For those who want to improve their physique, creatine is one of the supplements that are almost normalised - many people take it and swear by its beneficial effects in building muscle mass and recovery amongst others.
But aside from its benefits, some rumours have arisen that creatine may have an unpleasant side effect: hair loss. As a result, some gym goers have put a stop to their creatine supplementation in fear of losing their hair. But should they?
Short answer: NO. Creatine does not cause hair loss independently of pre-existing genetic predilection to androgenic alopecia. But there is a link between creatine and people struggling with hair loss, which might have sparked these rumours.
To better understand this link, let’s discuss what creatine is, how the body processes it and how it may impact the health of our hair.
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What is creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid that the human body naturally produces. It can also be found in foods such as milk, red meats and some seafood. It’s primarily stored in the skeletal muscles (the ones attached to bones by tendons), as well as in the liver, pancreas, testes and kidneys.
Although adequate levels of creatine can be easily maintained with a normal, balanced diet, it has become very popular as a supplement for gym-goers looking to reduce muscle fatigue, build their lean muscle mass or improve their athletic performance.
It can also help prevent and reduce the severity of injuries (which athletes do face) and even help tolerate heavy training loads.
How does the body process creatine?
The reason why creatine works well for body builders is because it helps make the energy our muscles need in order to work properly.
When we take a creatine supplement, our body turns it into creatine phosphate, which in turn helps make a substance called adenosine triphosphate. This is the substance that provides the energy muscles need to contract.
How much creatine is enough?
Our body naturally produces between 1-2 grams of creatine per day. When people take supplements, they usually take around 20 g per day for around a week, after which they lower the amount but maintain their intake over weeks and even months.
Because the biggest natural source of creatine is from red meats and seafood, people who don’t eat meat (such as vegetarians and vegans) may have lower levels of creatine in their body than someone with a standard diet.
These individuals may indeed benefit from an increased intake of creatine, but most people already have all the creatine they need for proper body function.
Even when supplementing for athletic reasons, the truth is that skeletal muscle can only hold a certain amount of creatine, the excess going to waste - so while a temporary boost may be good, taking too much creatine than needed won’t have much more of an effect.
What are the proven side effects of creatine supplements?
Creatine is generally considered to be safe to take, when taken as indicated for under 18 months. Even when that initial dose is increased to 25 grams and taken for 14 days, there is little evidence to suggest this is an unsafe dose.
However, creatine might not be safe to take for people who have pre-existing kidney problems, although this has not yet been proven. It’s best to consult with your physician before taking any such supplements.
What is the link between creatine and hair loss?
In order to understand why creatine is believed to be related to hair loss, we need to first understand the mechanism behind male pattern hair loss or androgenic alopecia.
People who have the gene for hair loss, and have high levels of DHT in their bodies (which Testosterone is naturally turned into) will eventually have to face hair thinning and hair loss.
Testosterone is also highly linked with muscle growth, being considered essentially responsible for increasing muscle mass. Of course, when people go to the gym and work out more, they are also inadvertently increasing their levels of testosterone.
Because around 10% of testosterone in adults is converted into DHT, and because when people work out more they naturally increase the levels of testosterone in their bodies, it can be said that they will have more DHT levels in their bodies.
A study published in 2008 on one hundred men found that once they started working out, their DHT levels increased by 14.5%.
Another study found that the ratio between DHT and Testosterone increased by 36% after 7 days of creatine supplementation, and remained as high as 22% after the initial dose was lowered to maintenance levels (the process of supplementation as mentioned above).
Although these numbers are quite shocking, it’s crucial to remember that although increased levels of DHT in the body can lead to some hair thinning and hair loss, without the ‘hair loss gene’, these effects won’t happen to a significant extent. How to reduce DHT?
This is why creatine supplements should not be a cause of concern to those looking to gain muscle and maintain their hair health - if their genes do not support hair loss.
How can you prevent creatine hair loss?
Now that it’s clear that creatine will not cause significant hair loss in individuals without a genetic predisposition to hair loss or Androgenic Alopecia, we can have an objective look at how any hair loss can be prevented.
If you are currently taking creatine and have noticed that you are losing more hair than normal, then it would be best for you to consult a dermatologist and investigate if you have Androgenic Alopecia.
If you do, don’t worry - there are many courses of treatment you can use to mitigate the effects of this very common condition.
In the case in which your hair loss is not worrying, but you would like to know what steps you can follow in order to reduce fall out and thinning, then here is a list of what you can do:
Increase blood flow to the scalp
In order to function properly and deliver nutrients and oxygen to your hair, your hair follicles need to have a good level of blood flow.
To make sure this process is optimal, we recommend regular scalp massages, the usage of special hair brushes and even the use of some hair growth stimulators.
Stress can also be a factor that reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your follicles, so remember to practice deep breathing.
Have a balanced diet
If you’re using creatine, chances are that you’re going to the gym a lot - so you probably already know a lot about getting your macronutrients and micronutrients right.
You are probably also focusing on a large protein intake, which is also great news for your hair, as it is essentially made out of protein.
While you’re paying attention to your diet, make sure you are also getting those nutrients that are so important for your hair’s healthy growth: iron, zinc, vitamin D and B-vitamins.
Use the right shampoo & conditioner for you
Some people tend to just pick up whatever shampoo and conditioner is on sale, but that is a big mistake especially if you are struggling with hair loss.
In this case specifically, using hair products that are not overly stripping, gentle on your hair follicles and contain the right ingredients to stimulate hair growth is crucial.
Double-check the substances in your styling products
Using the right products in the shower isn’t enough - we need to also have a look at the ingredients in the products that are on our hair day in day out: hair styling products.
Considering the fact that they are applied every day, it is important to ensure that they don’t contain any substances that will impede all the good progress done by getting high quality shampoos and conditioners.
Some of the worst ones to watch out for are Sulfates, Phthalates and Aryl Amines - check out our comprehensive list for more.
Invest in a good serum
Just like hair styling products are going to be in your hair for most of the day, it’s important to add something to the mix that will bring your hair the support and nourishment it needs.
This is why hair serums have risen to popularity in recent years and formulations have diversified to cater to all your hair needs, from dryness to hair loss.
There are plenty of options on the market, but as always we recommend opting for a science-based serum formulation packed with high quality natural ingredients that will benefit your hair.
Introduce Biotin into your hair care routine
Just like creatine, Biotin is naturally produced by the human body, and has been proven to aid hair growth in people when applied topically. Although there hasn’t been a huge amount of research done in this area, anecdotal evidence is rife and encouraging enough for it to be worth a try.
Try a caffeine shampoo
Quite the popular ingredient when it comes to hair growth hair care, caffeine has recently risen in popularity.
When applied directly onto the hair and scalp (preferably in a dermatologist-approved formulation, rather than DIY masks), it has been proven to help promote healthy hair growth and even prevent hair loss and thinning.
If you’re curious about this ingredient, try a caffeine shampoo and see if your results are as satisfactory as the studies indicate.
The way in which our bodies work is complex, and it’s difficult to say whether or not one thing absolutely impacts another. But one principle of science that is good to keep in mind is that correlation is not causation - and while creatine supplements may be associated with hair loss, that doesn’t mean that they are necessarily the ones causing the hair loss.
Creatine itself does not cause hair loss. When taken in conjunction with the high level of physical activity that usually accompanies it, however, those who take it are more likely to have high levels of testosterone in their bodies.
When that testosterone is converted into DHT, it may also lead to hair loss - but without the pre-existing genetic predisposition to hair thinning and hair loss, it’s unlikely that it will have a significant effect on hair loss.