Creatine is one of the most popular sport supplements, with an impressive amount of scientific evidence supporting its efficacy and safety across a broad range of sports and populations. It can improve performance, support muscle growth, and even benefit the brain. What’s more, it’s relatively inexpensive, tasteless, and you can take it any time. Too good to be true, right?
Despite the huge body of evidence showing that it’s safe for almost everyone — even in people that have pre-existing conditions — you’re not foolish to be concerned about potential side effects.
There’s a shockingly persistent claim that creatine supplementation can cause hair loss. As it turns out, that claim isn’t totally off base. But, fortunately, you don’t need to worry too much about losing your locks if you use creatine to bulk up or build strength. Here’s what the research actually shows.
Creatine and Hair Loss: How It Started
The misconception (or myth, really) about creatine and thinning hair is based on a 2009 study of 20 college rugby players. After a one-week loading protocol using 25 grams of creatine per day, the rugby players took 5 grams per day for two more weeks.
At the end of the study, levels of dihydrotestosterone (DHT) in their blood had gone up. DHT is an androgen (a hormone that promotes tissue growth). (1) If creatine boosted a hormone that causes tissue growth, why did researchers suspect that there could be a link between creatine and hair loss?
DHT has been linked to certain types of hair loss in some data, but here’s the kicker: The concentrations found in this study were still within normal physiological ranges, no studies have actually reported direct hair loss or baldness as a result of creatine supplementation. (1)(2)
Also, the significant differences were due to changes from different baseline levels of DHT. In other words, the differences can’t be attributed to creatine supplementation based on these study results. (1)(2) The subjects’ DHT levels could have gone up due to any number of factors at play while they were being evaluated.
Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?
In short, no. While you shouldn’t discount the findings of a study just because it reports results you may not be happy to hear, you have to consider the weight of scientific evidence in totality.
A small amount of data from over a decade ago displayed some correlation between creatine supplementation and a hormone that may contribute to significant hair loss. However, these results have not been widely replicated in subsequent studies. The case for creatine being bad for your hair is thin, all things considered.
What Actually Causes Hair Loss?
Hair loss can occur for many reasons, but the type of hair loss linked to DHT is androgenic alopecia (AGA), also known as male pattern baldness. AGA is a genetically-predisposed type of hair loss that can actually affect people of any gender. (3)
People with this condition convert testosterone to DHT at abnormally high rates, and the regions of the scalp affected by AGA are highest in androgen receptors, which is why the effects of DHT are more pronounced there. High levels of DHT disrupt the normal hair growth cycle, resulting in thinner hair follicles. Some topical treatments for AGA work by suppressing an enzyme that controls the conversion of testosterone to DHT. (3)(4)
What Is Creatine?
Creatine can be formed in the body (mostly in the kidneys and liver) with reactions involving the amino acids arginine, glycine, and methionine. Most of the body’s creatine is stored in skeletal muscle as creatine phosphate. (2)(5)
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Creatine plays important roles in rapid energy production and protection against oxidative stress. Though creatine is primarily used as a sport supplement targeting skeletal muscle, it’s also essential for healthy brain function. (2)(5)
How Does Creatine Work?
Inside each muscle cell, there are proteins that work together to make the muscle contract. This process requires a molecule called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is often called the “energy currency of the cell.” (2)(5)
The phosphocreatine (PCr) system is the quickest way to replenish ATP. PCr is made up of creatine and a phosphate molecule, which it donates to convert adenosine diphosphate (ADP) to ATP. It is stored in the muscles and other tissues so that it can be used right away. (2)(5)
In simple terms, creatine increases the efficiency of the biological delivery systems that power muscular contraction.
How Can I Get Creatine From My Diet?
Fish, red meat, poultry, pork, and dietary supplements (such as creatine monohydrate) are all sources of creatine in the diet, but it can also be produced in several organs, including the brain. It can then be stored as creatine or bound to a phosphate group to form creatine phosphate. (2)(5)
However, the recommended daily dose of creatine for most folks falls between five and 10 grams; far more than you can realistically ingest through food alone. If you want to use creatine to build strength, add muscle, or improve your cognition, you need to take it as a ‘supp.
Though it’s sold in different forms, creatine monohydrate appears to be the superior (and usually more cost-effective) choice for supplementation due to its bioavailability and long-term stability at room temperature. (2)
Benefits of Creatine
Creatine is a versatile supplement that offers numerous benefits for both sports performance and overall health. While it’s commonly marketed to strength athletes, its ability to replenish ATP (adenosine triphosphate) makes it valuable for various activities.
One key advantage of creatine is its ability to enhance exercise performance. Studies have shown that it can improve power, increase the number of repetitions until failure, and boost sprinting performance. These improvements can lead to greater gains in muscle mass and overall athleticism. (2)(5)
Supports Muscle Growth and Recovery
In addition to its effects on exercise, creatine also supports muscle growth and aids in recovery. It enhances protein synthesis, reduces inflammation, and minimizes oxidative stress, all of which contribute to muscle development and prevent muscle breakdown. It can also enhance glucose uptake, providing extra energy during workouts and facilitating glycogen storage post-exercise. (2)(5)(6)
Supports Mental Health & the Brain
Emerging research suggests that creatine has potential benefits for brain health, too. It’s crucial for brain cell function, particularly during high-energy demand situations and recovery from injuries.
Creatine supplementation may help regulate oxidative stress, preserve neuronal function, and improve cognitive abilities in specific populations, such as individuals experiencing sleep deprivation or recovering from traumatic brain injuries. (7)(8)
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Some studies suggest that creatine could enhance the effects of prescription medications for major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder. More research is needed to determine the most effective dosage protocol for these conditions. (9)(10)
Drawbacks of Creatine
Creatine is one of the safest supplements on the market and there are very few drawbacks if it’s used in proper doses of roughly five grams per day. In high doses (well above 10 grams), creatine can cause gastrointestinal distress, but it isn’t necessary to use high-dose loading phases. (2)
Creatine can lead to some weight gain of a few pounds initially as a result of water retention in muscle cells, which could be significant for weight class athletes and might require some planning ahead. (11)
So, Is Your Scalp Safe?
You can rest assured that the link between creatine and hair loss has been totally overblown in the media. Even though one study saw higher levels of DHT in their participants after a few weeks of supplementation, the changes couldn’t be attributed to creatine, and the levels were still within normal ranges.
Hair loss doesn’t appear to be one of creatine’s few side effects, and with so many benefits, it’s more than worth the investment.
van der Merwe, J., Brooks, N. E., & Myburgh, K. H. (2009). Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. Clinical journal of sport medicine : official journal of the Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine, 19(5), 399–404.
Antonio, J., Candow, D. G., Forbes, S. C., Gualano, B., Jagim, A. R., Kreider, R. B., Rawson, E. S., Smith-Ryan, A. E., VanDusseldorp, T. A., Willoughby, D. S., & Ziegenfuss, T. N. (2021). Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 1–17.
Piraccini, B. M., Blume-Peytavi, U., Scarci, F., Jansat, J. M., Falqués, M., Otero, R., Tamarit, M. L., Galván, J., Tebbs, V., Massana, E., & Topical Finasteride Study Group (2022). Efficacy and safety of topical finasteride spray solution for male androgenetic alopecia: a phase III, randomized, controlled clinical trial. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology : JEADV, 36(2), 286–294.
Kaiser, M., Abdin, R., Gaumond, S. I., Issa, N. T., & Jimenez, J. J. (2023). Treatment of Androgenetic Alopecia: Current Guidance and Unmet Needs. Clinical, cosmetic and investigational dermatology, 16, 1387–1406. https://doi.org/10.2147/CCID.S385861
Kreider, R.B., Kalman, D.S., Antonio, J. et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 14, 18 (2017).
Doma, K., Ramachandran, A. K., Boullosa, D., & Connor, J. (2022). The Paradoxical Effect of Creatine Monohydrate on Muscle Damage Markers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Medicine, 52(7), 1623–1645.
McMorris, T., Harris, R. C., Howard, A. N., Langridge, G., Hall, B., Corbett, J., Dicks, M., & Hodgson, C. (2007). Creatine supplementation, sleep deprivation, cortisol, melatonin and behavior. Physiology & behavior, 90(1), 21–28.
Sakellaris, G., Kotsiou, M., Tamiolaki, M., Kalostos, G., Tsapaki, E., Spanaki, M., Spilioti, M., Charissis, G., & Evangeliou, A. (2006). Prevention of complications related to traumatic brain injury in children and adolescents with creatine administration: An open label randomized pilot study. Journal of Trauma – Injury, Infection and Critical Care, 61(2), 322–329.
Toniolo, R. A., Silva, M., Fernandes, F. de B. F., Amaral, J. A. de M. S., Dias, R. da S., & Lafer, B. (2018). A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, proof-of-concept trial of creatine monohydrate as adjunctive treatment for bipolar depression. Journal of Neural Transmission, 125(2), 247–257.
Yoon, S., Kim, J. E., Hwang, J., Kim, T. S., Kang, H. J., Namgung, E., Ban, S., Oh, S., Yang, J., Renshaw, P. F., & Lyoo, I. K. (2016). Effects of Creatine Monohydrate Augmentation on Brain Metabolic and Network Outcome Measures in Women With Major Depressive Disorder. Biological Psychiatry, 80(6), 439–447.
Deminice, R., Rosa, F. T., Pfrimer, K., Ferrioli, E., Jordao, A. A., & Freitas, E. (2016). Creatine Supplementation Increases Total Body Water in Soccer Players: a Deuterium Oxide Dilution Study. International journal of sports medicine, 37(2), 149–153.
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