Claims from an ex-All Black that taking creatine contributed to the death of Jonah Lomu has led to the Irish Nutrition + Dietetic Institute and the IRFU reiterating warnings about the dangers of taking the supplement for young rugby players.
Creatine is a naturally occurring substance in the human body and is a legal supplement that is not on either the World Anti-Doping Authority or International Olympic Committee’s lists of banned substances. The taking of extra creatine supplements is used by sports stars for weight gain and muscle growth.
Uncertainty still surrounds the long term impacts of taking creatine with the Irish Nutrition + Dietetic Institute saying there is “no published literature to suggest it is unsafe in healthy players. What is known from scientific literature is that it is recommended not to take if players already have renal (kidney)-related conditions.”
The IRFU website states that “the IRFU strongly advises against the use of nutritional aids, in particular creatine, in young players under 18 years of age. Also the use of protein supplements should not be recommended by schools, coaches, teachers or others involved in the training of young athletes.”
Creatine can have dangerous reactions to medications which may cause breathing difficulty, diarrhoea, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and most crucially kidney problems. Creatine consumption is not recommended for anybody under the age of 18 or who is suffering from kidney or liver diseases as Lomu was.
Joeli Vidri, a former team-mate of All Black legend Jonah Lomu, also suffered from the same kidney problems that led to Lomu’s death. He believes the supplement creatine could have been responsible for both of their health problems.
However Lomu’s doctor John Mayhew, who also served as the All Black’s team doctor, says Lomu was warned never to take the supplement due to his kidney problems. “He knew he had kidney issues, he knew he wasn’t to take anti-inflammatories, he knew he wasn’t to take creatine and if he was taking it, it was not with my open knowledge that’s for sure.”
Lomu won 63 caps for New Zealand before he was forced to retire in 2003 due to health problems associated with the kidney disease nephrotic syndrome. Lomu underwent a kidney transplant in 2004 but the new kidney failed in 2011.
Vidiri who played with Lomu for the Aukland Blues and New Zealand also contracted neuprothic syndrome during his playing career and underwent a successful kidney transplant last summer.
In an interview Vidiri told the Telegraph that Lomu continued to use creatine after being diagnosed with nephrotic syndrome. Vidiri was later diagnosed with the condition in 2000.
Vidiri cited the need to become bigger and stronger as the game became professional with more pressure being placed on players to perform at an elite level. “The supplements were part of that because you wanted to get stronger. The game was getting tougher and faster. You wanted something to help you improve in your rugby career. I stopped taking creatine when we started to get worried about what it was doing to us. As soon as there were rumours about it, I stopped.”
The sports supplement industry of the nineties and early two thousands was a largely unregulated industry which also raises the question of what exactly Lomu and Vidiri were taking. Provided they were taking the supplement.
By Niall Connolly