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
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."