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Thursday, January 25
Study says benefits of creatine minimal



PARIS -- French food safety experts linked the sports supplement creatine to a potential risk of cancer and urged it be listed as a banned substance.

The use of creatine supplements, "particularly in the long term," constitutes "a potential carcinogenic risk," said a report by France's Food Safety Agency published on the body's official Web site.

The report said that potential risks associated with taking creatine were "currently insufficiently evaluated," and that the product was of little benefit to athletes hoping to improve their performance.

Creatine is an amino acid produced naturally by the liver and kidneys and stored in muscles. Athletes take creatine supplements to gain extra energy, train longer and bulk up.

The supplement is popular among pro and college athletes in the United States, where it is considered a legal alternative to steroids. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration lists it as a food supplement and allows it to be sold with no more restrictions than those on vitamins.

Creatine is not listed as a banned substance by the International Olympic Committee, but its sale is illegal in France.

High-profile athletes who say they have used creatine include slugger Mark McGwire and tennis player Mary Pierce.

The document, published Wednesday, urged sports governing bodies to consider listing creatine as a banned substance.

Its use "involves a risk disproportionate to its effectiveness," Jean-Louis Berta, a food safety expert at AFSSA, said in an interview.

"Its harmlessness is far from being ascertained," he said.

Past studies have indicated that creatine helps the body build muscle and store energy, and could even assist in preventing brain damage after traumatic head injuries.

But the report by AFSSA's committee of experts on human nutrition found that the increased muscle bulk resulting from the use of creatine supplements was largely due to water retention.

The experts also concluded that widespread claims concerning gains in strength and speed from taking creatine supplements were unfounded. A proven effect was only noticeable in activities lasting around 15 seconds, the report found.

In addition to pointing out the potential cancer risk, the AFSSA report cited studies that associated creatine use with "digestive, muscular and cardiovascular problems."