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What should I watch for if I take creatine?

Side effects of creatine include stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and muscle cramping. Creatine makes your muscles draw -- and retain -- water from other parts of your body. This is not the same thing as building muscle, but it may make you gain weight. It can also put you at risk for becoming dehydrated, so be sure to drink extra water, and don't exercise in the heat.

With those caveats, creatine is probably safe for most people when used at recommended doses. (These vary according to the reasons you're using it, so check with your doctor.) But scientists don’t know as much about creatine as they would like, and for safety's sake, they warn that you should not use creatine when you're pregnant or breast-feeding or if you have kidney disease or a condition that puts you at risk for kidney disease. Some also worry that creatine may cause irregular heartbeat or an unpleasant skin condition or -- if you take it along with caffeine and ephedra -- that it may even increase your chance of having a stroke. There is concern, too, that high doses of creatine could damage the function of your kidneys, liver or heart.

Because creatine may be hard on the kidneys, it may be unwise to use it if you also take any medications that can themselves do damage to the kidneys, such as cyclosporine, gentamicin and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.