Does Creatine Cause Cancer?
Creatine is a popular supplement that is used by strength athletes, bodybuilders, and performance athletes around the world. Creatine is found naturally in fish and meats, but a lot of people do not get enough of it through diet alone. This insufficiency is either because they are vegan/vegetarian, or they are just not able to eat enough of those foods to keep up with the kind of active lifestyle that they lead. Let’s face it, in today’s fast paced world, it’s nearly impossible to get every single nutrient that we’re supposed to consume every single day.
That’s why creatine is one of the most popular supplements nowadays. It’s a supplement that is generally considered to be safe. But, as with everything that we consume regularly (energy drinks, coffee…), the question eventually arises: Does this cause cancer?!
To add a little fuel to the fire, in April 2015, the British Journal of Cancer published a study which is quite concerning. Scientists were asking that very question – does creatine cause cancer – and what they found was worrying. According to the study, men that take muscle-building supplements which contain either creatine or androstenedione could be at an increased risk of developing testicular cancer.
What’s interesting to note is that the risk seems to be increased if the men use those supplements when they are under the age of 25. People who use more than one kind of supplement in an attempt to build muscle are also more at risk, and those who use the supplements for prolonged periods of time are more likely to develop testicular cancer too – according to the study.
How Was the Study Conducted?
The study was conducted on 356 men who were diagnosed with testicular cancer during a four year window – from 2006 to 2010, and another 513 men who did not have testicular cancer. The men who took part in the study were aged between 18 and 55 and were all living in Massachusetts or Connecticut.
The men were surveyed on various risk factors that are known to contribute to testicular cancer – things like smoking, the amount of exercise they got, alcohol consumption, past testicular or groin injuries, family histories of the condition, and undescended testicles. They were also asked about the way they used sports supplements during their lifetime, and there were 30 different types of supplements mentioned. The researchers looked at the supplement labels to see which major ingredients were included in those supplements – and creatine, androstenedione and protein were supplement ingredients that appeared often.
This indicates that there is some correlation between creatine use and testicular cancer, but isn’t a clear answer to the question “does creatine cause cancer?”, at least not yet.
In the interviews, it became clear that one fifth of the survey participants who had testicular cancer had used supplements to build muscle at some point in their life. Even when controlling for other potential risk factors, the odds of getting cancer remained increased among the group that took supplements.
Testicular cancer is quite common in younger men – in particular the 15 to 39 age group, and in recent decades the condition seems to be getting more prevalent. The researchers weren’t entirely clear on why testicular cancer seems to be getting more common, but it is thought in part that some of the ingredients that are found in muscle-growth supplements could be doing damage to the testicles and therefore increasing a person’s risk of developing cancer.
Some of the compounds could be acting like an artificial hormone. Indeed, it could be that there are ingredients in some supplements that are not shown on the product label – either the supplements are impure, or there are androgenic steroids included in the product – and those steroids could be what is causing cancer.
The FDA has already raised some concern over certain muscle-building supplements. They have warned consumers that a supplement that is marketed under the name Tri-Methyl Xtreme could cause liver damage, because they suspect that it contains anabolic steroids. In general, supplement makers should not be hiding steroids in their products, but supplements are not regulated in the same way that medicines are, so it’s hard for consumers to know what they are getting.
The jury is still out on the question “does creatine cause cancer”. Certainly, there could be reason to avoid it if you’re cautious. If you are over 25 and already take it, then it’s up to you whether you stop taking it, or whether you just take breaks from it. A lot of creatine supplements are supposed to be cycled – a few weeks on, then a few weeks off, and it appears that the people who did that were at a lower risk than the people who took creatine for very long periods of time.
It could be that it’s not the creatine, but something else – so taking pure creatine could mean that you are at no greater risk of testicular cancer than someone that takes no supplements at all.
At this stage, it’s impossible to say for sure. As a consumer, you may want to read the research yourself and make your own decisions, or moderate your supplement intake, or even only take supplements that are manufactured in countries that have strict controls over the ingredients that can be used in products intended for consumption by humans.
Remember that people who exercise, drink in moderation, don’t smoke, and generally look after themselves are at a lower risk of cancer than people who engage in less healthful behaviors. You cannot avoid every potentially carcinogenic thing in the world, and it would limit your life a lot if you were to try to do so. Take a moment to think about your priorities, and the potential benefits that the supplements offer versus the downsides. Creatine can improve your performance and muscle mass but only you can decide if it is the right supplement for you.