The popular dietary supplement chromium picolinate, often taken to speed up weight loss, may cause severe DNA damage, finds a new study.
The dietary supplement has gained much notoriety as a safe supplement that supposedly promotes fat loss and muscle enhancement in humans. It has over recent years been added to many sports foods and drinks and a variety of weight loss products.
However researchers report that the compound led to lethal genetic mutations and sterility in fruit flies. Previous studies have also suggested that chromium picolinate might cause DNA damage in rats, say authors of the study in an advance online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The team from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa raised four generations of fruit flies on a medium containing chromium picolinate. They report that in each generation, "the number of progeny reaching the pupal stage of development was diminished by 20-30 per cent" in the chromium picolinate group.
It was also observed that survival of males was particularly at risk. "This observation suggested the possibility that chromium picolinate might be inducing recessive mutations that adversely affected survival of males which possess a single X chromosome, an effect from which females, having two X chromosomes, are protected," they write. And of those flies that did develop, their offspring included a high number of sterile females.
The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a US dietary supplement trade association, said the supplement's safety has been demonstrated by more than 30 human clinical trials and a large body of animal trials.
"The rations of chromium picolinate, provides no meaningful conclusions that change the weight of the strong scientific evidence for safety in humans," said CRN's John Hathcock.
He said that in a review including human studies of supplemental chromium up to 1000 micrograms (mcg) per day, there were no observed adverse effects.
He also said the researchers were "overly credulous in their acceptance of anecdotal case reports regarding chromium picolinate".
The study comes shortly after a supplement containing the herb ephedra was linked to the death of a high profile sportsman in the US. Sports supplements are certainly expected to feel the impact of negative media in the US over the coming months.