Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss
During the ‘92 Olympic Games held in Barcelona, Linford Christie, a British sprinter, won a gold medal in the 100-meter race. When asked about his secret of success and such great performance, he revealed that he has been using creatine supplementation. Since then, it gained popularity and is still considered the most popular as well as most studied supplement in the market.
If you are an athlete or into other sports, there is a strong chance that you have heard of the substance called creatine. It is a supplement that is used to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance. There is also research suggesting it has neuroprotective properties (protects against nerve cell damage). (1)
However, as it gained popularity, it also raised some questions and feelings of doubt as certain side effects of creatine were being reported. One of the main concerns of the users was about creatine-related hair loss. Is there any scientific evidence to prove an association between creatine use and hair loss, or is it just a myth?
Continue reading to understand what creatine is, why it is used, and the relationship between creatine and hair loss.
What Exactly is Creatine
Body muscles and bones comprise proteins that give strength to the body, play a role in muscle contraction and relaxation, leading to body movements, and help in tissue repair. These proteins are made up of smaller building blocks called amino acids. Creatine is one of the amino acids found in the human body and is significant for its role in body strength.
Sources of Creatine
A great percentage of creatine is produced by the liver, kidney, and pancreas, while the most important production site is the muscle tissue. (2)
Diet is the source of approximately half of the body’s creatine. It is especially found in protein-rich foods such as:
- Milk (like cow, goat, or sheep milk)
- Red meat (for example, pork, beef, and veal)
Synthetic creatine supplementations are also available in the market in the form of energy drinks, capsules, powder, and energy bars.
Who Takes Creatine Supplementation and Why
Athletes, sportsmen, and bodybuilders take creatine supplementation as it is shown to improve muscle mass, give strength to the body and improve athletic performance.
Creatine, once taken, is converted to phosphocreatine by an enzyme called creatine phosphokinase. Phosphocreatine is a form of stored energy for the cells as it helps in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy molecule of the body. Therefore, creatine is a source of energy for muscle cells, and it helps to perform better during exercises. (3)
It also stimulates the release of anabolic hormones, which promotes muscle growth and prevents protein breakdown. Thus, creatine supplementation is associated with a significant increase in muscle mass both in athletes and untrained individuals.
Creatine supplementation is very popular among athletes and sportsmen, and it’s allowed by the International Olympic Committee and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).
Moreover, creatine supplementation has also been shown to improve brain functioning. It has also been suggested to use creatine in neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions, but the results of the clinical studies are not conclusive.
Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss
With the advent of creatine supplementation, many side effects have also been reported. Hair loss is also considered one of the side effects of creatine use. Does creatine cause hair loss? Or is it just a myth?
Many people have shared their views regarding this, and it is the general public’s thought that people given creatine supplementation observed significant hair loss and thinning of hair, especially within the first few months of supplementation.
How May Creatine Lead to Hair Loss
Male hair loss pattern is strongly associated with the levels of a hormone called dihydrotestosterone (DHT). DHT is derived from another hormone called testosterone, which most people recognize or must have heard of before. As the testosterone level in males is higher than in females, it leads to increased muscle mass and baldness.
Studies show that creatine supplementation also causes an increase in the level of DHT, as high as 50% of the normal value (4). This rise is assumed to increase muscle mass and exercise performance. Since this hormone can contribute to hair loss in males, it may raise concerns regarding an indirect relation between creatine supplementation and hair loss, even though no case of hair loss was reported in this study.
The Role of DHT in Hair Loss
Before jumping to the role of DHT in hair loss, let’s have a look at the growth and life cycle of hair follicles.
The life cycle of hair follicles is divided into three phases: (5)
- Anagen: It is the phase that involves the growth of hair follicles, and it continues for several years. The longer it lasts, the greater the growth of hair. This stage lasts for several years.
- Catagen: This phase allows the renewal of hair follicles and the transition to quiescence. This stage lasts for only several weeks.
- Telogen: It is the resting phase of the hair follicle as no growth occurs, and the duration of this phase is variable.
Over time, as age progresses, the anagen phase begins to shorten while the telogen phase expands. This results in slower hair growth and a tendency for hair to fall out easily, leading to hair loss.
As far as the role of DHT is concerned, anabolic hormones (such as testosterone, DHT, and steroids) are believed to speed up the transition between the hair follicle phases. This results in more hair follicles in the telogen or resting phase and less in the anagen or growing phase. This makes the person susceptible to hair loss. (6)
Clinical Studies on the Creatine-Hair Loss Relationship
The relationship between creatine and hair loss was demonstrated in only one study by van der Merwe et al. (4). In this study, creatine supplementation was given to one group, and a placebo was given to the other. After seven days of supplementation, the treatment group showed a 50% increase in DHT concentrations compared to the placebo group. As a rise in DHT might lead to hair loss, it was suggested that creatine might indirectly cause hair loss.
However, these results were only speculated upon in this study and were not replicated in further studies. After this, twelve other studies have been done on the creatine-hair loss relationship, and none of them proved any association between creatine supplementation and hair loss. In two of these studies, an insignificant rise in testosterone concentration was noted, while in the remaining ten studies, no change in testosterone or DHT concentration was noted. (7)
According to the available research, we can conclude that the current evidence doesn’t show any association between creatine supplementation and hair loss. Although an increase in DHT due to creatine supplementation was seen in one study, as mentioned earlier, there were no direct associations seen between creatine-induced elevated DHT levels and hair loss. Given that no study provides direct evidence of hair loss, there is no evidence that creatine poses any risk of hair loss or baldness.
- Forbes SC, Cordingley DM, Cornish SM, Gualano B, Roschel H, Ostojic SM, et al. Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Brain Function and Health. Nutrients. 2022 Feb 22;14(5):921. Effects of Creatine Supplementation on Brain Function and Health – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Salazar JH. Overview of Urea and Creatinine. Lab Med. 2014 Feb;45(1):e19–20. Overview of Urea and Creatinine | Laboratory Medicine | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
- Creatine and Creatinine Metabolism | Physiological Reviews [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jul 14]. Available from: https://journals.physiology.org/doi/full/10.1152/physrev.2000.80.3.1107?rfr_dat=cr_pub++0pubmed&url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori%3Arid%3Acrossref.org
- van der Merwe J, Brooks NE, Myburgh KH. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players. Clin J Sport Med Off J Can Acad Sport Med. 2009 Sep;19(5):399–404. Three weeks of creatine monohydrate supplementation affects dihydrotestosterone to testosterone ratio in college-aged rugby players – PubMed (nih.gov)
- Alonso L, Fuchs E. The hair cycle. J Cell Sci. 2006 Feb 1;119(3):391–3. The hair cycle | Journal of Cell Science | The Company of Biologists
- Frontiers | Dihydrotestosterone Regulates Hair Growth Through the Wnt/β-Catenin Pathway in C57BL/6 Mice and In Vitro Organ Culture [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jul 14]. Available from: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2019.01528/full
- Antonio J, Candow DG, Forbes SC, Gualano B, Jagim AR, Kreider RB, Rawson ES, Smith-Ryan AE, VanDusseldorp TA, Willoughby DS, Ziegenfuss TN. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2021 Feb 8;18(1):13. doi: 10.1186/s12970-021-00412-w. PMID: 33557850; PMCID: PMC7871530. Common questions and misconceptions about creatine supplementation: what does the scientific evidence really show? – PubMed (nih.gov)