Rhabdomyolysis is caused by severe injury to muscle cells. The condition is serious, and can lead to kidney failure if not properly treated. Basically, muscle cells break down and release byproducts in the bloodstream. One particular protein, myoglobin, is especially hard on the kidneys. Rhabdomyolysis usually occurs when your average couch-potato decides to head to the gym for the first time in months, pushes his-or herself to the brink of exhaustion, and doesn't drink enough water. So today's NYT story that said twenty-four athletes from McMinnville High School in Oregon were diagnosed at their local hospital with rhabdomyolysis caught my attention. The players began complaining about symptoms -- which typically include sore/swollen muscles and dark urine -- a few days after an intense preseason workout.
Was the summer layoff to blame? Did the players report to camp out of shape, force their way through an intense workout, and not stay properly hydrated? Maybe. But doctors aren't ruling out the possibility that supplements may have been involved. Some of the student-athletes reported they regularly consumed a protein shake, but weren't sure exactly what was in it.
Creatine is a popular supplement among high school and college power athletes. The supplement works by increasing water retention in the body, which makes the muscle fibers larger. But if the water pressure inside the cells is high enough, it's possible the increased stress could potentially break down the cells themselves. In fact, there have been a few case studies showing that taking creatine supplements, especially in high doses, may trigger rhabdomyolysis.
Granted, there are a number of compounding factors at play. And we don't even know if creatine was in the protein shake or not. But it certainly makes you wonder when you see a wave of rhabdomyolysis occur in otherwise healthy young athletes.
So I'll keep my eyes peeled for the results of the lab reports, which should surface in the coming days.
photo via Flickr @rdesai