It’s marketed as a “sugar-balance” pill to help aid weight loss and balance insulin levels for people with type 2 diabetes, but now Australian researchers are warning that the widely available supplement chromium could cause cancer.
Researchers at the University of Sydney and the University of New South Wales found that when chromium picolinate enters cells in the body, part of it is converted into a cancer-causing chemical, the ABC reports.
Worryingly, there are no statistics or figures in how many people are using the supplement.
“We actually don’t know how many people take it,” UNSW research fellow Dr Lindsay Wu said. “We do know that it’s widely available in pharmacies and it is present in many multi-vitamins.”
Chromium is a trace mineral, meaning it is required in the body in minuscule amounts. According to the National Health and Medical Research Council, 25 to 35 micrograms of chromium daily is all adults require. However, some supplements contain up to 500 micrograms per tablet.
Dr Wu says, “There’s no real need to take chromium supplements. There’s no role for it in the body.
“On top of that, knowing that it turns into a cancer-causing form inside the body is quite a concern, so we’re recommending that people stop taking these supplements.”
According to WedMB, chromium is used for improving blood sugar control in people with prediabetes, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and high blood sugar due to taking steroids.
It is also used for depression, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), lowering “bad”cholesterol, and raising “good” cholesterol in people taking heart medications called beta blockers.
University of Sydney’s Professor Peter Lay, who studies chromium biochemistry, says “I certainly wouldn’t take it. I think it’s like most supplements – there’s been poor clinical trial studies done.
“And when you look at some of the things like folates and beta-Carotene when long-term clinical trials were done, they actually increased cancer risks, not decreased cancer risks.”
According to Professor Lay it would take between 10 and 40 years for chromium-produced cancers to develop.
“The concern is people taking chromium supplements over a long period of time and people who are taking them at high concentration. Even at fairly low levels, if you’re taking it for a long time, your chromium levels will build up,” he said.