The trace element vanadium has been studied by the nutrition community for four decades, yet has not achieved essential status for human beings. It is found in compounds at valences of 2, 3, 4, or 5, with the tetravalent and pentavalent forms being the most common. In human beings, pharmacologic amounts of vanadium (ie, 10 to 100 times normal intake) affect cholesterol and triglyceride metabolism, influence the shape of erythrocytes, and stimulate glucose oxidation and glycogen synthesis in the liver. Vanadium's primary mode of action is as a cofactor that enhances or inhibits enzymes. Recent evidence suggests that vanadium may be essential for higher animals. After their mothers had been fed carefully formulated vanadium-deficient diets, second-generation goat kids suffered skeletal damage and died within 3 days of parturition. Although ubiquitous in air, soil, water, and the food supply, vanadium is generally found in nanogram or microgram quantities, which makes it difficult to measure. Estimates for the American intake of vanadium (based on a food intake of 500 g dry weight) are 10 to 60 micrograms/day. Vanadium levels in diets from five regions of the United States range from 30.9 +/- 1.5 in the Southeast to 50.5 +/- 1.5 micrograms/kg dry weight in the West. Although vanadium is thought to be essential for goats, new data may soon support its essentiality in human beings.