Chromium in Medicine

Chromium is a naturally occurring element found in rocks, animals, plants, and soil. It can exist in several different forms. The most common forms are chromium(0), chromium(III), and chromium(VI). No taste or odor is associated with chromium compounds.

In industry, the metal chromium and its compounds are used for making steel, for chrome plating, dyes and pigments, leather tanning, and wood preserving.

Metal alloys containing chromium (Cr), primarily stainless steels and Cobalt/Chromium alloys, are used in a wide variety of medical implants.

Chromium(III) is an essential nutrient that helps the body use sugar, protein, and fat. Some studies have shown that chromium supplements may be helpful for people with type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance. There’s good evidence that chromium can lower glucose levels and improve insulin sensitivity, although not all studies have shown a benefit.

Chromium(VI) at high levels can damage the nose and cause cancer. Ingesting high levels of chromium(VI) may result in anemia or damage to the stomach or intestines.

Exposure to chromium occurs from ingesting contaminated food or drinking water or breathing contaminated workplace air.

The main health problems seen in animals following ingestion of chromium(VI) compounds are irritation and ulcers in the stomach and small intestine and anemia. Chromium(III) compounds are much less toxic and do not appear to cause these problems.

Sperm damage and damage to the male reproductive system have also been seen in laboratory animals exposed to chromium(VI).

Skin contact with certain chromium(VI) compounds can cause skin ulcers. Some people are extremely sensitive to chromium(VI) or chromium(III). Allergic reactions consisting of severe redness and swelling of the skin have been noted.

Diagnostics:

  • Chromium can be measured in hair, urine, and blood. Higher than normal levels of chromium in blood or urine may indicate that a person has been exposed to chromium. Hair levels reflect longterm exposure or past exposure.
  • The EPA and FDA have established a maximum contaminant level of 0.1 mg/L for total chromium in drinking tap or bottled water.
  • The WHO recommends a maximum level of 0.05mg/L (=50mcg/L)

References