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    So, What's in Your Creatine?

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What's In Your Creatine?

Author: Will Brink

Copyright 2005

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.

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 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

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!

The Chemicals

Dicyandiamide (DC):

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

writer's opinion.

Dihydrotriazine (DT):

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.

Bottom line?

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: Muscle Building

Guide: Diet Supplements


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