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What's Really in Your Supplements? - An Update on Creatine

by  Will Brink, author of:

Muscle Building Nutrition
Muscle Gaining Diet, Training Routines by Charles Poliquin & Bodybuilding Supplement Review

Diet Supplements Revealed
Real World Fat Loss Diet & Weight Loss Supplement Review


As some well informed readers might recall, I wrote an expose on the various impurities and contaminants found in certain creatines on the market almost a year ago. The article was called "What's really in your creatine?". The article took a close look at the large variations in the quality of different creatines and killed the long standing myth that "creatine is creatine." I expected the article to have an effect on the creatine market both from a wholesale and a retail perspective, and it did. As I predicted in that article, It also got me into hot water with many companies and individuals who sell less than pure high quality creatine. My exact words were "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." I recall the drunk owner of one well known supplement company coming up to me at an after hours party at a convention and slurring "Hey Brink, you cost me a lot of money with that article of yours" to which I responded "serves you right for selling low grade creatine!" I knew where he got his creatine and it was junk. The article examined several key impurities often found in low grade creatines such as Dicyandiamide, Creatinine, Dihydrotriazine, and Sodium. From the tests that were conducted on a dozen or so brands of creatine using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), it appeared the creatine made by a large pharmaceutical company out of Germany was far and away superior to creatine manufactured elsewhere, particularly China where the above chemicals could be found at very high levels.

For what ever reason, I have gotten the unenviable reputation as some sort of defender of the of the sports supplement consumer. A few months ago I came into the possession of a whole new batch of tests on creatine, various liquid creatines, and pyruvate products, from the same lab that did the original tests on creatine. The results came to me through the back door so to speak but the company who did the tests is a multi billion dollar pharmaceutical company and one of the largest producers of chemical intermediates (including the chemicals used to make creatine) in the world.

They know their stuff when it comes to testing for chemical impurities, not that it takes a multi billion dollar pharmaceutical company to do such tests anyway. I sat on the test info for a few months seriously considering whether I really wanted to write another such article and deal with the next drunk guy at some convention who gets mad at me because I exposed the fact that he sold low grade creatine. Hey, it's not my fault what people do to save a few bucks rather than shoot for the good stuff like an honest business person should. I know the words "sports nutrition" and "honesty" seem like an oxymoron, but there are a few good people and good companies out there, not to mention the fact that a quality creatine really is one of the best supplements going and is perfectly safe as many studies have shown. In the end, I decided I could not sit on this information and live with myself. So, I dug through the giant pile of papers on my desk, blew the dust off the test results, and sat down to write another article on the current state of some of the creatine supplements we stick in our mouth. You ain't gonna like what you read unfortunately.

The Current State of Creatine

In some ways, the current state of creatine is pretty much the same as it was last year. A few -though growing number- of companies willing to sell the more expensive and purer creatine and the rest selling creatines that range from OK to really bad! In some respects, at least from these tests, it appears that several of the US manufacturers have improved while the Chinese manufacturers have gotten worse! The accompanying chart is a whole new batch of tests from that of last years tests and shows some creatines are loaded with impurities, in some cases up to 34,000 parts per million (ppm) of a single impurity which is almost 3.5% of the product! Now remember, people don't take say 200 milligrams of creatine, they take 5,000 or even 10,000 milligrams (5-10 grams) of creatine at a time. So, if the product has as much as 3.4% of an impurity, that's 340mg of the impurity per 10 gram serving. During the loading faze the number would be even higher! It's just a good thing that these chemical impurities don't appear to be toxic though one of them (dihydrotriazine) has no toxicity data and therefore should always be found in the non-detectable (n.d.) range in my opinion. A high quality creatine will contain 50ppm or less of dicyandiamide, 100ppm or less of creatinine, 100ppm or less of sodium, and non-detectable (n.d.) amounts of dihydrotriazine. The "good stuff " easily meets these standards and the rest often fall well short as the chart clearly shows. Now of course there are always going to be some batch to batch variations in the above numbers for any manufacturer, but those figures would be the average for any good creatine.

HPLC Creatine Test Results

1German Manufacturer< 50 ppm< 20 ppmn.d.trace
2US Manufacturer #1190ppm400ppm410ppm750ppm
3US Manufacturer #2300ppm100ppm40ppmno data
4US Manufacturer #32500ppm300ppm90ppmno data
5Chinese Manufacturer data
6Chinese Manufacturer data
7US Distributor #150ppm20ppmn.d.trace
8US Distributor #2520ppm40ppm24ppm280ppm
9US Distributor #3220ppm120ppm60 ppm1250ppm
10US Distributor #43000ppm2000ppm16ppm220ppm
11US Distributor #5320ppm60ppm60ppmno data
12US Distributor #650ppm34000ppm!72ppm530ppm
13US Distributor #770ppm30ppm300ppmno data
14US Distributor #8210ppm80ppm160ppmno data
15US Distributor #950ppm20ppmn.d.trace
16US Distributor #10180ppm80ppm176ppm360ppm
17US Distributor #111480ppm80ppm30ppmno data
18US Distributor data
19GB Distributor data
20GB Distributor #250ppm20ppmn.d.trace
21GB Distributor data
22Spanish data
23Canadian Distributor50ppm20ppmn.d.trace

n.d. = non-detectable
HPLC = high-performance liquid chromatography

The State of Liquid Creatines and Gels

Where do I begin with the liquid creatine issue? As you can see from the testing chart done on liquid creatine and gels, it was not a very large sample size. However, the tests were done on the better known brands of liquid creatine and gels. What if a larger sample size of liquid and gel products had been tested? I would expect to see pretty much the same results. Why? Well, even though every company selling liquid creatines and gels wants you to believe they are the one company who has discovered the magic chemical formula for keeping creatine stable in any type of liquid/gel, there is no reason at this time to believe it's true. What I do know is some of the top R&D scientists in the world have told me repeatedly that creatine will not and does not stay stable over months or years in a liquid or a gel period. I was told point blank by one of the largest creatine manufacturers in the world that they had been asked by one of the largest sports drink manufacturers in the world to design a liquid sports drink with creatine in it. They were unable to find a way to make the creatine stable in liquid no matter what they tried and lost millions in potential sales by being unable to produce the product. I suppose it's possible that some small company or entrepreneur has discovered a stabilization process that eluded one of the top laboratories in the world that works with creatine, but I highly doubt it. Now, I actually have to back up somewhat from those harsh statements about liquid creatines and gels. I was recently contacted by a scientist from a company who said they are 90% sure they will have truly stabilized liquid creatine to be launched in the near future but none of them felt anything currently on the market was stable. Our small test results would seem to agree with that assessment, but anything is possible right? As the reader can see, one gel was as low as 11.2% creatine with lots of creatinine and the liquid was only 14.4% creatine. I leave it to the reader to make up their own mind regarding such products.

HPLC Creatine Test Results (Gels and Liquids)

1Gel #114.45000 ppm120 ppmn.d.840 ppm
2Gel #211.27000 ppm54 data
3Liquid16.85000 ppm570 ppm860 ppmno data

n.d. = non-detectable
HPLC = high-performance liquid chromatography


So what can the reader do with this information? As I stated in the first article: "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." The same still holds true today and the tests should of course be done by an independent lab. Most companies when asked for test results on creatine will send you a simple purity test.

A purity test will tell you little to nothing. 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 which leaves plenty of space to hide impurities. So, if these impurities concern you, you should ask for the HPLC tests on those specific impurities. If you don't care about it hey, that's your business. So, more today than ever, the old expression "creatine is creatine" fails to hold water. However, a high quality creatine product it still the hottest thing going in bodybuilding/sports supplements. It increases strength, lean body mass, and, to a lesser extent, endurance, so a high quality brand of creatine is still a safe and effective supplement.

The astute reader will recall, I also mentioned I had the testing results for many pyruvate products in the beginning of the article. If you think some of the creatines are bad, wait until you see what's in your pyruvate products! That's for another article. Keep an eye out for it!  

A brief description of the impurities found in low grade creatines 

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. 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 (LD50 /oral / rats = <5000mg/kg). 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 (AllChem Industries data sheet. AllChem Industries inc., Gainesville FL, 32607.). 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.

Creatinine: 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 (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.

Sodium: 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.

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 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 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 regular contributor to Mesomorphosis and former writer for Dan Duchaine's Dirty Dieting newsletter 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 that toxicity 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.

About the Author - William D. Brink
Will Brink is a columnist, contributing consultant, and writer for various health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding publications. His articles relating to nutrition, supplements, weight loss, exercise and medicine can be found in such publications as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body International, Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women’s World and The Townsend Letter For Doctors.

He is the author of Priming The Anabolic Environment and Weight Loss Nutrients Revealed. He is the Consulting Sports Nutrition Editor and a monthly columnist for Physical magazine and an Editor at Large for Power magazine. Will graduated from Harvard University with a concentration in the natural sciences, and is a consultant to major supplement, dairy, and pharmaceutical companies.

He has been co author of several studies relating to sports nutrition and health found in peer reviewed academic journals, as well as having commentary published in JAMA. He runs the highly popular web site which is strategically positioned to fulfill the needs and interests of people with diverse backgrounds and knowledge.

The BrinkZone site has a following with many sports nutrition enthusiasts, athletes, fitness professionals, scientists, medical doctors, nutritionists, and interested lay people. William has been invited to lecture on the benefits of weight training and nutrition at conventions and symposiums around the U.S. and Canada, and has appeared on numerous radio and television programs.

William has also worked with athletes ranging from professional bodybuilders, golfers, fitness contestants, to police and military personnel.

See Will's ebooks online here:

Muscle Building Nutrition
A complete guide bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean muscle

Diet Supplements Revealed
A review of diet supplements and guide to eating for maximum fat loss
He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430
Wellesley MA. 02482.
Email: [email protected]