Hey Brett. I just got a call from my doctor that my routine blood work showed an elevated creatinine (not creatine) level. I’m really freaked out since I looked this up on the internet and I read that this could mean my kidneys aren’t working like th...

Great question. I hope I can help you, man. I am not a doctor but I am a registered nurse. I have 15 years of experience in an acute care setting ranging from ICU to nephrology and medicine. I’ve seen my share of kidney failure in my day and as a bodybuilder and a nurse, I hope I can help shed some light on this matter before you go jumping on a kidney transplant waiting list!
First of all, let’s talk about creatinine (different from creatine) in the blood supply. Serum creatinine is a marker that indicates the functionality of the kidneys. When the kidneys are doing their job properly, the amount of creatinine should be within normal limits. Usually, when you see elevated serum creatinine, the kidneys are not working properly. However, the amount of creatinine the body produces every day depends on the individual’s muscle mass. A little old lady produces much less creatinine than a heavily muscled bodybuilder. Normal serum creatinine ranges are 0.5- 1.0 mg/dl for women and 0.7 to 1.2 mg/dl for men. A serum creatinine level of 2.0 mg/dl may indicate normal kidney function in a male bodybuilder, but 0.7 mg/dl can indicate kidney disease in a frail old woman (Medlineplus.com). Therefore, the best way to determine what is a normal serum creatinine level for you, it would be better to look at your creatinine levels over time, rather than one single blood draw.
Another factor that may have influence on your creatinine levels is when you had your blood drawn. If you had muscle soreness or had performed strenuous exercise in the day of or the day before you had blood work done, you may see an increase in the creatinine level on your blood results. Because creatinine is released by the muscle, any activity that leads to muscle damage including rigorous exercise will lead to an elevation in serum creatinine levels (Victoria Ross for Livestrong.com).
Without healthy kidneys, your body is unable to filter toxic chemicals out of your body which will ultimately lead to a need for dialysis treatment where a machine does the work of your kidneys for you through a tunneled catheter in your chest or arm. It is a very lengthy procedure that is done in 2-4 hour sessions, 3 times a week. You cannot skip a single treatment and you have to be very mindful of what you eat and how much fluid you drink.
You mentioned that you eat a high protein diet and supplement with some common bodybuilding supplements. The truth is that there are no studies that have ever shown a high protein diet causes kidney damage in people with normal kidney function. Only those individuals who already have kidney disease need to be concerned with keeping their protein in check.
You also mentioned that you supplement with creatine powder. Creatine supplements are some of the most effective and popular supplements available for people wanting to build muscle and improve performance. Taking a creatine supplement can increase gains in muscle strength and size. According to Medlineplus.com, Americans use over 4 million pounds of creatine supplements each year. Personally I contribute 20 grams a day to that total with AlphaCre HD and Micronized Creatine Monohydrate.
There are a lot of “opinions” regarding the effect of creatine powder on the kidneys. The fact is, there is no evidence to support the idea that creatine supplements cause kidney damage in healthy individuals. A study by the publication “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise” studied the long term effects of oral creatine supplementation in a group of athletic individuals using creatine for a period of 5 months to 5 years and in a control group. The researchers concluded that there was no statistical difference between the control group and the creatine consuming group in the kidney markers on the blood work of both groups. Thus, this study demonstrates that creatine supplementation does not have any long term detrimental effects on the kidneys.
Because creatine supplements draw water to the muscles from the body, make sure you drink plenty of water. I recommend drinking a gallon of water a day. More is not better with Creatine – stick with 5-10 grams, twice a day. I also recommend keeping your blood pressure in check. Blood pressure is a good indicator of cardiovascular and kidney health so have your blood pressure checked often and you will want to be around 120/70. Also, make sure you perform some cardiovascular activity for a minimum of 30 minutes, 2-3 times a week to keep your heart healthy. I have creatine in my supplement routine both pre and Post Workout. I do two scoops of AlphaCre HD 30 minutes before my workout and put 2 teaspoons (10 grams) of Micronized Creatine Monohydrate in my Post Workout shake!
Like I stated earlier, I am not a doctor so I definitely recommend you follow up with your doctor for any additional testing that he/she orders. However, there is definitely no scientific evidence that the lifestyle you are leading is contributing to kidney damage. Good luck!
Until next time, be consistent and stay balanced!