The popular sports supplement creatine may be unsafe for teenagers, a new study reveals.
Creatine, one of the most commonly used sports supplements on the market, is a staple amongst athletes and weight lifters to build muscle.
While the supplement is considered safe for adults, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Sports Medicine do not recommend it for anyone under 18 years of age.
“Creatine has certain side effects to a body, and especially to the body of a growing teen that are very concerning,” says the study’s author Dr. Ruth Milaniak.
Creatine can be found in flavored powders, tablets, energy bars and mixes. Most of them include warning labels that the supplement is not recommended for individuals under 18. Even so, use of the supplement is rising amongst adolescents, particularly male athletes. This raises the question of whether retailers are cautioning young athletes of its safety.
In a study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers called 244 health food stores posing as a 15-year-old boy looking to increase muscle mass. During these calls, researchers asked the employees at the various stores which supplements they would suggest.
67 percent of sales associates recommended creatine. Of these, nearly 38 percent recommended creatine without mention of the supplement, and about 29 percent recommended creatine when being asked specifically about it.
Research suggests that 30 percent or more of high school athletes are using creatine, Milanaik notes. Most of them reported that they did not read the package insert or were unaware of the dose they were taking. Some of them even reported taking more to expedite results.
“We have very little knowledge of what happens when a youth takes creatine,” Milaniak says. “The supplement industry is not regulated, so there’s a vague sense of what these side effects are.”
One concern is that creatine may impact how an adolescent’s muscles develop. For example, an adolescent may see immediate changes from taking creatine but experience physiological problems later in life.
“You may develop muscles that are unbalanced. You may develop a bone structure or body structure that is not the way it should be and that may lead you later, when you’re at the peak of your career, having muscle issues or having ligament tears because your muscles didn’t develop the way they were supposed to,” Milaniak said.
There are currently no laws in place to prevent retailers from selling creatine supplements to minors. Malaniak suggests that parents and teens review product labels before taking supplements and consult their physicians with questions.
“It should not be assumed that all products in a health food store are ‘healthy’ for all consumers,” she noted.