Does Creatine Lead to Hair Loss? (The Not So Simple Answer)
If you have been around the fitness or bodybuilding community, I'm pretty sure you're aware of creatine and its various benefits including rapid muscle gain.
However, many athlethes and weightlifters who use it as a supplement on a regular basis start to wonder if there might be a link to hair loss. Just google "creatine hair loss" and you'll get a wide range of opinions and a lot of broscience about the subject. It's time to have a closer look at the subject and see if the rumors about creatine that are currently being circulated are true or if you should not worry about it at all. Let's find out!
How Creatine Affects the Body
Creatine is one of the most popular supplements used by athletes and weightlifters who want to gain weight. It is a protein-like compound that is necessary for creating phosphocreatine. This phosphocreatine draws high-energy phosphate molecules to the muscles, where they can be used to create readily-used energy. Because of the role of phosphocreatine in energy production, many areas of the body are affected by creatine:
- Increases muscle strenght and size
- Enhances recovery
- Improves sprint performance
- Enhances brain function
Studies of people who take creatine have shown that it also raises dihydrotestosterone levels (DHT), lowers cholesterol levels, and improves memory. People attempting to gain muscle like creatine because it allows them to increase their maximum strength while weight lifting, and it enables people to do more reps with their usual weights. One study by the University of Queensland found that powerlifters taking creatine were able to gain six pounds more in four weeks than people who were not using the supplement.
What is DHT?
DHT is a a byproduct of the male hormone testosterone. It is responsible for the formation of male primary sex characteristics during embryonic life.
The Cause of Male Baldness Pattern
The kind of hair loss that is said to be liked with creatine is male pattern baldness. To better understand if there's a relation, it's important to understand male baldness patten and it's causes first.
It's a condition that affects up to 70 percent of all men and chances are high that you recognize it looking at the picture above. It results in a loss of hair at the temples of the face and at the crown of the head.
People lose hair because hair follicles are blocked by androgenic hormones, which are hormones that control the development of male sexual characteristics - DHT being one of them. These hormones surround the hair follicle, preventing it from absorbing nutrients needed for growth. Over time, the follicle shrinks, and the hair begins to grow in thinner and thinner. Hairs become so thin that they break off easily, resulting in hair loss, and eventually they stop growing altogether.
Male pattern baldness is a genetic condition, so it only happens in men who inherited certain types of androgen receptors that result in hair loss when exposed to androgen hormones. In other words:
If male baldness pattern runs in your family, chances are high that you're sensitive to DHT and start to lose hair if you have high levels thereof.
The Link Between Hair Loss and Creatine Intake
Almost everyone who is considering using creatine has heard anecdotal evidence suggesting that creatine may cause hair loss. Many people claim that within just a few months of using creatine, they noticed a significant reduction in hair.
The main reason that people theorize that creatine may cause hair loss is because it increases levels of DHT. When a person is regularly supplements creatine, the 5-alpha reductase enzyme causes the body to convert testosterone into DHT.
When there is a large amount of androgenic hormones being absorbed into the body, male pattern hair loss progresses at a much faster rate. Therefore, creatine could cause hair loss by increasing DHT levels in the body.
But of course, there could be a lot of other reasons for hair loss:
- A lot of people claim that they start to lose hair from creatine are in their mid twenties - that's the time when most mens hair start to thin out anyway
- DHT levels naturally increase if you work out - whether you take creatine or not
What Science Has to Say About Creatine and Hair Loss
No scientific studies have been done specifically on creatine hair loss, but there is a lot of medical research that support the idea that creatine leads to hair loss.
A 2009 study examined rugby players who took creatine. It was shown that after 28 days of taking creatine, testosterone levels remained the same, but DHT levels increased by 56 percent.
No other study has shown such a huge jump in DHT levels, but there are countless other studies that show overall DHT and testosterone levels are increased by at least 15 percent when athletes or average people use creatine while training.
Years of research have shown that DHT causes baldness to progress at a quicker pace, so creatine is definitively linked to an increase in male pattern baldness.
How You Can Limit Hair Loss Due to Creatine
Some men may be fine with sacrificing their hair for muscle gain, but it is perfectly reasonable to want to keep your hair while boosting your workout.
If you have no genetic history of male pattern baldness, then creatine will most likley not harm your hair.
However, if you are already experiencing male pattern baldness or you are already genetically predisposed to lose hair when exposed to DHT, then creatine can stimulate this hair loss process and make you lose hair after. If early hair loss or male pattern baldness runs in your family, you may want to think twice before using large amounts of creatine supplements.
There are many other supplements that can boost energy without raising hormone levels. However, these scientific findings do not necessarily mean that you cannot use creatine to boost your workout.
The studies that linked creatine to increased DHT levels were all done with massive amounts of creatine, about 25 grams per day. A lower level, below 3 grams per day, can still give you a bit of extra energy without affecting hormone levels significantly.
There are also several medications and remedies on the market that are specifically designed to prevent hair loss from excess DHT:
Natural Remedy: Block DHT with Saw Palmetto
Saw palmetto extract comes from the fruit of a type of palm tree that grows in the southeast United States. It is a 5 alpha reductase inhibitor, which means that it stops testosterone and 5 alpha reductase enzymes from combining to form DHT. A study found that 60% of subjects who used saw palmetto had an improvement in hair follicle thickness.
How much Saw Palmetto should I take?
MedlinePlus recommends to take 160 mg twice a day or 320 mg once a day. I generally advice to start with a low dose and see how you react to it.
To summarize all of the scientific information above, the basic reason that creatine may cause hair loss is because creatine stimulates the production of DHT.
You can normally tell if you are at risk for male pattern baldness because it is an inherited condition, but please feel free to comment below if you want to determine whether or not you might have the genetic predisposition towards hair loss. As long as you stick to a dosage of fewer than 3 grams daily, you should be able to get the energy-boosting effects of creatine without raising your DHT levels.
Also Saw Palmetto might be worth a try because the side effects are very limited, it's not very expensive and a lot of people got good results with it. If you concerned about tannins and iron, add some lime juice to it, as this will improve iron absorption.