Overview

Creatine is an amino acid located mostly in your body's muscles, as well as in the brain. Though it can be made synthetically, most people get creatine through seafood and red meat. The body's liver, pancreas and kidneys also make creatine.

Your body converts creatine to phosphocreatine and stores it in your muscles, where it's used for energy. As a result, people take creatine orally to improve athletic performance and increase muscle mass.

People also use oral creatine to treat certain brain disorders, congestive heart failure and other conditions. Topical creatine might be used to treat aging skin.

Evidence

Research on creatine use for specific activities and conditions shows:

  • Exercise. A wide body of research on the impact of oral creatine use on exercise has produced mixed results. Oral creatine use might benefit athletes who require short bursts of energy, such as sprinters and weight lifters.
  • Rare creatine-metabolizing syndromes. In children with the certain creatine deficiency syndromes, oral creatine supplements might improve some symptoms.
  • Heart failure. There isn't enough evidence to recommend use of oral creatine as a heart failure treatment.
  • Skin aging. Preliminary research suggests that a cream containing creatine and other ingredients applied to the face every day for six weeks might reduce skin sag and wrinkles in men. Another study suggests that a cream containing creatine and folic acid improves sun damage and reduces wrinkles.

People who have low levels of creatine — such as vegetarians — appear to benefit most from creatine supplements.

Our take

Green light: Generally safe

Generally safe

Creatine might benefit athletes who need short bursts of speed or muscle, such as sprinters and weight lifters.

While taking creatine might not help all athletes, evidence suggests it generally won't hurt if taken as directed. However, people who have kidney disorders or people at risk of developing kidney disease should talk to a doctor before taking creatine due to concerns that the supplement might cause kidney damage.

Oct. 12, 2017