Creatine Use Spreads to High School Athletes
Dec. 27, 2000 -- High school athletes and their parents may believe that because it's available in almost any health food store, it's okay to use the dietary supplement creatine. In fact, researchers from the Mayo Clinic found that almost 1 in 10 high school athletes are using this strength-enhancing substance. However, experts say that not enough is known about creatine's long-term health effects to label the supplement as safe.
Creatine is produced naturally when the body breaks down meat into energy that is released into muscles. The liver also makes creatine.
"The theory is that if we stuff the bodies with creatine, then we'll be stronger and quicker athletes," says Gary Werhonig, MS, assistant director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Colorado State University. "It's for short bursts of energy that last maybe 20 seconds. It's been shown it does work."
Though most athletes who have been surveyed about their creatine use believe that it enhances their athletic performance, controversy surrounds the practice of using the supplement to gain an edge on the playing field.
Although no long-term studies have been done, Werhonig tells WebMD that a few studies have indicated that there may be some health risks associated with creatine use. For example, muscles store creatine, but the kidneys remove it when too much is present. Many doctors and other sports medicine experts worry that taking the supplement for long periods of time could overwork the kidneys and damage them.
Because of these concerns, Werhonig says, it could be dangerous to take creatine or any supplement that has unknown effects. This is especially true for children and adolescents, who are still developing.
Thus, the results of the first formal survey of creatine use among a select population of high school athletes, published in the latest issue of the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, may be worrisome.
The study authors surveyed 328 male and female athletes, aged 14-18, from five schools in and around Rochester, Minn. They found that 8% of the students said they had used, or were still using, creatine.
This rate of high school creatine use compares with previous studies reporting that 32% of college athletes used the substance, as did 25-75% of professional football players and about 45% of a group of Norwegian weightlifters aged 17-31.
One of the most significant problems the researchers identified was that neither the scientific community nor the youngsters themselves have enough information about creatine's use or effects. They discovered that most high school creatine users get their information from friends and then purchase the substance in health food stores.
The authors also point out that that creatine, as a supplement, isn't regulated by the FDA, which may pose another problem. Substances sold as creatine may actually contain very little of the supplement or -- worse yet -- may contain other ingredients that could have their own ill effects.