SYDNEY, Jan. 10 (UPI) -- The use of chromium in diet pills and bodybuilding might create an increased risk of cancer, a new Australian study found.
The new research supported by the Australian Research Council found the popular supplement for dieters and bodybuilders -- as well as more recent reports touting its benefits for everything from diabetes to schizophrenia -- has been found to convert into a carcinogen after it enters the body.
"All the evidence is there's very little benefit, particularly at low doses, of taking chromium supplements, and at higher doses they're potentially hazardous," said Peter Lay of the University of Sydney's School of Chemistry.
The research, led by Lindsay Wu of the University of Sydney's School of Chemistry, and just published in the chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, spotlight the risks of taking the over-the-counter supplement in either high doses or over extended periods of time.
"We can't say for certain whether it increases the risk of cancer, [but] the fact that we can generate the carcinogenic form in living cells is quite a concern," Lay said.
Chromium is a trace mineral found in two forms. Trivalent chromium (III) is the type found in supplements, and hexavalent chromium (VI) is the type known to be a carcinogen and was made infamous for contaminating the drinking water and sickening the people of Hinkley, Calif. in the movie Erin Brokovich.
Researchers found trivalent chromium (III) would become hexavalent chromium (VI) in the fat cells of animals when the team chemically mapped out the animal's cells.
"We were able to show that oxidation of chromium inside the cell does occur, as it loses electrons and transforms into a carcinogenic form," Lindsay Wu said.
But the negative effects of the supplement might only be beginning to show. Lay said chromium-induced cancer has a latency period of up to 20 years.
"Chromium supplements have only been widely taken for the last couple of decades," Lay said. "If there are problems, they'd only be starting to emerge."
How people use chromium will also play a role. Some supplements far exceed the recommended daily intake of only 25 to 35 micrograms.
"People tend to think that, if a little bit's good, a lot's better, but we know that's not the case," Lay said. "The other concern is people tend to think that anything you can buy over the counter is safe."