I’m no fan of supplements. I despise the sleaze of the supplement industry. However, as I said in my supplements for fat loss and muscle growth guide, of all those claiming to improve performance out there, creatine is one of only two with vast amounts of research showing benefits.
But, is there a nasty little side effect? Here’s a question I had from a reader:
Q) Hi Andy, I heard that creatine can cause hair loss. Should I be worried? Thanks!
A) This is something of a myth that simply isn’t going to die.
- Men love their hair.
- Fear goes viral.
- “Creatine causes hair loss!” is a clickbait title too damn good to share.
- People hate nuanced answers.
I fucking love nuanced answers and given that you haven’t unsubscribed yet, I bet you do too. So here we go…
Creating, DHT, and Male-Pattern Baldness
Hormones that contribute to male sex characteristics, such as body hair, are called androgens.
One of these androgens is called DHT.
If you’re genetically predisposed to male-pattern baldness and you block the DHT receptor in the scalp, it will slow hair loss.
If you raise DHT levels beyond the normal physiological range, it can accelerate hair loss.
You may have heard that steroids “cause” hair loss?
This is because they raise androgen levels, DHT included. (The proper name for steroids is anabolic-androgenic steroids AAS.)
But bear in that the increases that steroids cause are way beyond normal physiological ranges. This an important distinction.
The Single Study on Creatine and DHT
The fear about creatine causing hair loss comes from a single paper in 2009 that looked to see if there was a relationship between creatine intake and DHT levels.
(That’s DHT levels, not a direct study of hair loss.)
In the crossover trial, rugby players were given a placebo for a few weeks, creatine for a few weeks, and their DHT levels were measured at the start, day 7, and day 30.
When taking creatine, a 50% increase in DHT levels in the first 7 days was observed (0.98-1.53), on average.
“Oh shit!” you might think. But not so fast…
- DHT values are not considered high until they are at ~3 or beyond.
- The placebo group started at 1.26 on average, but the creatine group started at an unusually low 0.98 on average, which inflates the 50% figure.
- The DHT numbers fluctuated between 1.0 and 1.5 throughout the study in both the creatine and placebo condition, regardless.
- These values are within normal ranges.
There is no evidence that a small fluctuation within the normal range of DHT speeds up hair loss.
(This is like testosterone — fluctuations within the normal physiological range don’t seem to matter when it comes to muscle growth. It’s only when you start injecting steroids to get yourself *multiple times* higher than the highest natural levels, that there are notable effects.)
This is a single finding, from a single, relatively small study.
You’re either genetically predisposed to going to go bald, or you’re not. Creatine won’t change that, and it’s highly unlikely to speed it up.
If you come across someone who says they took creatine and they started to go bald, chances are it was just coincidental, but people love to point the finger of blame.
Hat tip to my friends Greg and Eric of the Stronger by Science podcast. When I was asked about this, I recalled their discussion. Seriously brilliant podcast if you aren’t subscribed already.
Thank you for reading! 🙏🏻 Questions are welcomed in the comments, as always.
👉🏻 Next, consider reading my Nutrition Setup Guide. 📖