Some recent news reports raised questions about the safety of taking chromium supplements, which are commonly used to help control diabetes or a pre-diabetic state.  Chromium supplements are common components of a variety of different supplements including many multivitamins.

The research in question came from a very specialised scientific journal titled ANGEWANDTE CHEMIE. The title of the paper was “Carcinogenic Chromium (VI) Compounds Formed by Intracellular Oxidation of Chromium (III) Dietary Supplements by Adipocytes”. Basically, what this means is that researchers took isolated fat cells and found that when a chromium-like substance that contained the same sort of chromium that you get in supplements was added to the isolated fat cells, there was the oxidation of these  chromium III supplements to chromium to VI.

Unrelated studies have demonstrated some cancer forming potential from chromium VI compounds.

This was very good basic science performed on isolated cells and in reality, has nothing to do with what happens in real life. There has never been any studies linking standard chromium supplementation with cancer in animals or in human beings and it has been the history of science that a variety of well known substances have been linked to cancer often in laboratory animals.

For example, more than 20 years ago one study suggested that peanut butter may cause cancer. Recently there has been some data linking the regular ingestion of processed meats and cancer, causing a marked reduction in the sales of sausages for around a week. At a most bizarre level, there was a study done a few years back showing that if you took one particular component of apple and painted this on the back of a rat, this could also lead to a tumour.

It is therefore a very long bow to suggest that taking an isolated fat cell and adding a certain quantity of a chromium-like substance to this fat cell can then lead to potential cancer causing substances without actually demonstrating that any cancers have been formed anywhere.

Multivitamins and other supplements containing chromium have been used in humans for well over 20 years and there are no studies to suggest an increased cancer rate and in fact, very much the opposite. The longest and largest epidemiologic study in the world, ie. The Nurses Health Study and the Male Physicians Trial looked at the chronic ingestion of multivitamins and in the Nurses component, after 15 years there was a 75% reduction in bowel cancer, 25% reduction in breast cancer and a 23% reduction in all forms of cardiovascular disease.

In summary, although I believe this type of research is very important and improves our knowledge of basic science, to suggest an isolated component of many high quality supplements could increase a person’s risk for cancer is jumping to a very spurious conclusion that in my view should be ignored. There is no doubt that the best way to prevent cancer is to lead a healthy lifestyle which involves the 5 principles of being healthy.

These are:

(1)            Have no addictions

(2)            Good quality sleep

(3)            Good quality eating and less of it

(4)            Three to five hours every week of exercise

(5)            The best drug on the planet – happiness, peace and contentment.