What I am about to tell you is not going to make me a very popular person
with many supplement manufacturers. In fact, some of them are going to be
down right pissed off at me. On the other hand, some of them are going to be
happy someone spilled the beans and told the truth.|
Finally, some of them will be totally unaware of this information and will
be shocked when they read it. Basically, I fully expect this article to
cause a sh*% storm that will reverberate throughout the supplement industry.
The only people who I know are going to be happy about this article is the
consumer, but I am getting ahead of myself. As we all know, creatine is one
of the best bodybuilding supplements ever discovered. It increases strength,
lean body mass, and, to a lesser extent, endurance. If that were not enough,
it's relatively cheap to boot!
What more could we ask for from a supplement?
When creatine was first introduced it was sort of pricey, but no one really
cared because it worked so well. As time went on and more companies began
selling creatine, the inevitable price war began and prices came down.
At that point creatine was only being produced by a few companies, so
creatine was basically creatine and the price was the only real
consideration. As is typical of the market place, once creatine became big
business, several new manufacturers popped up and it became no longer a
price war as much as a quality war. The expression "creatine is creatine" no
longer holds true. More on that shortly.
At this time there are probably four-five companies large enough to mass
produce creatine for the sports nutrition market. These companies in turn
sell their product in huge bulk amounts to various distributors around the
As far as the mass producers are concerned, there is a large German company,
two companies out of China, and two in the United States. Though there are
various other companies, for this article we will basically concern
ourselves with these five major producers which probably comprise 80-90% of
the creatine production market.
Why I had to write this article
The supplement industry in the United States is by and large a
self-regulated industry. Unlike other countries, we (the USA) don't have
government constantly telling us what we can and cannot do with our
supplements. Though they have been trying to discredit supplements for
decades, the FDA and pharmaceutical/ medical industrial complex have largely
failed to do so.
As a self-regulated industry, we must do just that. Let me state here and
now, I am all for self-regulation and totally against government regulation
when it comes to supplements. When we find gross problems, we have to expose
them no matter what the cost. Any supplement that is found to be potentially
dangerous, terribly misleading, or otherwise a total scam, must be exposed
If we don't do it, then we allow the "powers that be" (who have an interest
in discrediting the supplement industry) to get one step closer to the
Orwellian scenario of other countries. I thought long and hard as to whether
or not I should write this article, but in the end, as a person of good
conscience and ethics, I knew I had to.
In the end, it will cost the entire supplement industry far more than any
one loss could ever cost a single company if problems with a certain product
are not exposed.
As far as I am concerned, this is us airing out or own dirty inter-industry
laundry and policing our own, instead of waiting for the "don't confuse us
with the facts" popular media or other groups to come after the supplement
I know it must sound like I am almost apologizing for writing this article,
and in a way I am. It could potentially cost certain people a great deal of
money. On the other hand, it could also make some other person a great deal
of money, depending on where they fall (this will make more sense to the
reader as you read along).
In the end, the truth can never been denied, it can only be delayed. With
each day of delay, the cost to everyone goes up. Nuff said.
Are you getting more than you paid for?
Most of us are always happy when we get more than we paid for, but in some
instances, it's not such a good idea. If we are buying say vitamin C and the
label says "500mg per capsule" and laboratory analysis reveals it contains
600mg, then that is a great thing.
However, if we test a product and not only does it contain what the label
claims, but several other compounds we did not know were in there and had no
place being in there, then that's a completely different story.
For example, when the amino acid L-Tryptophan was taken off the market for
the death of several people, it was not because of the L-Tryptophan itself,
but because of a chemical contaminant found in a batch of the L-tryptophan
that was not supposed to be there. This was a perfect example of getting
more than you paid for in the worst possible scenario.
What I am going to write about in this article certainly is not as bad as
the L-tryptophan fiasco, but it could be a potential health concern.
So after that long, cryptic, and bizarre introduction, what am I getting at?
Recently, a company tested the five largest creatine manufacturers products
and tested the products of various distributors from the USA, Germany, Great
Britain, and other countries.
At this time, the company who did the testing wishes to remain anonymous,
lest they be accused of throwing stones at the supplement industry. However,
this is a very large and reputable company and they stand behind their test
Also, I know this company to be one of the worlds most reputable companies,
so I had no problems with their testing results or methods. The test results
came to me through the back door so to speak. So what was tested for and
what did it reveal? The creatine products were tested for: Dicyandiamide,
Creatinine, Dihydrotriazine, and sodium content.
What did the tests reveal? It revealed that there is a wide range of
differences between creatine products from different manufacturers. The
purity level of all the creatine products were also tested and they
generally fell between 88 and 92%.
Now before you go off yelling "but my creatine says 99% pure creatine
monohydrate on the bottle," you have to remember there is a small amount of
water in creatine monohydrate.
Before we bother with the results, we need to take a look at the chemicals
that were tested for-and subsequently found- in these samples. What really
bothered me was the fact that there is little safety research on some of
these chemicals, most notably the dihydrotriazine.
I did Med-line searches, looked through various chemical data related books
(i.e. the Merck Index and other publications), made many phone calls to
chemists, spent hours on the internet, and was amazed to find so little real
safety data on some of these materials.
Considering the fact that some creatine products contain fairly high amounts
of these chemicals, the lack of solid safety data did not make me feel very
comfortable. The major point of this is really the amount of creatine
ingested in relation to the amount of contaminant present. It's not that a
compound has a small amount of some contaminant per se, but the levels of
the contaminant is found in relation to how much of the product is consumed
is the real question.
In the December issue of Health and Nutrition Breakthroughs (p12, 1997) Dr.
Podell addressed the same concern regarding creatine as I have when he
stated "...there is the potentially important issue of product purity. Given
the high doses of creatine most people take, even a minute toxic impurity
could have a dangerous effect. Unfortunately we cannot be sure of a
manufacturers' quality controls."
As we all know, people don't just take 500mg (1/2 a gram) of creatine, they
take 10,000mg (10g), 20,000mg (20g), or even 30,000mg (30g) of creatine per
day, so even a small amount of a contaminant (such as the dihydrotriazine)
can add up quickly.
For example, one creatine product contained as much as 18,000 parts per
million (PPM) of Dicyandiamide. If a person is taking in ten grams per day
of creatine, that's 180 mg of this chemical a day. If you are taking in 30g
a day of creatine-as is often the case during the loading phase-you would be
getting a whopping 540mg a day of dicyandiamide!
DC is actually a derivative of one of the starting chemicals (cyanamide)
used in creatine production. DC is formed during the production of creatine
products, and large amounts found in a product are considered the result of
an incomplete or inefficient process. A quality creatine product will
contain very small amounts, less than 20-50ppm. At this time, DC does not
appear to be a particularly toxic chemical. Oral studies with animals (rats
and dogs) lasting up to 90 days have not shown serious toxicity or
carcinogenic effects, and acute poisoning also takes very high amounts.
DC appears to have many uses in the chemical industry. Some of the more
interesting is the use of DC in the production of fertilizers, explosives,
fire proofing compounds, cleaning compounds, soldering compounds, stabilizer
in detergents, modifier for starch products, and a catalyst for epoxy
At the concentrations found in some of the creatine products (see below),
it's a good thing this stuff does not appear to be particularly toxic.
However, as far as I am concerned, I don't want to be eating the stuff. One
interesting point as it relates to DC and toxicity is, if one looks at the
safety sheet on the stuff it states that DC breaks down into hydrogen
cyanide gas when exposed to a strong acid. Hydrogen cyanide gas is very
toxic and has been used as a chemical warfare agent!
As Bruce Kneller points out (see side bar), stomach acid, which has a PH of
2, is a very strong acid. Is even a tiny amount of hydrogen cyanide gas
produced from the intake of large amounts of DC? The chemist I spoke to did
not seem to think so and the safety data with animals would tend to support
this, but who knows. Bruce might be overreacting a bit on this, but it's
better to lean on the cautious side with such things. Bottom line, it's best
not to be eating large amounts of DC in this writer's opinion.
DT appears to be the real mystery chemical as far as potentially toxic
contaminants found in some creatine products. One company had it listed as
"...Dihydrotriazine is often found in various creatine products. This
substance is a byproduct of non-optimized creatine productions and
consequently widely spread over creatine products. Dihydrotriazine is a
compound with unknown pharmaceutical and toxicological properties." It was
virtually impossible to find any useful safety data on this chemical.
However, DT is part of a large family of chemicals known as the "triazines."
It is an organic base with many derivatives. Some of these derivatives are
toxic while others are known to be non-toxic, so it is very difficult to
come to any real solid opinion regarding the potential toxicity of this
One chemist I spoke to from a major pharmaceutical supply company said to me
on the phone "it's safe to say that there will be major differences in
toxicity between derivatives since 'triazine' simply means possessing three
C=N-H groups. Some derivatives are highly toxic."
Bill Roberts, a medicinal Chemist and writer for Dan Duchaine's Dirty
Dieting news letter commented after I sent him over this information: "There
really is no way to say just how high a chronic intake of this chemical
[these chemicals] is safe in humans from the information given. If the
amounts were very small, say a few milligrams per week, it's a reasonable
guess that there would probably be no problem.
But if a creatine brand has say 1% of this impurity [these impurities] then
people are going to be consuming thousands of milligrams of this compound
[these compounds] over time. I think we have to be concerned about taking so
much of something that really isn't well studied in humans for safety. It
would certainly be unwise to assume thattoxicity is not an issue.
If the consumer has a choice between a creatine brand that contains this
impurity [these impurities] in significant amounts, and one that is more
pure, I'd certainly recommend spending the extra money and obtaining the
So as you can see, we are left with a major question mark regarding DT. For
me, the less I know about a chemical the less of it I want to find in any
product I am ingesting.
Though this chemical might turn out to be perfectly harmless, I think it
should not be found in any amount and thus should be non-detectable (n.d.)
in the ppm range until we know more about this chemical. As you can see from
the tests, some companies have n.d. amounts while others have far more than
that. I find this unacceptable, and so should you.
Creatinine is one of the easy compounds to discuss on this list. Creatinine
is actually a natural byproduct of creatine metabolism in the human body and
of creatine production. A small amount can be found in every creatine
product. However, in some products large amounts can be found, as high as
7700 ppm in one case (see chart). It is probably safe to say that the
ingestion of creatinine is a safe endeavor.
There is some research that links the ingestion of creatinine from meats
with increased colon cancer incidence, but in all honesty I would not put
much stock in that or get all worked up about it. The point is, when I buy
creatine I want to eat creatine, not creatinine.
Though a natural byproduct of creatine metabolism, it does not have any
ergogenic effects and therefore I don't want large amounts of it in my
creatine, period. A high quality creatine product should contain less than
100ppm of creatinine in my opinion.
Like the aforementioned creatinine, sodium is an easy one to talk about.
Also, like creatinine, it is a generally safe thing to ingest at normal
intakes. At the levels found in these creatine products, the amount of
sodium added to the diet is very small and should pose no problems, even to
the most sodium phobic person. However, like I said before, when I pay for
creatine I want creatine, not sodium. The lowest sodium content was 20ppm
and the highest was 500ppm. I leave it to the reader to decide what is a
tolerable sodium content to them.
Believe it or not, the company who did the testing told me that although
those were the main chemicals they tested for, some creatine products read
like a who's who of different chemical compounds, though they admitted that
they are usually found in trace amounts. As for the consumer, if it were me,
I would demand the HPLC test results from whom ever I was buying my creatine
from regarding the chemicals listed in this article.
If you don't care, that's OK also. As for me, I will make sure my creatine
comes only from companies and distributors who sell creatine made by the
large German company, or other companies, who clearly have their collective
act together when it comes to producing an ultra pure creatine product.
The expression "creatine is creatine" no longer holds true. However, a high
quality creatine product it still the best thing going in
Will Brink: More from sports nutrition expert and industry author Will
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