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Report: Dietary aid with creatine is readily sold to minors

A creatine supplement alongside a glass of grape

A creatine supplement alongside a glass of grape juice. Credit: Getty Images

A college student enlisted by Long Island doctors in an undercover study found that retailers readily sell muscle-building supplements containing creatine to minors, even though medical organizations have warned the dietary aids pose dangers for teenagers.

Creatine, which occurs naturally in the human body and supplies energy to muscles, is made up of two amino acids. It can be produced commercially and is added to many muscle-bulking and testosterone-boosting dietary supplements. The compound can cause severe muscle cramping and dehydration in people under age 18, said Dr. Ruth Milanaik, a specialist in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park.

She has treated patients who have taken the compound, one of whom wound up twice in an emergency room, very sick and experiencing disabling muscle cramps. After several rounds of questioning the patient, Milanaik learned the cause of the problem: creatine-containing supplements.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Sports Medicine strongly advise growing youngsters not to use products containing creatine, though no laws bar sales of the supplements to minors.

Given the recommendations, Milanaik and colleagues wanted to find out whether popular sports performance products containing creatine would be sold to teens. Their report is published in the current issue of Pediatrics.

Maguire Herriman, a Manhattan resident and the student who helped Milanaik with the research, said he was surprised by what they found. He was 20 two years ago when the data were collected. Herriman said he posed as a 15-year-old on the phone, calling 244 retailers who sell creatine-containing body building products.

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He discovered that chain stores and independent retailers both sell and recommend the products to underage purchasers.

“We knew that high school athletes were buying these products but it was surprising how many retailers would recommend them to a 15-year-old,” Herriman said.

More than two-thirds of sales attendants at the outlets told him to give the products a try, and three-quarters of them said a 15-year-old could buy the dietary aids, Herriman said.

In addition, male sales attendants were more likely than female ones to recommend the products without prompting from the student.

“There is no law against selling it to minors, but there is a potential health risk,” said Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral medicine at Cohen Children’s Medical Center and one of the report’s authors. “Our hope was that retailers would be well-informed. Obviously, we were frustrated and disappointed.”

Adesman and Milanaik urged retailers and state legislators Tuesday to consider banning the sale of products containing creatine to minors.

Adesman said the new research could help parents understand that supplements are not always safe products.

“Hopefully, parents will be better informed,” he said. “Stores can’t sell cigarettes to minors, so why should they sell creatine?”

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