the muscles use to generate energy for low-duration, high-intensity exercise. Antonio laments creatine’s bad rap. “I’ve been taking it for 25 years,” he says.

He cites studies showing that creatine may help improve memory and brain function and benefits patients with neuromuscular diseases, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injury. The supplement may even help limit the amount of damage from a concussion. Creatine may also work synergistically with exercise to slow, and perhaps even reverse, age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia).

What does creatine have any other side effects?

Creatine isn’t FDA approved as a drug, but it is designated as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the Food and Drug Administration. If used correctly, creatine doesn’t have many side effects other than some weight gain, though usually in the form of lean muscle mass.

There have been a small number anecdotal reports of kidney damage, blood sugar concerns, heart problems, muscle cramps and pulls, dehydration, and diarrhea. But, there’s been no evidence that those symptoms were caused by creatine itself, and not something else.

A study in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that caffeine may make creatine less effective, though more research is needed. Leslie Bonci, R.D., sports dietitian for the Kansas City Chiefs, cautions that creatine may not work for everyone. Since creatine is a naturally occurring organic compound in most meats and fish, Bonci says creatine supplements may be more beneficial for vegetarians “who don’t already consume creatine as part of their daily diets.”

Any guy thinking about adding creatine to his diet should visit a reputable health-food or vitamin-and-nutrition store, says MH dermatology advisor Adnan Nasir, M.D. The supplement is available as a powder, tablet, energy bar, or drink mix. Discover how to buy an effective creatine supplement here.

Men with underlying kidney disease should consult a doctor before coming home with a barrel of powder. And stick to the recommended amount: typically 3 to 5 grams a day. Guzzling 20 grams at a time isn’t going to turn you overnight into the Hulk. Creatine is water soluble, which means if you take too much, you’ll literally be flushing your money down the toilet. At least you can be pretty sure that creatine won’t cause you to find your hair around the shower drain.

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David McGlynn

David McGlynn’s writing has appeared in numerous places including _The New York Times, Best American Sports Writing, and Real Simple. He’s also the author of One Day You’ll Thank Me: Lessons from an Unexpected Fatherhood. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Headshot of Cori Ritchey, C.S.C.S.

Cori Ritchey, NASM-CPT is an Associate Health & Fitness Editor at Men’s Health and a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor. You can find more of her work in HealthCentral, Livestrong, Self, and others.

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