Creatine is a common supplement that many people use to try to build muscle.
Creatine may help increase lean muscle mass and improve exercise performance.
Some muscle-building supplements have been linked to a risk of testicular cancer. But pure creatine is generally considered safe.
Young or old, many people want to build muscles and increase their athletic performance. You’ve likely heard about or even tried creatine supplementation. You may have also heard that muscle-building supplements can have risks, like testicular cancer.
So is creatine supplementation safe? Does it work? Here’s the short answer: Creatine is generally considered safe and effective. Read on to learn more about the potential benefits and risks and if creatine might be right for you.
Creatine is a natural chemical in the body. It is made from amino acids (methionine, arginine, and glycine). It is also a common supplement, often in powder form. And it’s popular among athletes or people hoping to build muscle mass or improve exercise performance.
Most of the creatine in the body is stored in muscles. Creatine is also in the brain, kidneys, and testicles. In the muscles, creatine is mostly stored as phosphocreatine. When you exercise, your body can use phosphocreatine as a quick source of energy.
Creatine is normally consumed in foods like red meat and seafood. If you follow a vegetarian diet, your intake will be lower.
Specifically, creatine supplementation may:
Increase muscle size and strength
Improve exercise recovery periods
Improve exercise performance
Increase exercise capacity
There may also be some benefits to creatine supplementation as you get older, since creatine levels naturally decrease with age. Supplementing with creatine may help prevent sarcopenia, or the loss of muscle mass and strength that happens with age. Creatine supplementation has also been studied for potential health benefits in other age-related health conditions, including Parkinson’s disease and Type 2 diabetes.
Creatine supplementation can cause weight gain and water retention. Other side effects tend to be mild and may include nausea, diarrhea, and muscle cramps. You may have heard people say creatine supplementation can lead to hair loss, acne, or erectile dysfunction (ED). But there is not good evidence that it leads to these conditions.
There have been some concerns around the use of muscle-building supplements and their effect on the testicles, including the risk of testicular cancer. The risk appears to be higher for those under the age of 25 and those who used 2 or more muscle-building supplements.
Research shows that supplementing with pure creatine appears to be safe. But here’s the problem: You don’t always know what is in your supplement. There may be contaminants or other ingredients that might not be as safe to use. The FDA doesn't regulate supplements, so it can be hard to know what you’re consuming and what the risks might be.
In general, yes. Studies show that short-term and lower-dose supplementation in adults is likely safe. It’s not a steroid and does not cause baldness, ED, or acne. At recommended doses, creatine is likely safe for the kidneys. It does not appear to increase the risk of cancer.
Importantly, as with any supplement, there may be unknown risks. So it’s always a good idea to review what you are taking with your healthcare provider.
Creatine is a common supplement people use to build muscle and improve athletic performance. It can be helpful for a wide variety of people, from athletes to people losing muscle with age. Some other muscle-building supplements have been linked to an increase in testicular cancer risk. But pure creatine on its own — at the recommended doses — is likely safe. As with any supplement or medication, be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before using creatine.
Antonio, J., et al. (2021). Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: What does the scientific evidence really show? Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Bizzarini, E., et al. (2004). Is the use of oral creatine supplementation safe? Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness.
Candow, D. G., et al. (2014). Creatine supplementation and aging musculoskeletal health. Endocrine.
Dempsey, R. L., et al. (2022). Does oral creatine supplementation improve strength? A meta-analysis. Journal of Family Practice.
Giardi, K. G., et al. (2022). Can muscle building supplements increase testicular cancer risk? Frontiers in Nutrition.
Hall, M., et al. (2021). Creatine supplementation: An update. Current Sports Medicine Reports.
Hauser, R., et al. (2015). Muscle-building supplement use and increased risk of testicular germ cell cancer in men from Connecticut and Massachusetts. British Journal of Cancer.
Kaviani, M., et al. (2020). Benefits to creatine supplementation for vegetarians compared to omnivorous athletes: A systematic review. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
Kreider, R. B., et al. (2017). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Smith, R. N., et al. (2014). A review of creatine supplementation in age-related diseases: More than a supplement athletes. F1000 Research.
Solis, M. Y., et al. (2021). Potential of creatine in glucose management and diabetes. Nutrients.