Chromium supplements have been used by bodybuilders for decades to lose weight and it has also been used to help treat patients with diabetes. But according to a study conducted by researchers from Australia, chromium partially turns into a carcinogen once it is ingested and may cause various types of cancer.

The study is alarming, particularly for bodybuilders that have been taking higher than normal doses of chromium in the past decade in the belief that it can help regulate fat and cholesterol, reduce food cravings, and aid metabolism, among other claimed benefits. Unfortunately, researchers said that we may now only begin to see cases of cancer due to the use of chromium supplements.

Numerous reports show that thousands of Americans each year end up in the emergency room due to taking supplements. Unfortunately, many assume that if taking a little bit of nutritional supplements each day has some benefits, then taking many supplements has even more benefits. But this view, according to the researchers, is very much mistaken.

Professor Peter Lay, one of the lead researchers of the study which was a joint project between the University of NSW's School of Medical Sciences and the University of Sydney's School of Chemistry, explained that although their research did not directly show that chromium supplement use increases the risk of cancer, they are nevertheless concerned that they could create the cancer-causing carcinogen in living cells in their tests.

According to the paper published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, the team treated animal fat cells in the lab with Trivalent chromium (III) picolinate, as well as other forms of chromium (III), which is the form of the chemical sold as nutritional supplements.

Using an X-ray beam, the researchers were able to observe for the first time how the chemical turned into Hexavalent chromium (VI), the carcinogenic form of chromium. Many may remember the serious and long-lasting effect of poisoning by this carcinogen from the film "Erin Brokovich," where the California town of Hinkley was exposed – unbeknown to them for years – to the chemical via their drinking water.

"We were able to show that oxidation of chromium inside the cell does occur, as it loses electrons and transforms into a carcinogenic form. It's the first time anyone's seen it in a cell," said Dr. Lindsay Wu, the lead researcher of the study.

The researchers believe that the same transformation of chromium could occur in human cells just as it did in the animal cells in their lab.

They advise anyone taking chromium for diabetes treatment or bodybuilding to immediately inform their health care professionals on their next visit.

Photo: Lin Mei | Flickr 

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