I've been a diabetic type 2 for 30 years and am using the mineral, chromium picolinate as part of my sugar control. I was about to write this blog post on the subject of the hidden sugars in diabetic "safe" medicines and foods, but prefered instead to set straight the damaging recent scare stories about chromium supplements that have appeared in the press. Chromium is a mineral that many people use to help with blood sugar control and weight loss. So it was alarming to see headlines claiming that taking it could cause cancer.
The source of this surprising claim is a study carried out at the University of Sydney, Australia. It used laboratory cultures of fat cells from mice – artificially kept alive in an environment far removed from a living body. These cells were bathed in the kind of chromium found in supplements, so-called chromium-III.
Using a fancy piece of X-ray technology, the researchers found that a small proportion of the chromium-III inside the cultured cells was oxidised to a form called chromium-VI, which is known as a carcinogenic by-product of some industrial processes. Did the fat cells actually become cancerous as a result? Well, no, the study didn't run long enough to find out.
In fact, this story it isn't really news. Way back in 1995, another study using laboratory cell cultures found that chromium picolinate appeared to cause chromosome damage, and speculated that it might be carcinogenic. But in the 20 years since then, NOT ONE STUDY has shown any real link between chromium supplements and cancer, in either humans or animals. And chromium picolinate has been taken daily by millions of people over the last 30 years, so any such problem would surely have shown up by now.
The fact is that laboratory cell cultures are not people!
• When people take chromium supplements, their cells are not immersed in a chromium solution, but take up as much as they need from the blood
• People have an effective antioxidant system that could be expected to prevent the oxidation of chromium-III to chromium-VI
• Even if chromium-VI were to be produced within cells, people have detoxification processes to remove it and an immune system to destroy any cells that might become cancerous
So, the bottom line is – don't pay too much attention to these scaremongering media reports. There is NO evidence that chromium supplements are in any way dangerous. In fact, they often have multiple benefits, particularly for people with diabetes, as I'll explain in my next blog post.