Objective: To describe a case of toxicity secondary to chronic ingestion of 6-12 times the recommended daily allowance of over-the-counter (OTC) chromium picolinate.
Case summary: A 33-year-old white woman presented with weight loss, anemia, thrombocytopenia, hemolysis, liver dysfunction (aminotransferase enzymes 15-20 times normal, total bilirubin 3 times normal), and renal failure (serum creatinine 5.3 mg/dL; blood urea nitrogen 152 mg/dL). She had ingested chromium picolinate 1200-2400 microg/d for the previous 4-5 months to enhance weight loss. The patient had chromium plasma concentrations 2-3 times normal. Thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura and hemolytic uremic syndrome were ruled out by clinical findings, peripheral blood smears, and a bone marrow biopsy. The patient was managed with supportive measures and received blood product transfusions and hemodialysis. Hemolysis stabilized and liver function improved over 6 days. Liver function returned to normal prior to discharge. Renal function began to return on day 12 and her serum creatinine on discharge was 1.3 mg/dL. One year later, all laboratory values were within normal limits.
Discussion: Trivalent chromium is an essential trace element that is considered safe when ingested in normal quantities. Trivalent chromium compounds are used by patients to enhance weight loss, increase lean body mass, and/or improve glycemic control. Information regarding the toxicity of chromium picolinate is limited.
Conclusions: Chromium supplements may cause serious renal impairment when ingested in excess. Medication histories should include attention to the use of OTC nutritional supplements often regarded as harmless by the public and lay media.