Updated: Jul 9, 2020
What is creatine?
Creatine is an organic compound comprised of amino acids that is commonly used throughout the fitness industry as a supplement that can help you put on muscle. Although it comes in many forms, creatine monohydrate is most likely what you have heard of and where most of the concerns about hair loss come from. This is because monohydrate is the least expensive form of creatine to produce and is also equally, if not more, effective than the other forms, making it by far the most popular and widely available form of creatine.
The amino acids glycine, methionine, and arginine are transformed into creatine by the kidneys, liver, and the pancreas and stored in the skeletal muscles to be used as energy. That creatine then creates Adenosine triphosphate (ATP for short) which is the basic form of energy that is used by the body. The reason that athletes and bodybuilders alike supplement with creatine is because is increases the amount that is stored in the muscles. These additional stores are used to produce more ATP during the workout, providing a stable energy source throughout heavy lifting or high intensity exercise. Creatine has also been shown to not only reduce muscle breakdown but also increases the amount of water in muscle cells which results in quicker muscle growth.
“I’ve heard it causes hair loss?”
Though it is a supplement that is proven effective for fitness purposes, more than likely that is not why you are reading this article. You are probably here because either you suspect creatine may be causing your hair to fall out or you are thinking about starting creatine but do not want to start losing your hair. Both are legitimate worries, but neither have enough scientific evidence to be able to take the stress off your shoulders.
You can’t talk about this subject without mentioning the scientific study that every article written about hair loss and creatine mentions (yes we are guilty too, no shame here) about the possible increase of DHT levels in the scalp being linked to creatine supplementation. But first…
A quick look at DHT
DHT is an androgen that is produced as a by-product of testosterone. It is the hormone that is most commonly agreed upon in the scientific community as being the number one cause for male pattern hair loss. Men who are genetically predisposed to DHT sensitivity will at some point likely experience the damaging effects on the hair follicles that DHT has, including causing hair to undergo the miniaturization process. Since the enzyme 5-alpha reductase (5-AR) is what is responsible for converting testosterone into DHT, 5-AR inhibitors like finasteride or dutasteride are the most common (and likely effective) hair loss treatments because they stop the conversion process.
Now back to the study
This study is commonly mentioned because it shows a correlation between higher levels of DHT and creatine intake. It was conducted on 20 active rugby players, ten of which took 25 grams of creatine per day for one week and then 5 grams for the next two weeks, and ten of which were given a placebo. After the study was over, it was found that the players who were taking creatine showed a 56% increase in DHT levels in the scalp for the first seven days and remained 40% above the baseline for the remained of the study.
Tip: the elevated DHT levels measured in the study were still within normal range, possibly indicating that it would not cause more hair loss than would normally occur
Now, at first glance the findings of the study are substantial, but there are a couple problems when you take a closer look.
For starters, the study was looking solely at DHT levels, not hair loss, so no scientific conclusions can be made about hair loss whatsoever. Second, the standard dose for creatine supplementation is 5 grams/day, which means that results from taking 25 grams/day may or may not have implications for lower dosages. Finally, this is the only study of its kind, not to mention that it was conducted on a very small sample size.
The anecdotal evidence
Ironically, creatine is one of the most well-researched supplements available, one study even showed that there were no negative side effects after taking it for four years. This begs the question: why has none of this research been focused on hair loss?
We wish we knew the answer to that. You would think more research would have been done on a topic being talked about so much. On any number of forums you can read about peoples supposed stories with creatine and hair loss where they “started creatine and experienced thinning” or “noticed their hair was thinning and stopped creatine, to which it grew right back.” Of course all of this is still anecdotal, which unfortunately does not give much validity to the claims made and is why you should try your best to pay little attention to discussion forums. you never know who is behind the keyboard and if they are legit or not.
The unfortunate reality, like that of many topics related to hair loss, is that more research is needed, and soon. The hefty amount of anecdotal evidence online about creatine and hair loss has people all over the world wondering if they need to risk losing their hair for bigger muscles. With a supplement that is so widely used, studied, and talked about, we should remain optimistic that more studies relating to hair loss will be done soon.
The one study that was done did indeed show a positive correlation between creatine intake and increased DHT levels, but that study was far from perfect. Yes, DHT may be the cause of male pattern baldness, but more than likely creatine has little to none to do with it. Take that last sentence with a grain of salt though because everyone reacts differently to different things and the lack of research doesn’t allow us to rule anything out. If you are suffering from hair loss there are a lot of other things you can be doing to stop it.