Chemical properties and toxicity of chromium(III) nutritional supplements

Chem Res Toxicol. 2008 Mar;21(3):563-71. doi: 10.1021/tx700385t. Epub 2008 Feb 1.


The status of Cr(III) as an essential micronutrient for humans is currently under question. No functional Cr(III)-containing biomolecules have been definitively described as yet, and accumulated experience in the use of Cr(III) nutritional supplements (such as [Cr(pic) 3], where pic = 2-pyridinecarboxylato) has shown no measurable benefits for nondiabetic people. Although the use of large doses of Cr(III) supplements may lead to improvements in glucose metabolism for type 2 diabetics, there is a growing concern over the possible genotoxicity of these compounds, particularly of [Cr(pic) 3]. The current perspective discusses chemical transformations of Cr(III) nutritional supplements in biological media, with implications for both beneficial and toxic actions of Cr(III) complexes, which are likely to arise from the same biochemical mechanisms, dependent on concentrations of the reactive species. These species include: (i) partial hydrolysis products of Cr(III) nutritional supplements, which are capable of binding to biological macromolecules and altering their functions; and (ii) highly reactive Cr(VI/V/IV) species and organic radicals, formed in reactions of Cr(III) with biological oxidants. Low concentrations of these species are likely to cause alterations in cell signaling (including enhancement of insulin signaling) through interactions with the active centers of regulatory enzymes in the cell membrane or in the cytoplasm, while higher concentrations are likely to produce genotoxic DNA lesions in the cell nucleus. These data suggest that the potential for genotoxic side-effects of Cr(III) complexes may outweigh their possible benefits as insulin enhancers, and that recommendations for their use as either nutritional supplements or antidiabetic drugs need to be reconsidered in light of these recent findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biotransformation
  • Chromium / chemistry*
  • Chromium / pharmacokinetics
  • Chromium / toxicity*
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis*
  • Dietary Supplements / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Nutritional Physiological Phenomena


  • Chromium