Creatine and High Blood Pressure | Ask The Fitness Nerd

[ 4 ] November 17, 2008 |

Can Creatine increase your blood pressure? The Fitness Nerd takes a closer look.



Hello Fitness Nerd,

I was inquiring into the possible connection between creatine use, and high blood pressure. 

I had been using creatine for about 4 weeks, not over-doing it, just a scoop a day after every workout.  Recently, I applied for a Police Force in my city, and when they took my blood pressure, they were somewhat shocked. 


Assuming I was nervous (which I wasn’t), they told me to take a few deeeeeeep breaths, in through your nose, out your mouth, yada yada yada…even calmer now, they took my blood pressure again, and they said, “it actually went up!” 

They were unable to let me do the fitness part of the test based on this, and I find it quite embarrassing since I don’t smoke, and I’m 5′ 10″ 175lbs.  I know we have a history of high blood pressure in our family (not something I’m going to put on my resume exactly!), but I think this is different. How can I feel calm, yet my bp says otherwise?  I went to a drug store last night, feeling pretty calm….my score was 133/69….heart rate 71….   From what I understand, that is unusual.  I took it a few minutes. later, it was 122/something…so I wasn’t sure if it went down, or it was just the machine giving inaccurate numbers…
Any help you’re willing to offer is appreciated. Brian.

Brian,

While the literature on creatine has found it generally safe for use among healthy adults, there are a number of reported side-effects associated with creatine supplementation. And guess what? One of them is high blood pressure.

So the elevated blood pressure that you saw at the Police Academy certainly could bethe result of creatine use.

But before I get into creatine and its possible impact on blood pressure, let’s talk a little bit about about creatine for my readers who may be new to it.

What Is Creatine?

Creatine is a naturally-occurring amino acid that is plentiful in skeletal tissue like muscle.  Fifty percent of the creatine in your body comes from diet (primarily from the consumption of red meat and poultry) and the remaining 50% is produced in the liver, kidney, and pancreas.

About one-third of the creatine in your body is bound-up with phosphate (also known as creatine phosphate or phosocreatine) and circulates freely in your body.

Your body essentially uses creatine to fuel high-intensity, short-duration exercise like weight lifting or sprinting.  Creatine phosphate plays a critical role in regenerating ATP, which is the process that the body uses to fuel muscle contraction, as well as protein production.

Creatine supplementation (typically via creatine monohydrate or one of its variations) basically increases the pool of available creatine phosphate, and in theory, reduces the amount of time required to regenerate the necessary levels of ATP to fuel an additional muscle contraction.

So people who supplement with creatine report being able to pump out an additional rep or two before fatiguing. It’s important to stress that creatine is not an anabolic steroid, but rather a natural vehicle for increasing the ability to perform work without fatiguing — which eventually may lead to increased muscle mass and athletic performance by performing more work, and progressively overloading the muscles.

Creatine also draws water into the muscle, which is one of the reasons that people often not only experience body weight gain during supplementation, but also observe an increase in the appearance of muscle volume. This may also be a mechanism for increasing blood pressure (since the body is retaining more water, which may impact blood volume — and thus, blood pressure.) However, a review of the scientific research cannot confirm this.

A lot of people who try creatine report that it makes them look larger, but not necessarily more “ripped.” This is because much of the initial gain comes from water retention in muscle tissue — and not from additional muscle mass. However, over time, the gains in additional work performed during weight training, can increase muscle growth and size (hypertrophy) that persist even after stopping creatine supplementation.

Creatine Supplementation and Sports/Athletics

Creatine is an allowed supplement by the International Olympic Committee (ICC.)

However, a number of organizations prohibit — or at least disapprove of the use of creatine. These include:

  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) – Prohibits
  • The French Agency of Medical Security for Food (AFSSA) – Disapproves
  • The Healthy Competition Foundation (Blue Cross and Blue Shield) – Disapproves

So if you are partaking in athletic activities with any of these organizations, you may want to reconsider your use of creatine supplementation.

Is Creatine Safe?

Not everyone who tries creatine supplements reports similar results.

Vegetarians, or people who eat minimal red meat, tend to experience the most profound results from creatine supplementation. This is because free-form creatine levels are already low as a result of diet.

If those foods are already abundant in your diet, you probably won’t see as dramatic results. At some point, your system become saturated with creatine, and excretes the excess via urine. If you are already maxed out, your gains will be marginal. This is why many creatine supplement manufacturers will encourage cycling on-and-off creatine at regular intervals.

In terms of safety — as I mentioned earlier — creatine supplementation is generally considered safe for people in good health. The long-term health effects of creatine supplementation have not been widely studied, nor have the effects of creatine in teenagers.

Possible Side Effects of Creatine

There are a number of possible side effects of creatine supplementation. They include:

  • muscle cramps
  • muscle strains and pulls
  • stomach upset
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness
  • high blood pressure
  • liver dysfunction
  • kidney damage

However, it’s important to note that many of these side-effects are disputed in the scientific literature, and are non-conclusive. Many people supplement with creatine with zero side effects and no acute impact on their health. Others may experience some or all of the above creatine side-effects. You just have to take it case-by-case.

Clinical Research on Creatine Supplementation and High Blood Pressure

An extensive review of the scientific literature did not produce any conclusive link between creatine supplements and increased blood pressure.  In fact, I was only able to locate one study that specifically looked at creatine supplementation and high blood pressure.

February 2002 study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exerciseexamined 15 males and 15 females in a randomized, double-blind experiment that administered 20 grams of creatine per day for five days. There was no increase in blood pressure among the subjects receiving creatine. Considering the limited amount of clinical studies in this area, this single study should not be interpreted as conclusive.

Creatine and High Blood Pressure: My Advice

Brian, in terms of the acute high blood pressure you experienced, my first advice would be to drop the creatine and see if your blood pressure levels return to normal. 

This is Occam’s Razor at its best. Look for the simplest, most obvious explanation and eliminate or confirm it.

If after two weeks, your blood pressure is still high, go see your doctor. There can be lot of different factors impacting BP. Because you claim that you are in good overall health — but have a family history of high blood pressure — the best advice is to get it checked out. Even if the high blood pressure goes away after cessation of creatine supplementation, I would still recommend having it regularly checked — especially based on your family history.

Also, know that grocery store/pharmacy high blood pressure machines can be notoriously inaccurate depending on how they are maintained and calibrated. Don’t rely on them alone for accurate BP readings — go into you doctor to be sure.

High blood pressure can put you at risk for all kinds of problems later in life, including a higher risk of developing heart disease.  Based on your family history, take this seriously, and don’t mess around.

Make sense?

Thanks for the great question!
 

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  1. Alex (4 comments) says:

    I’ve used creatine on and off for about a year, and haven’t experienced any side effects as far as I can tell. But I also haven’t had my blood pressure checked while using the creatine, so your article makes me think maybe I should.  Really informative.

  2. Matt (194 comments) says:

    Alex, your results with creatine are pretty typical. I don’t hear about a ton of side-effects from short-term use outside of some stomach upset for some people.

    That said, it’s always good to check with your doctor before supplementing with creatine, or at the very least making sure they know you are using it. This will let them spot potential changes in your vitals — like blood pressure — for instance and identify if you are having side effects that could be related to the creatine supplementation.

    Thanks for dropping by.

  3. Fidela (1 comments) says:

    Excellent, thanks!

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