Creatine is an amino acid that’s important for muscle function. It’s made by the human body, but can also be consumed through animal products or nutrient supplements. When produced as a dietary supplement, creatine is usually sold as creatine monohydrate. This product is particularly popular with athletes.
Creatine is thought to be safe and even has health benefits. It’s not thought to cause or be related to hair loss. However, there’s a small chance that regular supplementation may influence your hormones – which, in turn, could influence the progression of male pattern hair loss.
Creatine and hair loss
Creatine is one of the most popular natural supplements sold worldwide. The main reason people take this dietary supplement is to enhance exercise performance – making it very popular among both amateur and professional athletes. Yet despite its popularity and health benefits, there’s also an old wives tale saying it causes hair loss.
Back in 2009, the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine published a study on creatine supplementation in 20 South African rugby players. The young men in this study consumed 25 grams of creatine with 25 grams of glucose per day for a week. Then, for the following two weeks, they consumed 5 grams of creatine per day with 25 grams of glucose.
The researchers in this study were trying to determine if creatine consumption could influence hormones. They wanted to see if creatine affected testosterone or dihydrotestosterone (an androgen synthesized from testosterone). And while testosterone levels did not change, they reported a 22 to 56 percent increase in dihydrotestosterone (DHT) levels.
The men in this study did not report any hair loss symptoms or experience any hair loss. In fact – no study on creatine supplementation shows any link between creatine and alopecia. Despite the persistence of this rumor, creatine hair loss does not seem to be a real thing.
Creatine, DHT, and androgenic alopecia
It seems that the link between creatine and hair loss came about due to creatine’s potential to affect DHT. It’s well known that DHT is the main hormone involved in the progression of androgenic alopecia (commonly known as pattern hair loss). And according to a review in Dermatologic Therapy, it’s also well established that DHT blockers can be used to treat male pattern hair loss. In fact, this is how hair loss medications like finasteride and dutasteride work.
But it’s important to note that the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine study only seems to show that creatine loading (when you take larger than average doses to rapidly increase the amount in your body) affects DHT levels. When creatine doses were decreased, DHT levels also dropped.
If you’re worried about creatine affecting your DHT levels, you probably shouldn’t be – unless you’re creatine loading. Remember: Daily doses in the 20-25 gram range are not meant to be consumed long-term. So like in the study, any increases in DHT should also decrease after a few weeks, assuming you’re consuming the average recommended dose of creatine (around 3-5 grams per day).
Who should consume creatine supplements?
When you think of the average person who consumes creatine supplements, your mind probably jumps to a bodybuilder or weight lifter. But creatine supplements are for all sorts of athletes – including sprinters and cyclists – as well as non-athletes.
Most people consume creatine naturally in the foods they eat. According to the Cleveland Clinic and a study in the Journal of Functional Foods, you consume creatine every time you eat animal products like beef, pork, chicken, herring, and other seafood. Creatine can also be found in dairy products, like milk. However, it’s not found in any plant-based foods.
If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or tend to consume a primarily plant-based diet, there’s a good chance you’re low in creatine. Now, creatine isn’t considered to be an essential nutrient as the human body is able to make small amounts of it. So for many people, low creatine isn’t a major issue. But if you’re an athlete, work outdoors, or have a very active job, creatine supplements can actually be good for your health.
According to the Mayo Clinic, creatine supplements can help you increase muscle mass and prevent nerve, bone, ligament, tendon, and muscle injuries. They’ve also been shown to help improve cognitive function and can even be used to help treat certain metabolic disorders and age-related health issues. Just be aware that the people who tend to get the most benefits from creatine supplements are individuals who are low in creatine (due to their diet or a metabolic issue).
Before you gag at the thought of taking an animal-derived dietary supplement, don’t worry – creatine is synthesized from three amino acids: arginine, glycine, and methionine. This means that vegan and vegetarian-friendly creatine supplements are relatively easy to come by. Just keep an eye out for gelatin capsules and other non-vegan ingredients that may be incorporated into your creatine product.
No type of creatine is linked to hair loss
There are a number of different types of creatine that you can find in dietary supplements. According to a study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, commercially available creatine is prepared as:
- Creatine monohydrate. This is the most popular form you’ll encounter.
- Creatine anhydrous. This creatine has had a water molecule removed in order to increase the concentration of creatine found in your product. It’s kind of like an extra-strength version of creatine monohydrate.
- Creatine pyruvate (creatine in salt form)
- Creatine citrate (creatine in salt form)
- Creatine maltate (creatine in salt form)
- Creatine phosphate (creatine in salt form)
- Creatine oroate (creatine in salt form)
- Magnesium creatine (creatine in salt form)
- Kre Alkalyn (creatine with baking soda)
- Creatine ethyl ester hydrochloride (creatine in ester form)
- Creatine gluconate (creatine bound to glucose)
- Creatine effervescent (creatine monohydrate with citric acid and bicarbonate)
All of these types of creatine are fundamentally the same – and despite their slightly different names, they’re still all creatine. The main difference between them is that some are simply better at dissolving in water, while others are more shelf-stable.
However, certain types of creatine may be more likely to cause side effects than others. For example, despite its popularity, creatine monohydrate seems to be more likely to cause unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects than creatine in salt form. But creatine salts are less stable from a manufacturing perspective – which means you’re less likely to find them incorporated into supplements and other products.
Besides minor differences like this, there are no major differences in the effectiveness or side effects produced by these different types of creatine. The standard side effects, like water retention and weight gain, will likely occur regardless of the product you’ve decided to consume. And none of these types of creatine has been associated with pattern hair loss or any other type of alopecia.
Creatine is generally considered to be safe. But you should be aware that – as with all nutritional supplements – the US Food and Drug Administration does not regulate the production of creatine products. This means that one supplement may differ substantially from another in the amount of creatine, quality of creatine, additional ingredients incorporated, and source of these ingredients.
Can other ingredients in creatine supplements cause hair loss?
Creatine supplements can be sold on their own. But they’re just as likely to be mixed with a variety of other items. Creatine is commonly combined with ingredients like:
- Amino acids
- L-Carnitine L-Tartrate
- Plant extracts or sweeteners (like stevia or black pepper fruit extract)
- Natural or artificial flavorings
- Citric acid
- Malic acid
- Arabic gum
- Natural colorants (like turmeric powder or spirulina powder)
None of these ingredients have been linked to pattern hair loss or any other form of alopecia. In fact, some of these ingredients – like caffeine – are actually thought to be able to help counteract androgenic alopecia. It’s very unlikely for these – or any other additional ingredients in your creatine supplements – to be the culprit behind your hair loss.
If you’re worried that you’re losing hair, you should consider using an FDA-approved hair loss treatment. You can take an oral DHT blocking drug like finasteride, use a laser hair therapy hat, helmet, or brush, or apply a topical treatment like minoxidil. All three of these treatments have been proven to help fight pattern hair loss and help you regrow healthier hair.
Will my hair grow back after taking creatine?
There’s no proof showing that creatine causes hair loss. The closest proof that exists is a single study showing that creatine supplementation at five times the recommended daily dose can influence and affect DHT, the main hormone associated with pattern hair loss.
While this link may seem strong enough for some, the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine study only talks about a brief increase in DHT levels – not any relationship between creatine, elevated DHT, and hair loss. It is actually possible for large amounts of creatine to be related to hair loss. However, unless someone else does a longer-term study on creatine supplementation, DHT levels, and hair loss symptoms, we’ll never know for sure.
In the meantime, if you’re worried about your hair loss, there’s no need to stop using creatine. Instead, consider using a hair loss treatment like minoxidil, finasteride, or laser hair therapy. These FDA-approved treatments can stop pattern hair loss from getting worse and encourage the growth of longer, stronger, hair.