"What's in your Creatine?"
By Will Brink, author of:
Muscle Building Nutrition
Muscle Gaining Diet, Training Routines by Charles Poliquin & Bodybuilding
Diet Supplements Revealed
Real World Fat Loss Diet & Weight Loss Supplement Review
"What's in your Creatine?"
What I am about to tell you is not going
to make me a very popular person with many supplement manufacturers. In fact,
some of them are going to be down right pissed off at me. On the other hand,
some of them are going to be happy someone spilled the beans and told the
truth. Finally, some of them will be totally unaware of this information and
will be shocked when they read it. Basically, I fully expect this article to
cause a sh*% storm that will reverberate throughout the supplement industry.
The only people who I know are going to be happy about this article is the
consumer, but I am getting ahead of myself. As we all know, creatine is one
of the best bodybuilding supplements ever discovered. It increases strength,
lean body mass, and, to a lesser extent, endurance. If that were not enough,
it's relatively cheap to boot! What more could we ask for from a supplement?
When creatine was first introduced it was sort of pricey, but no one really
cared because it worked so well. As time went on and more companies began
selling creatine, the inevitable price war began and prices came down.
that point creatine was only being produced by a few companies, so creatine
was basically creatine and the price was the only real consideration. As is
typical of the market place, once creatine became big business, several new
manufacturers popped up and it became no longer a price war as much as a
quality war. The expression "creatine is creatine" no longer holds true.
More on that shortly.
At this time there are probably four-five
companies large enough to mass produce creatine for the sports nutrition
market. These companies in turn sell their product in huge bulk amounts to
various distributors around the world. As far as the mass producers are
concerned, there is a large German company, two companies out of China, and
two in the United States. Though there are various other companies, for this
article we will basically concern ourselves with these five major producers
which probably comprise 80-90% of the creatine production market.
Why I had to write this article
The supplement industry in the United
States is by and large a self-regulated industry. Unlike other countries, we
(the USA) don't have government constantly telling us what we can and cannot
do with our supplements. Though they have been trying to discredit
supplements for decades, the FDA and pharmaceutical/ medical industrial
complex have largely failed to do so. As a self-regulated industry, we must
do just that. Let me state here and now, I am all for self-regulation and
totally against government regulation when it comes to supplements. When we
find gross problems, we have to expose them no matter what the cost. Any
supplement that is found to be potentially dangerous, terribly misleading,
or otherwise a total scam, must be exposed as such.
If we don't do it, then
we allow the "powers that be" (who have an interest in discrediting the
supplement industry) to get one step closer to the Orwellian scenario of
other countries. I thought long and hard as to whether or not I should write
this article, but in the end, as a person of good conscience and ethics, I
knew I had to. In the end, it will cost the entire supplement industry far
more than any one loss could ever cost a single company if problems with a
certain product are not exposed.
As far as I am concerned, this is us airing
out or own dirty inter-industry laundry and policing our own, instead of
waiting for the "don't confuse us with the facts" popular media or other
groups to come after the supplement industry. I know it must sound like I am
almost apologizing for writing this article, and in a way I am. It could
potentially cost certain people a great deal of money. On the other hand, it
could also make some other person a great deal of money, depending on where
they fall (this will make more sense to the reader as you read along). In
the end, the truth can never been denied, it can only be delayed. With each
day of delay, the cost to everyone goes up. Nuff said.
Are you getting more than you paid for?
Most of us are always happy when we get
more than we paid for, but in some instances, it's not such a good idea. If
we are buying say vitamin C and the label says "500mg per capsule" and
laboratory analysis reveals it contains 600mg, then that is a great thing.
However, if we test a product and not only does it contain what the label
claims, but several other compounds we did not know were in there and had no
place being in there, then that's a completely different story. For example,
when the amino acid L-Tryptophan was taken off the market for the death of
several people, it was not because of the L-Tryptophan itself, but because
of a chemical contaminant found in a batch of the L-tryptophan that was not
supposed to be there. This was a perfect example of getting more than you
paid for in the worst possible scenario. What I am going to write about in
this article certainly is not as bad as the L-tryptophan fiasco, but it
could be a potential health concern.
So after that long, cryptic, and bizarre
introduction, what am I getting at? Recently, a company tested the five
largest creatine manufacturers products and tested the products of various
distributors from the USA, Germany, Great Britain, and other countries. At
this time, the company who did the testing wishes to remain anonymous, lest
they be accused of throwing stones at the supplement industry. However, this
is a very large and reputable company and they stand behind their test
Also, I know this company to be one of the worlds most reputable
companies, so I had no problems with their testing results or methods. The
test results came to me through the back door so to speak. So what was
tested for and what did it reveal? The creatine products were tested for:
Dicyandiamide, Creatinine, Dihydrotriazine, and sodium content. What did the
tests reveal? It revealed that there is a wide range of differences between
creatine products from different manufacturers. The purity level of all the
creatine products were also tested and they generally fell between 88 and
92%. Now before you go off yelling "but my creatine says 99% pure creatine
monohydrate on the bottle," you have to remember there is a small amount of
water in creatine monohydrate.
Before we bother with the results, we need to
take a look at the chemicals that were tested for-and subsequently found- in
these samples. What really bothered me was the fact that there is little
safety research on some of these chemicals, most notably the dihydrotriazine.
I did Med-line searches, looked through various chemical data related books
(i.e. the Merck Index and other publications), made many phone calls to
chemists, spent hours on the internet, and was amazed to find so little real
safety data on some of these materials.
Considering the fact that some
creatine products contain fairly high amounts of these chemicals, the lack
of solid safety data did not make me feel very comfortable. The major point
of this is really the amount of creatine ingested in relation to the amount
of contaminant present. It's not that a compound has a small amount of some
contaminant per se, but the levels of the contaminant is found in relation
to how much of the product is consumed is the real question. In the December
issue of Health and Nutrition Breakthroughs (p12, 1997) Dr. Podell addressed
the same concern regarding creatine as I have when he stated "...there is
the potentially important issue of product purity. Given the high doses of
creatine most people take, even a minute toxic impurity could have a
dangerous effect. Unfortunately we cannot be sure of a manufacturers'
As we all know, people don't just take
500mg (1/2 a gram) of creatine, they take 10,000mg (10g), 20,000mg (20g), or
even 30,000mg (30g) of creatine per day, so even a small amount of a
contaminant (such as the dihydrotriazine) can add up quickly. For example,
one creatine product contained as much as 18,000 parts per million (PPM) of
Dicyandiamide. If a person is taking in ten grams per day of creatine,
that's 180 mg of this chemical a day. If you are taking in 30g a day of
creatine-as is often the case during the loading phase-you would be getting
a whopping 540mg a day of dicyandiamide!
Dicyandiamide (DC): DC is actually a
derivative of one of the starting chemicals (cyanamide) used in creatine
production. DC is formed during the production of creatine products, and
large amounts found in a product are considered the result of an incomplete
or inefficient process. A quality creatine product will contain very small
amounts, less than 20-50ppm. At this time, DC does not appear to be a
particularly toxic chemical. Oral studies with animals (rats and dogs)
lasting up to 90 days have not shown serious toxicity or carcinogenic
effects, and acute poisoning also takes very high amounts. DC appears to
have many uses in the chemical industry. Some of the more interesting is the
use of DC in the production of fertilizers, explosives, fire proofing
compounds, cleaning compounds, soldering compounds, stabilizer in detergents,
modifier for starch products, and a catalyst for epoxy resins.
concentrations found in some of the creatine products (see below), it's a
good thing this stuff does not appear to be particularly toxic. However, as
far as I am concerned, I don't want to be eating the stuff. One interesting
point as it relates to DC and toxicity is, if one looks at the safety sheet
on the stuff it states that DC breaks down into hydrogen cyanide gas when
exposed to a strong acid. Hydrogen cyanide gas is very toxic and has been
used as a chemical warfare agent! As Bruce Kneller points out (see side
bar), stomach acid, which has a PH of 2, is a very strong acid. Is even a
tiny amount of hydrogen cyanide gas produced from the intake of large
amounts of DC? The chemist I spoke to did not seem to think so and the
safety data with animals would tend to support this, but who knows. Bruce
might be overreacting a bit on this, but it's better to lean on the cautious
side with such things. Bottom line, it's best not to be eating large amounts
of DC in this writer's opinion.
Dihydrotriazine (DT): DT appears to
be the real mystery chemical as far as potentially toxic contaminants found
in some creatine products. One company had it listed as "...Dihydrotriazine
is often found in various creatine products. This substance is a byproduct
of non-optimized creatine productions and consequently widely spread over
creatine products. Dihydrotriazine is a compound with unknown pharmaceutical
and toxicological properties." It was virtually impossible to find any
useful safety data on this chemical.
However, DT is part of a large family
of chemicals known as the "triazines." It is an organic base with many
derivatives. Some of these derivatives are toxic while others are known to
be non-toxic, so it is very difficult to come to any real solid opinion
regarding the potential toxicity of this chemical. One chemist I spoke to
from a major pharmaceutical supply company said to me on the phone "it's
safe to say that there will be major differences in toxicity between
derivatives since 'triazine' simply means possessing three C=N-H groups.
Some derivatives are highly toxic."
Bill Roberts, a medicinal Chemist and
writer for Dan Duchaine's Dirty Dieting news letter commented after I sent
him over this information: "There really is no way to say just how high a
chronic intake of this chemical [these chemicals] is safe in humans from the
information given. If the amounts were very small, say a few milligrams per
week, it's a reasonable guess that there would probably be no problem.
if a creatine brand has say 1% of this impurity [these impurities] then
people are going to be consuming thousands of milligrams of this compound [these
compounds] over time. I think we have to be concerned about taking so much
of something that really isn't well studied in humans for safety. It would
certainly be unwise to assume thattoxicity is not an issue. If the consumer
has a choice between a creatine brand that contains this impurity [these
impurities] in significant amounts, and one that is more pure, I'd certainly
recommend spending the extra money and obtaining the purer product."
So as you can see, we are left with a major
question mark regarding DT. For me, the less I know about a chemical the
less of it I want to find in any product I am ingesting. Though this
chemical might turn out to be perfectly harmless, I think it should not be
found in any amount and thus should be non-detectable (n.d.) in the ppm
range until we know more about this chemical. As you can see from the tests,
some companies have n.d. amounts while others have far more than that. I
find this unacceptable, and so should you.
Creatinine: Creatinine is one of the
easy compounds to discuss on this list. Creatinine is actually a natural
byproduct of creatine metabolism in the human body and of creatine
production. A small amount can be found in every creatine product. However,
in some products large amounts can be found, as high as 7700 ppm in one case
(see chart). It is probably safe to say that the ingestion of creatinine is
a safe endeavor. There is some research that links the ingestion of
creatinine from meats with increased colon cancer incidence, but in all
honesty I would not put much stock in that or get all worked up about it .
The point is, when I buy creatine I want to eat creatine, not creatinine.
Though a natural byproduct of creatine metabolism, it does not have any
ergogenic effects and therefore I don't want large amounts of it in my
creatine, period. A high quality creatine product should contain less than
100ppm of creatinine in my opinion.
Sodium: Like the aforementioned
creatinine, sodium is an easy one to talk about. Also, like creatinine, it
is a generally safe thing to ingest at normal intakes. At the levels found
in these creatine products, the amount of sodium added to the diet is very
small and should pose no problems, even to the most sodium phobic person.
However, like I said before, when I pay for creatine I want creatine, not
sodium. The lowest sodium content was 20ppm and the highest was 500ppm. I
leave it to the reader to decide what is a tolerable sodium content to them.
Believe it or not, the company who did the
testing told me that although those were the main chemicals they tested for,
some creatine products read like a who's who of different chemical compounds,
though they admitted that they are usually found in trace amounts. As for
the consumer, if it were me, I would demand the HPLC test results from whom
ever I was buying my creatine from regarding the chemicals listed in this
article. If you don't care, that's OK also. As for me, I will make sure my
creatine comes only from companies and distributors who sell creatine made
by the large German company, or other companies, who clearly have their
collective act together when it comes to producing an ultra pure creatine
product. Bottom line? The expression "creatine is creatine" no longer holds
true. However, a high quality creatine product it still the best thing going
in bodybuilding/sports supplements.
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About the Author - William D. Brink
Will Brink is a columnist, contributing consultant, and writer for various
health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding publications. His articles relating to
nutrition, supplements, weight loss, exercise and medicine can be found in such
publications as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life
Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body
International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women?s World and The Townsend Letter
He is the author of Priming The Anabolic Environment and Weight
Loss Nutrients Revealed. He is the Consulting Sports Nutrition Editor and a
monthly columnist for Physical magazine and an Editor at Large for Power
magazine. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the
natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and
He has been co author of several studies relating to sports nutrition and health
found in peer reviewed academic journals, as well as having commentary published
in JAMA. He runs the highly popular web site BrinkZone.com which is
strategically positioned to fulfill the needs and interests of people with
diverse backgrounds and knowledge. The BrinkZone site has a following with many
sports nutrition enthusiasts, athletes, fitness professionals, scientists,
medical doctors, nutritionists, and interested lay people. William has been
invited to lecture on the benefits of weight training and nutrition at
conventions and symposiums around the U.S. and Canada, and has appeared on
numerous radio and television programs.
William has worked with athletes ranging from professional bodybuilders,
golfers, fitness contestants, to police and military personnel.
See Will's ebooks online here:
Muscle Building Nutrition
A complete guide bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean muscle
Diet Supplements Revealed
A review of diet
supplements and guide to eating for maximum fat loss
He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430
Wellesley MA. 02482.
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