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Creatine not worth the risks

I am young and invincible. I'm in my prime and never going to die.

This was never an overt, conscious thought while I was in high school, yet, like most every other prep athlete, I knew it to be true. I played sports full-throttle, working out those long hours and lying in bed with the bruised knees, ribs and the occasional ego, knowing I absolutely would wake up to another day. There was no fear.

But I'm a little scared now.

There is a popular muscle-building supplement on the market called creatine. If you're an athlete you've heard of it. If you're a serious athlete, you're probably using it.

It seems like a miracle drug _ you take a spoonful a day and in just over a week you can see your strength increase. In a vain attempt to recapture the peak form of my high school football days, I began using the supplement with little knowledge of its effects.

Especially in the past few months there have been numerous concerns about what side-effects the crystal-like powder might have. Some users have complained about little things like diarrhea and dehydration to more serious effects like consistent muscle cramping and muscle tears.

Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration, which approves or rejects all prescription medicine, warned consumers to consult a doctor before using creatine. "Much remains unknown about whether creatine is absolutely safe for long-term use at the level currently being recommended," the FDA said.

What really shocked me is that diet supplements are treated differently than prescription drugs and manufacturers don't have to prove their products are safe or even effective. Yet hundreds of professional, college and high school athletes _ even almost-over-the-hill sports writers who want a little help in getting back in shape _ are using creatine.

Here's how it works. When you exercise, the energy your muscles burn comes from a substance in your body called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). After you use the energy, the substance turns into ADP (adenosine diphosphate). Creatine helps your body convert the ADP back into ATP. Creatine is regularly produced in the liver and you get about a gram of the stuff in your daily diet from meat.

By no means did I conduct an official study, but I did use the product consistently with regular workouts for three months and saw both the good and bad sides.

First the good. Within the first two weeks, I increased my bench press by 40 pounds and found I had more energy to work out longer. I had worked out all my life, but the creatine was helping me get better results in a shorter amount of time.

The creatine seemed to be everything it billed itself as to be on the side of the container _ until I started working on my cardiovascular fitness. More than anything, I've always enjoyed a tough bike ride after work or an hour or so of running. What I found is that within 20 minutes of exercising, my legs started to cramp like never before _ from nagging light pulses in my calves to all-out stiffness in my legs.

That's when I started checking the all-knowing internet for answers and found that others had experienced the same problems. Many health professionals won't recommend the supplement because of its effects. The Association of Professional Team Physicians says 85 percent of its members won't recommend creatine until more studies are done, USA Today reported.

One internet site said that because creatine is produced in the liver, there are concerns that adding the consistent five grams a day _ what most manufacturers recommend _ might eventually stop the liver from producing the substance.

Now I'm all for trying to recapture youth, but not at the expense of my health. I stopped using creatine at the beginning of April and have noticed a change. Lifting that weight is a tad bit tougher, but the cramps and restless stomach have disappeared. Coincidence? Only time will tell.