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Teen Athletes Often Use Creatine

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WebMD Health News

Aug. 7, 2001 -- Sports trainer Ken Locker and the school nurse looked at the reading on the blood pressure monitor and thought their eyes were playing tricks on them.

The reading was 160/110, high enough to be considered dangerous. But it was a healthy 18-year-old football star wearing the blood pressure cuff.

Locker tells WebMD that after repeated questions, the football player finally had something to admit.

"... He was creatine loading," Locker recalls. "He had taken 24 grams the night before. The body only produces 2 grams of creatine, so he was really loading."

Many athletes take creatine as a nutritional supplement because they believe it can improve their performance, especially in sports that require short bursts of energy, like wrestling or football.

The young athlete with the high blood pressure reading was not the only one to turn to the controversial supplement. A new study published in the August issue of Pediatrics suggests that more than 40% of high school senior athletes say they use creatine.

Locker has worked for 17 years as a trainer for the NFL's Dallas Cowboys and has spent the last 10 years working with high school and college athletes at the Baylor Sports Care Program in Dallas. He says that if the football player had any kind of heart defect "that blood pressure could have just blown his heart away."

It is legal to use this supplement, and it is readily available in stores. But Jordan D. Metzl, MD, tells WebMD that the American College of Sports Medicine has recommended that people 18 and younger should not use creatine.

"There just haven't been enough studies to determine if there are risks from long-term use [of creatine]," Metzl says. He is medical director of the sports medicine institute for young athletes at the Hospital for Special Surgery at Cornell Medical Center in New York.

In order to learn more about creatine use among adolescents, Metzl and his colleagues polled athletes in an upscale suburb north of New York. There were 1,103 students in grades 6 to 12 who responded to the survey, and 6% admitted using creatine. But more alarming, creatine use increased to 44% by high school graduation.

What's more, three out of four of the athletes said they used creatine to enhance their performance, a finding that Metzl says is especially troubling. It means that teen athletes believe they need to take something to improve performance. And worse, Metzl says that young athletes might start with creatine but then move on to use banned substances such as anabolic steroids or growth hormones.

Locker says that creatine does cause athletes to "bulk up." But the extra weight actually is caused by water retention, where water is pulled from cells. This leaves muscles with too little water and makes it easier for them to be injured.

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