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Quick! You can only have one: big muscles or a full head of hair. Which will it be?
If you spend any time researching creatine through online message boards, you’ll walk away feeling like you can’t have both, that creatine is a premium muscle-builder but that it comes with an ultimate side effect: a shiny, bald head. But does creatine really cause hair loss?
Look, if you spend any time researching creatine through online message boards, stop. The hive-mind of bodybuilding and muscle head communities aren’t the best places to learn about complex science topics. Shocker, I know. That’s not to say there aren’t intelligent folks in those groups — there are. But you’ll need to spend nearly as much time researching their credentials as you would the topic at hand.
The connection between creatine and hair loss comes down to one small study of rugby players. One. This is the extent of research on the topic. The rest of the information “out there” is purely anecdotal.
To cut straight to the chase: There is no definitive scientific evidence linking hair loss and creatine supplements. The converse of that is also true: There is no definitive scientific evidence that rules out hair loss as a potential side effect of creatine supplements. So, let’s dig a bit deeper.
Creatine is one of the most widely researched bodybuilding supplements. It’s naturally found in animal products like red meat, but can be purchased at nearly any big box or supplement store. Numerous studies have linked creatine to increased strength, muscle and athletic performance, as well as improved recovery post-workout.
There are several varieties of creatine on the market, but creatine monohydrate is the least expensive and considered just as, if not more effective, than the others.
The most common side effect of creatine supplementation is water retention, but other possible side effects include: muscle cramps, nausea, dizziness, stomach problems, dehydration and heat intolerance. Creatine is not recommended for people with kidney disease or those with kidney problems.
Interestingly, the most reputable online sources for supplement and health research do not list hair loss as a creatine side effect.
The single piece of scientific literature potentially connecting creatine to hair loss was a 2009 study published in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine. The study followed just 20 rugby players as they supplemented with creatine for just 3 weeks. Those in the study who took creatine took a whopping 25 grams a day (5 grams is the typical recommendation).
The researchers found that creatine may increase the conversion of testosterone to dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is believed to be the hormone behind male pattern baldness in men genetically predisposed to hair loss.
What this study did not do is prove creatine can cause hair loss, or even link the two. Not only did the research not mention hair loss, it was extremely small and limited to a very narrow time frame.
That being said — it’s possible that creatine can interfere with hair growth or turnover, but there simply is no proof. Because no one has proven it doesn’t cause hair loss, it can’t be ruled out, and there are several folks out there that swear it does.
“I knew this one guy who took creatine and was bald after two years,” or “I used to take creatine but stopped when I realized my hair was thinning.” You see comments similar to this all over the Internet. They’re anecdotal, a story based on someone’s personal experience. And the problem with these statements is the two variables — creatine and hair loss — may or may not be connected. These men could have been predisposed to hair loss before starting the creatine. We simply can’t know.
One thing many of these anecdotal references have in common is recovery after supplementation, meaning men who claim to experience thinning hair as a side effect of creatine supplementation also claim they recover once they stop taking the supplement.
Creatine may affect DHT levels, which is known to play a role in hair loss in men who are predisposed to the condition. However, the single study linking creatine and DHT was not without flaws, namely, its size and the obscene amount of creatine the participants were taking. Further, nowhere within the study does it mention hair loss.
There are numerous anecdotal stories online where men claim to have experienced thinning hair while taking creatine. The problem with these stories — there are nearly as many who claim they experienced no such problems.
Parting words: Creatine is known to be a safe supplement that can aid in muscle growth and strength. The evidence potentially linking it to hair loss is thin, at best, and there’s a good chance you can take the recommended amount and experience nothing but the most common side effect: water retention. If hair loss really is a concern there are things you can do to address it.