Look, every few months, some headline screams that creatine is the devil’s powder, destined to turn your kidneys into a geological exhibit. It’s like a bad movie sequel that nobody asked for but keeps getting made. So, let’s set the record straight: Creatine does not cause kidney stones. Period.
In this article, we’re not just going to tell you to relax and keep scooping that creatine into your protein shake. Nah, we’re going to dive deep into the science, the real causes of kidney stones, and what experts in the field have to say. By the end, you’ll be armed with enough knowledge to shut down any naysayer who dares question your supplement choices. So, let’s get to it.
The Myth and Its Origins
Alright, so where did this whole “creatine causes kidney stones” myth even come from? It’s like a game of telephone gone horribly wrong. One guy says he heard it from his gym buddy, who heard it from a friend, who read it on some sketchy blog. And just like that, a myth is born and spreads like wildfire.
There was one case report in 2006 which almost all media outlets and experts refer to (if they bother at all to substantiate their claims) when repeating the “creatine supplementation causes kidney stones”-myth, in which a young weight lifter experienced renal failure after “taking multiple food supplements, including creatine monohydrate”.1 But this single case study is by far not enough to conclude that creatine causes kidney damage, considering that not only was the person on many other supplements, but other factors played into this as well, and no other scientific research indicated that creatine could cause kidney damage.
But why does this myth stick around like that piece of gum on your shoe? Simple. Fear sells. People are more likely to click on a headline that screams “Creatine Causes Kidney Stones!” than one that says “Creatine: It’s Pretty Safe, Actually.” Fear keeps the myth alive, and it’s high time we put it to rest.
So, let’s cut through the noise and look at what the science actually says, shall we?
What is Creatine?
Before we go all MythBusters on this, let’s get clear on what creatine actually is. Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in foods like meat and fish. Your body also makes it, and it’s stored primarily in your muscles. Why? Because creatine helps produce energy during high-intensity, short-duration activities. Think sprinting or lifting heavy weights.
Now, you might be thinking, “If it’s natural, why the fuss?” Good question. The fuss usually starts when people begin taking creatine supplements to boost their athletic performance. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t want that extra edge? Whether you’re trying to crush it at the gym or just want to look good for beach season, creatine is often the go-to supplement.
Benefits of Creatine
- Muscle Growth: Creatine has been shown to increase muscle cell volume2, which is a fancy way of saying it helps your muscles grow.
- Strength Gains: Want to lift more? Creatine can help with that.
- Improved Exercise Recovery: Less soreness and quicker recovery times? Sign me up.
So, now that we know what creatine is and why people use it, let’s get to the heart of the matter: Does it turn your kidneys into a stone factory? Spoiler alert: No, it doesn’t. But let’s dig into the science to find out why.
The Science Behind Creatine and Kidney Function
Alright, science class is in session. Let’s break down how creatine works in the body, especially when it comes to your kidneys.
How Creatine is Metabolized
When you take creatine, it gets converted into a molecule called phosphocreatine, which is stored in your muscles. During exercise, phosphocreatine is used to produce ATP, the body’s primary energy currency. After that, it’s broken down into creatinine—a waste product—and excreted through your kidneys.
What the Studies Say
Now, you might be thinking, “Aha! It’s the kidneys! That’s where the problem must be!” But hold your horses. The science doesn’t back that up.
- No Detrimental Effects on Kidney Function: Multiple studies have shown that creatine supplementation does not impair kidney function in healthy individuals. For instance, a study published in Tunis Med in June 2022 investigated an athlete with a history of kidney stones. The athlete took creatine monohydrate for two months, and a follow-up ultrasound 14 months later showed no recurrence of kidney stones.3 (Source)
- Long-term Safety: Another study published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine found that long-term creatine supplementation did not result in any adverse effects on kidney function.4 (Source)
- Expert Opinions: Both Dr. Peter Attia and Andrew Huberman have discussed the safety of creatine in their respective platforms, emphasizing that the compound is generally safe for most people when used responsibly.
The overwhelming scientific consensus is that creatine does not cause kidney stones. It’s like blaming your shoes for a bad haircut—it just doesn’t add up.
So, can we finally put this myth to bed? Almost. Let’s first look at what actually does cause kidney stones, so you know what to watch out for.
The Real Causes of Kidney Stones
Alright, let’s shift gears for a moment. If creatine isn’t the culprit behind kidney stones, then what is? Knowing the real villains can help you avoid turning your kidneys into a pebble beach.
- High Sodium Intake: Too much salt in your diet can increase the amount of calcium in your kidneys, which can lead to stone formation.
- Oxalate-Rich Foods: Spinach, rhubarb, and beets are high in oxalates, which can bind with calcium to form stones.
- Low Fluid Intake: Not drinking enough water? Your urine becomes more concentrated, making it easier for stones to form.
- Lack of Hydration: Especially if you’re active or live in a hot climate, not drinking enough water can be a fast track to kidney stone city.
- Family History: Like it or not, if kidney stones are a family affair, you might be more susceptible.
Other Medical Conditions
- Hyperparathyroidism: An overactive parathyroid gland can lead to higher calcium levels, increasing the risk of stones.
- Urinary Tract Infections: These can cause struvite stones, a less common but still problematic type of kidney stone.
- Certain Diuretics: Some water pills can decrease the amount of urine produced, increasing the risk of stone formation.
- Antacids: Overuse of calcium-based antacids can contribute to calcium stone formation.
- Lack of Exercise: Believe it or not, sitting around all day can contribute to kidney stone formation. Physical activity helps metabolize calcium.
What You Can Do
- Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of water, especially if you’re active.
- Limit Salt and Oxalate-Rich Foods: Moderation is key.
- Consult a Healthcare Provider: Especially if you have a history of kidney issues or other medical conditions.
So there you have it. These are the real culprits you should be watching out for, not creatine. Now, let’s hear what the experts have to say, shall we?
What the Experts Say
So, you’ve heard from me, but what about the people who’ve dedicated their lives to studying this stuff? Let’s dive into what some of the big brains in the field have to say about creatine and kidney health.
Dr. Peter Attia
While he hasn’t directly said, “Hey, creatine is totally fine, go wild,” Dr. Peter Attia has often discussed the importance of nuanced understanding when it comes to supplements. He emphasizes the need for individualized approaches based on one’s own health metrics. In other words, don’t just jump on the creatine bandwagon because your gym buddy did; know your own body.
In various episodes of the Huberman Lab podcast, Andrew Huberman has delved into the science of performance-enhancing supplements. He’s talked about creatine in the context of its benefits for cognitive and physical performance. The takeaway? Creatine is generally safe and effective when used responsibly. Here he discusses creatine with Dr. Andy Galpin, and in another video he shared the benefits of creatine for improving mood and depression.
The Scientific Community
Numerous studies have been conducted on the safety of creatine, and the overwhelming consensus is that it’s safe for most people when used as directed. We’re talking about peer-reviewed studies, not some random blog posts.
The Bottom Line
The experts agree: Creatine isn’t the kidney-destroying monster it’s often made out to be. But like anything in life, it’s all about balance and understanding your own body. If you have pre-existing kidney issues or other medical conditions, consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplement regimen.
So, are we good now? Can we finally put this myth to bed and focus on what really matters—like actually taking steps to improve our health and performance? Let’s wrap this up.
Precautions and Recommendations
Alright, we’ve busted the myth, we’ve heard from the experts, and we’ve even got some real-life stories to back it all up. But let’s not throw caution to the wind just yet. Here are some things to keep in mind:
Who Should Be Cautious?
- People with Pre-existing Kidney Issues: If you’ve got a history of kidney problems, it’s best to consult a healthcare provider before diving into the creatine pool.
- Those on Certain Medications: Some medications can interact with creatine or affect kidney function. Again, talk to a healthcare provider.
- Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women: While there’s limited research on this, it’s better to play it safe.
- Quality Over Quantity: Not all creatine supplements are created equal. Go for reputable brands that have been third-party tested.
- Proper Dosage: More isn’t always better. Stick to the recommended dosage—usually around 5 grams per day for most people.
- Hydration is Key: Creatine pulls water into your muscles, so staying hydrated is crucial.
- Consult a Healthcare Provider: When in doubt, consult a professional. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Importance of Individualized Approach
Remember, we’re all unique snowflakes with our own health profiles. What works for your gym buddy might not work for you. So, get to know your body, maybe even get some tests done to understand your kidney function, and make an informed decision.
So there you have it. Creatine is not the kidney stone-producing monster it’s often portrayed to be. The science is clear, the experts agree, and real-life experiences back it up. But like anything in life, moderation and understanding your own body are key. So go ahead, enjoy the benefits of creatine, but do it responsibly. And for heaven’s sake, let’s put this myth to bed once and for all.
In addition to reviewing the scientific literature on the subject, there were also a few articles that I found particularly insightful and well-researched. If you don’t trust some random guy on the internet publishing on a website called OMROK (good on you!) then these are some authoritative sources with certified and licensed subject matter experts that I highly recommend. After all, like I said over and over again: I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on the internet.
- The “Dangers” of Creatine Explained
The article from Bodybuilding.com, written by Ciaran Fairman and published on January 10, 2023, aims to debunk common myths surrounding the use of creatine supplements. It emphasizes that creatine is one of the most researched and effective supplements for increasing lean body mass and improving high-intensity performance.
- Creatine Side Effects: Is It Safe? FAQs You Should Know
The Healthline article provides an evidence-based review of creatine’s safety and side effects, debunking many myths surrounding the supplement. It addresses concerns such as kidney and liver damage, weight gain, dehydration, and muscle cramps, stating that there is no scientific evidence to support these claims. The article also discusses the purported side effects of creatine, including digestive issues and interactions with other medications, and concludes that creatine is generally safe to consume. It emphasizes the importance of consulting a healthcare professional if you have pre-existing liver or kidney issues or are taking medications that affect these organs.
- Is creatine safe for your kidneys?
The Examine.com article, researched by Michael Hull, delves into the safety of creatine supplementation, particularly focusing on its impact on kidney function. The article reassures that creatine does not have adverse effects on kidney function for people with healthy kidneys, citing multiple scientific reviews that support this claim. While creatine does increase blood levels of creatinine—a commonly used marker for kidney function—this is not indicative of kidney damage. The article also mentions that short-term creatine supplementation appears to be safe for people with suboptimal kidney function, although long-term effects in such cases are less well-studied. Overall, the article concludes that creatine is likely safe for both short- and long-term use, especially for those with healthy kidneys.
- Thorsteinsdottir B, Grande JP, Garovic VD. Acute renal failure in a young weight lifter taking multiple food supplements, including creatine monohydrate. J Ren Nutr. 2006 Oct;16(4):341-5. doi: 10.1053/j.jrn.2006.04.025. PMID: 17046619. ↩︎
- Volek, Jeff S., and Eric S. Rawson. “Scientific basis and practical aspects of creatine supplementation for athletes.” Nutrition 20, no. 7-8 (2004): 609-614. ↩︎
- Akbari HA, Ghram A, Knechtle B, Weiss K, Ben Saad H. Effect of creatine supplementation on kidney stones recurrence in an athlete: a case report. Tunis Med. 2022 juin;100(6):477-480. PMID: 36206067; PMCID: PMC9585689. ↩︎
- Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, Rawson ES, Smith-Ryan AE, VanDusseldorp TA, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Feb 8;18(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w. PMID: 33557850; PMCID: PMC7871530. ↩︎