Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?
Some rumours have been going around about creatine, a popular sports and nutritional supplement used to boost muscle mass and athletic performance.
Thanks largely to a 15-year-old study, there’s a widespread belief that creatine causes hair loss. It’s time to shed this hair loss myth and look at the science.
Does creatine cause hair loss?
It’s a simple question. If only it had a simple answer.
While studies have found no direct link between creatine and hair loss, there’s a chance the supplement may indirectly cause it.
Let’s take a look at what creatine is, where the hair loss rumour all began, and whether there’s any science to back it up.
How Does Creatine Work?
Creatine is an amino acid found naturally in the muscles. Your body produces about half the creatine it needs from amino acids in the kidneys, pancreas, and liver. It gets the rest from red meat and fish consumption — or from supplements in liquid, powder, or tablet form.
Creatine supplements are popular among bodybuilders and athletes as they’re believed to help:
- Give your muscles energy
- Accelerate muscle growth
- Increase muscle mass
- Enhance strength
- Improve high-intensity performance
- Treat muscle cramps
- Protect tendons, nerves, bones, and muscles against injuries
Creatine may even help treat diseases such as Parkinson’s disease, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injuries.
It may have its benefits. But does it come at a cost?
Does Creatine Cause Hair Loss?
A single, small South African trial kicked off the rumour about creatine and hair loss.
In 2009, van der Merse and two other researchers conducted a small, randomised control trial of 20 university-aged male rugby players.
Some of these rugby players took 25 grams of creatine a day for 7 days — that’s substantially more than the recommended 3–5g per day. They followed this with 5 grams a day for another 14 days. The rest of the men were given a placebo.
The researchers published their findings:
Compared to the control group, the men taking creatine experienced a ‘statistically significant’ increase in the levels of a certain male sex hormone — dihydrotestosterone (DHT).
The link between DHT and hair loss is well established, particularly when it comes to male hair loss. This hormone is known to shrink hair follicles, shorten the hair growth cycle, and cause hair loss.
For the rugby players who took creatine, DHT levels increased by 56% after 7 days and remained 40% above baseline values after the 14-day maintenance period.
Before you jump to conclusions, there are some important things to note:
Let’s start with the fact that the study wasn’t about finding a link between creatine and hair loss. Hair density was never measured. While the study’s findings suggest creatine may increase DHT levels, that doesn’t automatically mean it causes hair loss.
Secondly, the rugby players who were studied started off with baseline DHT levels that were 23% lower than the control group. And these levels stayed ‘well within normal clinical limits’, even if the increase was ‘statistically significant’.
Most important of all:
No other study has replicated the findings from 2009.
The South African study was a standalone in studying DHT but 12 other trials have examined testosterone levels with creatine use. Only two saw a significant increase in testosterone.
Five of those trials tested creatine’s effect on free testosterone — the type of testosterone that gets converted into DHT. They also saw no significant increase.
So we return to the question:
Is hair loss a side effect of creatine?
The simple answer is no. At least, not directly.
With the findings from the 2009 study, we can’t dismiss out of hand an indirect link between hair loss and creatine. But there are plenty of reasons to be sceptical about it.
This conclusion has been confirmed by a 2021 review of the existing literature on creatine, published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition:
“The current body of evidence does not indicate that creatine supplementation increases total testosterone, free testosterone, DHT or causes hair loss/baldness.”
One thing is certain:
We need more research on this topic so that we can finally put the creatine hair loss myth to bed.
Is Creatine Safe?
Given creatine’s popularity among athletes, it’s no surprise that plenty of research has been conducted into its safety. Few studies have explored its long-term effects but those that exist suggest long-term use won’t lead to adverse health effects.
In appropriate doses, the International Society of Sports Nutrition has declared the supplement safe and effective to use. Of course, if you have any concerns, it’s best to speak with your doctor before you start taking supplements.
Experiencing Hair Loss? Discuss Treatment Options with a Doctor
Concerned about barely-there hair? Or noticing more hair in the shower drain than usual? Hair loss may be a hairy subject but it’s worth talking about.
Expressing your concerns about hair loss with a doctor can help you understand why it’s happening and what you can do to stop it — and the earlier you start treatment, the more effective it can be.
The Hairy Pill® is a hair loss treatment that includes regular consultations with a doctor who specialises in hair loss and can answer all your questions.
Ready to talk to a doctor? Get started.