Consumer Alert! Studies Show Chromium Picolinate is Dangerous

Update 2000 by Dr. Ann de Wees Allen, N.D.

An alarming study conducted by Dr. John Vincent at the University of Alabama shows that chromium picolinate reacts with antioxidants in the cells to produce in "reduced" form of chromium capable of causing mutations in DNA, our human genetic material.

Based on this new research, the University of California at Berkeley warns that:

"Nobody should take chromium picolinate, especially not young people."

This is not the first time that chromium picolinate has gotten negative press from the media and the scientific community. In 1995 and 1996 scientific studies showed that chromium picolinate could damage genetic material in animals. The research was funded by the National Cancer Institute and conducted at George Washington University, Department of Pharmacology, Washington, D.C. and Dartmouth College, Department of Chemistry.

The study included testing specific chromium supplements as well as various forms of chromium. Chromium picolinate, U.S. Patent 5194615, currently the most widely used form of chromium, was included in the study. The potential toxicity of the picolinate form of chromium has been an issue of debate over the past five years.

The three forms of chromium analyzed in the study were:

Cytotoxicity was determined by measurement of colony formation in laboratory animals. Chromosome damage was measured as clastogenicity observed for cells in metaphase. Results were compared to those obtained in cells treated with ligands alone or with chromium. "Treatment with chromium picolinate producing 91 +/- 12% colony survival resulted in 32 +/- 12% of metaphases with chromosome damage." The results are indeed staggering in their implication.

"Chromium picolinate was found to cause significant chromosome damage at a non-toxic dose."

"Chromium nicotinate and CrCl3 (chloride) did not cause chromosome damage at equivalent doses."

Critics of the study retaliated by saying that the amount of chromium picolinate tested was too high to be meaningful. But Dr. Stearns, chromium researcher at Dartmouth College, says that while the doses were high, "They were not out of context considering that day in and day out consumers are taking large amounts of chromium, which may be accumulating the body." Dr. Stearns predicts that after 5 years of swallowing a daily dose of 600 mcg of chromium picolinate, the amount recommended on supplement packages, chromium would accumulate in the body to the level that caused damage in her study."

The study conclusively linked chromosome damage to chromium picolinate. Since the data showed that chromium picolinate causes DNA damage at low, supposedly nontoxic doses, the researchers concluded that, "This study raises the question of the safety of chromium picolinate as a human dietary supplement."

The chromium picolinate industry responded with cries of "bad science" and insisted that chromium picolinate was safe. They chose to ignore the fact that this kind of generic damage in animals can be a loud warning signal of a cancer-causing agent in humans.

Since the Dartmouth study was published, the chromium picolinate manufacturers and marketers have aggressively pushed their product in the nutrient industry. Currently, millions of people are taking chromium picolinate, and many consumers are not even aware that they are ingesting this potentially dangerous nutrient. Chromium picolinate can be found in many of the most popular vitamin supplements including multi-vitamins, sports drinks, diabetic formulas, and weight loss formulas.

Are all chromium supplements dangerous? No. The combination of chromium and picolinate can produce dangerous compounds, not the chromium alone. Safety issues concerning the use of the picolinate form of chromium have been in question for the past few years. Aside from genetic damage evidenced in the recent study, picolinate is known to "break off"from its chromium-bond and cause adverse effects.

Since many vitamin, mineral, and multi-vitamin products currently contain chromium picolinate, it is strongly advised that consumers check labels and ingredients panels of the supplements they are taking to ascertain if they contain chromium picolinate. Consumers are urged to switch to a nontoxic form of chromium, such as niacinbound chromium, also known as chromium polynicotinate. Niacin-bound chromium is the safest and most bioavailable form of chromium. Most health food stores carry niacin-bound chromium polynicotinate