For those who regularly work out, it’s important to get the most from their sessions. This is where supplements can be helpful. When it comes to bodybuilding, one of the most important benefits is the ability to build strength and muscle. For max muscle growth, it’s important to consume more calories than you are burning and more protein than you break down. Also, you’ll want to follow a training program tailored to the muscle group you are targeting.
A healthy diet and supplementation play an important role in muscle development. While some people will say that supplements are not necessary, current advances in purity, quality, and efficacy have disproved this. Supplementation has gone from being optional to being necessary for bodybuilding.
When it comes to bodybuilding, creatine is one of the most popular and well-tested supplements. Research has proven that it can help build muscle, increase endurance, improve recovery, and so much more. Of course, its important to note that results depend upon the type of creatine you use.
We took the time to test a variety of creatine supplements to come up with what we feel are the top 9 best options on the market today. In this article, we’re going to explain more about what creatine is and how it works, as well as the various types of creatine, and so much more. By the time you get finished with this, you should know all you need to know about creatine supplementation.
What is Creatine?
The first thing we need to do is explain exactly what creatine is. This is a chemical that is naturally produced by your body and found in dietary sources such as red meat, seafood, or poultry. It is composed of three amino acids: methionine, glycine, and arginine. Your body needs creatine in order to maintain muscle mass.
Creatine is stored in your muscles and used to create ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, which is used as a fuel source. Though your body does naturally produce creatine, it can’t replenish it fast enough when you are using it- which is why supplementation is necessary. There are many factors that influence creatine stores in your body, including muscle mass, exercise, and hormones such as IGF-1 or testosterone.
Approximately 95% of your body’s creatine is stored in muscles as phosphocreatine and the other 5% is found in your kidneys, liver, and brain. When you use a creatine supplement, phosphocreatine stores are increased. This is why so many professional athletes and bodybuilders use it- to improve workout efficiency, increase strength, and build muscle.
How does it work?
The primary role of creatine in HIIT workouts is to increase phosphocreatine stores in the muscles. This allows users to produce more ATP, which is critical for HIIT workouts and heavy lifting. Typically, ATP levels in your body are just enough to give you about 10 seconds of power. However, with more creatine, you have more ATP, which allows you to perform better.
Below, you will find a few of the ways that creatine can improve your athletic performance as well as your overall health.
- Increases training volume
- Enhances satellite signaling, leading to faster repair, recovery, and growth of muscles
- Increases hormone levels, such as IGF-1 and testosterone
- Hydrates cells, which results in volumization that is believed to contribute to growth
- Lowers myostatin levels (myostatin slows/halts growth of new muscle)
- Improves brain health and improves phosphocreatine in the brain, which is believed to prevent neurodegenerative conditions
Forms of Creatine
There are several forms of creatine available. Generally, creatine monohydrate is the most popular and is found in most creatine supplements. That being said, there are some that contain a combination of 3 to 5 forms of creatine. Below, we’re going to discuss the 6 most common forms of creatine.
Creatine monohydrate is the most common- and the most affordable- creatine on the market today. This form of creatine has been around for a long time and thus has been extensively studied. If you see a research study on creatine, chances are that creatine monohydrate was used. This is the form of creatine that is most often found in supplements on the market today.
Creatine Ethyl Ester
According to some experts, creatine ethyl ester is more bioavailable than other forms. There are some who believe this form is easier for your body to absorb and use than monohydrate- but one study showed that there was really no difference between the two.
Creatine Hydrochloride, or Creatine HCL, is made from bonding a creatine molecule with a hydrochloride molecule. This makes it more water soluble, which may make it easier for the body to absorb and use. There are some who say creatine HCL may be superior to monohydrate- but studies have not proven this yet.
Buffered creatine has a higher pH than monohydrate. The two most common products on the market are Kre-Alkalyn and Cre-Trona. There are some who believe that due to the higher pH, buffered creatine may be more effective than monohydrate. However, once again, there are no studies to back this up.
According to some experts, liquid creatine is much easier for your body to absorb than the powdered form. However, this has only been studied on a smaller scale. That being said, there are some who find it more convenient to use than powdered since it’s already mixed.
Creatine Magnesium Chelate
Creatine Magnesium Chelate is formed when a creatine molecule is bound to a magnesium molecule. Once again, there are some who say this form of creatine is superior to monohydrate and other forms- but there are no studies to back this up.
For the most part, creatine monohydrate seems to be superior to other forms. Perhaps this is because it has been around longer and been studied more. Either way, one thing is for certain, when it comes to creatine, no matter what form it is in the same thing happens: phosphocreatine is increased which increases ATP which means athletic performance and muscle mass are enhanced.
How We Chose Best Creatine Supplements
The most common benefits of creatine include increased muscle mass and strength as well as improved performance. Unfortunately, not all of the creatine supplements on the market hit these goals. With that in mind, we used the following to choose the supplements for our list.
As we mentioned, many of the creatine supplements on the market only use creatine monohydrate. There are some that contain a combination of 3 to 5 different types and those seem to be among the bestsellers. After all, the various types of creatine are processed differently in your system. Some are better for short-term, while others are better for long-term. When combined, you are able to reap a variety of benefits.
Though creatine is a cost-effective supplement, you’ll find a wide variety of price points from $10 for 30 servings to $100 for the same. That being said, a good one doesn’t have to break your budget. In fact, some of the best ones are as little as $0.50 per serving, which makes them a great value. Pricing and value both played a part in our choices.
Reputation/Track Record of Manufacturer
There are some manufacturers that have been around for decades, while others are new to the industry. The age of the company didn’t matter as much as their reputation and track record. We selected companies that used proven ingredients in their creatine products.
Transparency in Labeling
There are some companies that are not 100% honest in their labeling. Some of them use a proprietary blend where they can hide exactly what and how much they use. Others claim to use a few different forms of creatine when the truth is there’s only creatine monohydrate. We made sure that we chose creatine products from companies with honest, transparent labeling.
Honesty in Advertising
There are some companies that promise their creatine will help you become stronger overnight- but this simply isn’t true. If you don’t put in the effort, it’s not going to do anything for you. When choosing the supplements for our list, we avoided those that made exaggerated promises.
Effective Recommended Dosage
Creatine has a specific, tested dosage- typically a scoop/serving size is 4 to 5 grams for best results. The reason for this is that most studies have shown this to be the most effective dosage. Experts say that you need at least 3 grams, but don’t go over 10 grams per day. The creatine products we chose fall within this dosage range.
A creatine supplement doesn’t contain anything else, including protein, stimulants, or other ingredients. When we were choosing the best creatine products, we made sure to avoid those that have additional ingredients. The one exception to this rule is the one that contains electrolytes. We believe that the fewer filler ingredients, the better quality the supplement.
You will find that there are some creatine products on the market that are extremely difficult to mix. They clump and form grainy pockets, which does not make a very good drink. That being said, there are others that are silky smooth and blend quite well. We made sure that the products we chose were tested for pleasant mixability and texture.
Absorbability is another feature that we considered when creating our list. Micronized creatine is the most ideal form for absorption. The term “micronized” means that the creatine has been processed so that the particles are smaller. When the particles are smaller, it’s easier on your system, which means the supplement is more powerful.
2022: Top 9 Creatine Monohydrate Supplements
Our team took the time to reach out to various supplement companies and go through an array of medical and clinical reports to come up with what we feel are the top 9 creatine monohydrate supplements on the market today. Following are our reviews of each one:
According to XWERKS, their creatine supplement, Lift, is formulated to provide increased strength and power within minutes. When used alongside a strength training regimen, this formula increases development of lean muscle, much like other top-rated creatine supplements on our list. XWERKS Lift is 100% pure micronized creatine monohydrate because the company knows that this form is tried and true. It is unflavored, so you can mix it into anything you like.
Cellucor Creatine Monohydrate
Cellucor is one of the most well-known supplement brands in the industry. Their creatine formula promises to significantly enhance performance. When it comes to value, Cellucor can’t be beat- there is 72 servings in each container.
In order to help you reach your muscle building goals, you should take Cellucor Creatine Monohydrate daily. Cellucor has micronized their creatine, so it’s easier for your body to digest and absorb- like most of the other top-rated supplements on our list.
Beast Sports Creature Creatine
Beat Sports Creature Creatine comes in attractive packaging- plus, it’s one of the few creatine supplements that is available in a variety of flavors, including pink lemonade, cherry limeade, beast punch, or citrus. They do also offer an unflavored version if you prefer.
Creature Creatine was formulated with efficiency in mind and is said to be able to help you maintain performance for longer than you typically would without supplementation.
Beat Sports Creature Creatine utilizes several types of creatine in their formula:
- Creatine monohydrate
- Di-creatine malate
- Creatine gluconate
- Creatine anhydrous
You can find Beat Sports Creature Creatine in powder and capsule form- so you have options. The blend of creatine can help with endurance for the short-term, muscle size over long term, as well as strength gains and healing times.
CRN-5 by Crazy Nutrition
Crazy Nutrition is known for bringing a variety of fitness supplements to the market and they promise that their CRN-5 Creatine can provide users with a more extreme workout at a lower price point. Crazy Nutrition uses 5 different forms of creatine in their formula to ensure that you get the most from your workouts. Each serving includes:
- Creatine monohydrate
- Creatine HCL
- Creatine ethyl ester
- Tri-creatine malate
- Creatine citrate pyruvate
Additionally, to facilitate hydration, CrazyBulk has added electrolytes, including magnesium, sodium, and potassium. These help your body regenerate following a strenuous workout.
Onnit has brought an exceptional creatine formula to the market, and it’s no wonder, given their reputation as a producer of high-quality fitness supplements. This formula uses 5 grams of creatine monohydrate in each serving to promote efficiency and strength. This is one of the higher doses on our list.
Onnit promises that their creatine monohydrate is like the others, it helps restore ATP, which is needed for muscle contraction. This means that you can benefit from greater gains in strength, which means you can lift heavier weights for longer.
Optimum Nutrition Micronized Creatine Powder
Micronized Creatine Powder by Optimum Nutrition is another one of the most popular creatine supplements on the market today. Additionally, it’s important to note that Optimum Nutrition is well-known in the industry. Each serving of this creatine supplement contains 5 grams of creatine, which supports the production and recycling of ATP, as well as muscle strength and growth.
This is a pure creatine monohydrate supplement- there are no fillers, and 0 calories and carbs. One of the primary reasons we chose this product is because it comes in a variety of servings: from 30 to 400 servings.
NSP Nutrition Muscle Power Creatine
Muscle Power Creatine by NSP Nutrition promises to help you lose weight and gain muscle faster than other options. This formula, when used daily, can help increase energy, strength, and muscle mass. There is only one form of creatine in this product: creatine monohydrate.
Since there are no fillers, this is one of the best products for anyone that desires to build muscle. Plus, this is an excellent value, because it costs less than $1 per serving.
Elm & Rye Creatine
Elm & Rye is one of the higher end fitness supplement companies on the market today and they have carved out a niche for themselves with their creatine formula. According to the website, this supplement can reduce fatigue during HIIT workouts and improve muscle growth and overall performance. Like the other supplements on our list, this creatine can increase energy and endurance, as well as promote healing and muscle growth.
Plus, this supplement is unique because it’s capsules instead of powder. Each capsule contains 1,400 milligrams of creatine. Since they are so easy to swallow, you can use this creatine supplement on the go. You don’t have to mix them with anything at all.
Performance Lab SPORT Maintain
Performance Lab SPORT Maintain claims to replenish your muscles with nutrients and facilitate muscle growth over the long term. Again, taking a creatine supplement on a daily basis will help you gain endurance, power, and strength. This is also a capsule form, which is easy to take. According to the label, you can take up to 10 capsules in one serving- but you need to take at least 6. As long as you are physically active, you should be safe taking 10 capsules.
Common Foods/Nutrients to consume with Creatine
The results you achieve from creatine supplementation can be affected by the foods/nutrients you are consuming. In order to achieve best results, you’ll want to make sure to use it alongside the following.
Alpha Lipoic Acid
Alpha Lipoic Acid, or ALA, and creatine make a great combo. According to animal studies, ALA enhances glucose uptake into skeletal muscles. Studies also indicate that ingesting ALA with creatine increases creatine uptake via insulin stimulated disposal of glucose.
Both creatine and beta-alanine are credited with improving strength and endurance and by combining the two, there may be other benefits. You can improve creatine loading response by up to 4 weeks when you use both creatine and beta-alanine.
Caffeine and creatine have a complex relationship. They do not mix well when consumed at the same time. In fact, this can have a negative impact on your muscles. In order to maximize the benefits of these two, you’ll want to limit caffeine consumption. You should consume both caffeine and creatine at key points prior to your workouts. Creatine should be taken 2 to 3 hours prior to a workout and caffeine should be consumed about 15 minutes prior for a burst of energy.
During the creatine loading phase, you should consume creatine, protein, and carbs together. This increases insulin sensitivity, which results in a more effective use of carbs and creatine during your post-workout nutrient sensitivity window. After strength training, you should be sure to consume both protein and carbs.
Leucine is well known for building muscle and improving athletic performance and is considered the most important amino acid. You have a system within your body known as the mTOR path, which indicates that you’re in the best environment for muscle growth and requires a diet full of protein and energy. As long as you are using leucine as part of your supplementation, your body will have all it needs for muscle growth and healing.
What Does Science Say about Creatine?
As mentioned, creatine is one of the most studied bodybuilding supplements. Below are some of the positive effects that have been associated with creatine.
In 2003, scientists at Baylor University looked at the effects of creatine on workout efficiency. It was found to be ideal for those who wanted to maximize strength and sprint speed. In these studies, sprint times were improved, and participants were able to lift heavier weights. Additionally, creatine assisted in the development of total muscle mass. That being said, it is not ideal for increasing long-term or aerobic endurance.
According to a review of more than 300 studies, creatine has been associated with substantial increases in muscle growth/development. Many of these studies indicate that creatine increases power, strength, and efficiency by 5 to 15%.
Increased Strength/Muscle Mass
According to the experts, it’s extremely common to stack protein and creatine. One six-week study in 2001 looked at the effects of protein and creatine on several groups of participants. One group was given protein, one was given both protein and creatine, and one was given a placebo. All completed the same resistance training program. During this study, the group that was given both protein and creatine gained the most muscle mass and also increased their bench press and strength scores.
Recovery from Injury
Creatine is not just for bulking up- it is also associated with healing injuries and joint health. One study by Belgian researchers revealed that creatine could restore muscle mass following injury. In this study, 22 healthy individuals were placed in a cast and kept paralyzed for 2 weeks. Then, these participants were either given a creatine supplement or a placebo. The group given the creatine recovered more quickly than the placebo.
Support for Joint Health
As mentioned, creatine has been shown to support joint health, especially in older individuals. Some physicians prescribe creatine to patients at risk for injury or death due to falling. In 2016, researchers conducted a study in which older adults were given a creatine supplement and asked to complete a resistance training program. After 12 weeks, it was revealed that creatine supplementation led to greater strength/muscle mass gains than placebo. Therefore, creatine supplementation is beneficial for all ages to maintain muscle mass and strength- which ultimately leads to healthy joints.
Management of Cardiovascular Health
Some people use creatine to improve their cardiovascular health. In fact, creatine supplementation has been researched for its ability to assist in the recovery process following a heart attack. Those who used creatine along with other therapies showed more improvement than those who were given a placebo. Patients recovering from a cardiac episode experienced an increase in strength and weight when using creatine.
Cognitive Functioning Improved
Many studies have found an association between creatine and cognitive benefits. This is a popular supplement for improving memory/cognition in people of all ages. In 2017, one study involving patients recovering from moderate concussions looked at the effects of creatine. Since creatine is able to reduce damage to the brain, while also maintaining cellular energy, it has been proven as a healing aid.
Research has proven that creatine improves cognitive functioning and helps to prevent wear/tear on the brain in difficult situations, such as when not getting enough sleep or at high altitudes. There is some indication that regularly using a creatine supplement can improve the ability to think under any situation.
Management of Diabetes
Some diabetics use creatine to help with maintaining normal blood glucose levels. One study indicated that creatine can keep glucose levels stable following meals. One study looked closer at this phenomenon. Individuals who took creatine and worked out had better control of their glucose levels than those who only worked out.
As you can see, in addition to improving muscle mass, creatine is also associated with a variety of other health benefits.
Who Should Use Creatine?
Creatine is one of the most commonly used fitness supplements on the market today and it’s no wonder, with so much evidence of its beneficial effects. It is most commonly associated with bodybuilders and muscle/strength development. That being said, there are lots of reasons to take creatine.
Some use it to facilitate muscle recovery. Some use it to grow lean muscle mass. It has also been shown to benefit the brain and joints. As a general rule, the following groups of people should be using creatine supplementation:
- Exercise enthusiasts
- Anyone trying to lose weight while maintaining muscle mass
- Powerlifters or weightlifters
- HIIT sports participants
- Anyone participating in activities without a weight class
- Anyone that wants to live a long and healthy life without the risk of chronic illness
Of course, there are certain groups of people that should not take creatine, at least not without speaking with a medical professional:
- Individuals who have kidney or liver problems
- Individuals who have used creatine without results
Also, it’s important to note that in sports where weight categories are tightly controlled, the extra water weight caused by creatine may be an issue.
If you are looking for a fitness supplement to improve your performance that is safe, tested, and easy-to-take, creatine may be worth considering.
Potential Side Effects of Creatine
Overall, creatine has been declared safe for healthy adults to use regularly and many studies back this safety profile. Research participants usually report no significant side effects, even when taken at high doses for an extended period of time. The only substantial side effect is increased lean body mass, which is also accompanied by weight gain- because muscle weighs more than fat.
Creatine may have negative effects on those who have been diagnosed with liver or kidney disease or hypertension. Also, if you are on any prescription medications, you should discuss creatine supplementation with your medical provider.
Recommended Dosage for Creatine
Typically, dose/serving of a creatine supplement contains 4 to 6 grams of creatine and should be taken 1 to 2 times daily, based on your preference. Most people take it before and after a workout. On maintenance days, most people reduce their dosage to one full scoop- taken at once or in two ½ scoop doses.
Some research indicates that as little as 3 grams of creatine daily can provide benefits associated with creatine supplementation. However, consuming more than 20 grams of creatine daily will not provide additional benefits. While creatine levels rise with supplementation, at some point, you reach a point where it can’t be increased more.
When loading, some people will consume 15 to 20 grams of creatine daily and drop to 3 to 5 grams daily for maintenance. Of course, it’s important to note that if you already have more muscle mass/weight to start with, your body will be able to absorb the creatine better.
According to experts, the ideal dosage for individuals 140 pounds or less is 5 to 6 grams daily and for those who are 200 pounds or more, 8 to 12 grams daily.
FAQs about Creatine Supplements
Many people have questions about creatine supplements. Below are some of the most common ones that come up.
Can creatine be found in food sources?
Yes- but the best way to ensure you’re getting an adequate amount of creatine daily is with creatine supplementation.
Which foods contain creatine?
Creatine is found in beef, poultry, and seafood. However, most of it is lost during the cooking process.
What is the best creatine on the market?
Creatine monohydrate is the most popular form of creatine. Most studies use this type and, at this time, none other has been proven superior.
Is creatine safe?
For healthy adults, creatine seems to be safe- when taken as directed. There have been no significant side effects in studies.
What is creatine loading?
In order to ensure maximum absorption, many people use creatine cycling. When loading, you should consume about 20 grams of creatine daily. However, when you are maintaining creatine levels, you can drop down to 5 grams. Some people choose to take 20 grams on workout days and smaller doses on rest/maintenance days. There has not been a lot of study on creatine loading, so it’s unclear if it is effective.
When should creatine be taken?
There is no “ideal” time to take creatine. You can take it any time of the day. That being said, you’ll want to spread out the doses throughout the day, at about 5 grams each.
Can creatine be taken at night?
Generally, creatine supplements do not contain stimulants, so you should be able to take it at night without having to worry about adverse reactions.
Should creatine be taken before or after a workout?
In order to get the most benefit, most people take creatine before and after their workout.
What is a “creatine shuttle bus”?
There are some people that use a method known as “creatine shuttle bus” to help muscles absorb creatine. Typically, they use 20% creatine and 80% dextrose. This gets the creatine into the muscles faster. Some people even use glutamine.
Will muscle mass be lost when creatine supplementation is stopped?
No, you will not lose muscle mass when you stop taking creatine. However, you may lose a few pounds since creatine does cause water retention.
Does creatine cause water retention?
Yes, creatine does pull water into the muscles, which increases muscle efficiency.
Is creatine supplementation necessary?
No. You can build muscle mass without creatine. However, if you do decide that you want to use creatine, it’s recommended that you start with 20 grams per day for the first week and then drop to 5 grams daily for 3 to 4 weeks. This is known as cycling and there is some indication that this may lead to more significant strength gains.
Will creatine damage your kidneys?
Most studies have shown creatine to be safe in large doses for long periods of time- but there are some that indicate it may affect kidney functioning in older adults. The best way to find out how it may affect you is to speak with your medical provider.
Does it make sense for you to take creatine?
Your body makes creatine on its own and a well-balanced diet can keep creatine levels steady. That being said, if you want to build muscle, creatine supplementation may help.
When it comes to fitness supplements, creatine has been sought-after for a very long time, especially by athletes. When you use creatine, it pulls water into your muscles, which may give you more power and improve your performance. Research also indicates that it builds lean muscle, speeds up recovery time, and improves cognitive functioning.
If you are considering trying a creatine supplement, we suggest that you start with one from our list. We’ve done the hard work, all you have to do is choose the one that fits your lifestyle and routine.
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