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Trivalent chromium - Assessing the genotoxic risk of an essential trace element and widely used human and animal nutritional supplement

Trivalent chromium [Cr(III)] is recognized as an essential nutrient, and is widely used as a nutritional supplement for humans and animals. Recent reports of the induction of genetic damage in cultured cells exposed to Cr(III) compounds in vitro have heightened the concern that Cr(III) compounds may exert genotoxic effects under certain conditions, raising the question of the relative benefit versus risk of dietary and feed supplementation practices. We have reviewed the literature since 1990 on genotoxic effects of Cr(III) compounds to determine whether recent findings provide a sufficient weight of evidence to modify the conclusions about the safety of this dietary supplement reached in the several comprehensive reviews conducted during the period 1990–2004. The extensive literature on genotoxic effects of Cr(III) compounds includes many instances of conflicting information, with both negative and positive findings often reported in similar test systems. Outcomes of in vitro tests conducted with Cr(III) in cultured cells are quite variable regardless of the chemical form of the chromium compound tested. The in vitro data show that Cr(III) has the potential to react with DNA and to cause DNA damage in cell culture systems, but under normal circumstances, restricted access of Cr(III) to cells in vivo limits or prevents genotoxicity in biological systems. The available in vivo evidence suggests that genotoxic effects are very unlikely to occur in humans or animals exposed to nutritional or to moderate recommended supplemental levels of Cr(III). However, excessive intake of Cr(III) supplements does not appear to be warranted at this time. Thus, like other nutrients that have exhibited genotoxic effects in vitro under high exposure conditions, nutritional benefits appear to outweigh the theoretical risk of genotoxic effects in vivo at normal or modestly elevated physiological intake levels.

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