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 world.
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 as such.
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 industry.
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.
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
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
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
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 results.
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
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 resins.
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
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
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 chemical.
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 purer product."
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
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 bodybuilding/sports supplements.
About The Author: More from sports nutrition expert and
industry author Will Brink: Online Articles:
http://www.brinkzone.com/onlinearticles.html Muscle Building
Guide: http://www.musclebuildingguide.com/ Diet Supplements