The supplement market is a booming multibillion dollar industry. In 2014, supplements were sold to the tune of $104 billion globally. These supplements are intended to not only offer nutrients that someone may be deficient in but also to help lose weight, build muscle mass, and treat diseases like type-2-diabetes. Many of these products make over the top claims and contain active ingredients that have not been shown to be effective in the condition they claim to treat. One of the more popular supplements in recent years have been chromium supplements.
Chromium is a metallic element that is shiny and often found accenting certain aspects of cars. Chromium can be found in nature in three different forms: chromium(II), chromium(III), and chromium(VI). Some research suggests that we need chromium(III) to help enzymes in our body break down the fats and sugars in our diet. However, this idea is still very controversial in the science community and many scientists and health care professionals do not consider chromium as an essential element for mammals. There have, as of 2009, only been 3 reported cases of chromium deficiency. Its funny then that the foolish, quack Dr. Oz reports that 90% of people suffer from chromium deficiency. Someone needs to check their facts! At any rate, people listen to him (unfortunately) and have been buying up these chromium supplements to help themselves lose weight and control their diabetes. Up till recently most people would have likely agreed that this was a harmless fad and that people who were taking chromium daily would not suffer any negative consequences, a recent report by a research group in Sydney shows that this is definitely not that case.
The team of researchers, concerned with the rise in chromium(III) supplements, exposed human fat cells to chromium(III) to see what they might do with it. When they took a snapshot of the contents of the cells, they saw that the ones who had been exposed to chromium(III) had converted it to chromium(VI). That’s not good news. Chromium(VI), or hexavalent chromium, is known to be cancer causing in humans and in mice. People who breathe in excess hexavalent chromium have a higher risk of lung cancer and people or mice who had hexavalent chromium in their water had higher incidences of stomach cancer. The researchers are worried that the rate of sale and consumption of these chromium supplements will lead to a spike in chromium caused cancers in 20-30 years.
While chromium(III) is thought to be harmless, it is the conversion of it to chromium(VI) by the cells of your body that is dangerous. The chromium in the food you eat daily is not likely to cause any problems since it is at such low levels. However, these supplements can contain 10 times more chromium than the food you eat and people are taking them 3-4 times a day. So stop it with these supplement pills, actually stop it with all of them. You don’t have chromium deficiency unless you are one of those 3 people identified. You don’t need the supplement, just eat some food and leave the chromium to your car.