To The Editor,
I am troubled by a recent article published in The Natural Foods Merchandiser's "Behind the Label" magazine. The article was titled "Finding Information on Troubled Herbs" and stated: "Retailers are discouraged from selling germanium, for example, because of problems with toxic contamination in its manufacture."
We truly live in an information age and I am a strong supporter of educating the public on the nutritional industry. However, more important than the dissemination of information is the dissemination of correct information. It's time to set the record straight.
Like many minerals, germanium exists in numerous forms. The form of a mineral greatly affects its biological activity and safety. Minerals like chromium, sodium, potassium, phosphorus and selenium are essential to health and wellness or even life itself. However, they also exist in forms that can be deadly. Understanding the difference between safe and dangerous forms, and the ability to positively discriminate between them, is vital to the safe use of germanium supplements.
Germanium sesquioxide contains a germanium carbon bond and is therefore correctly classified as an organic form. Indistinguishable from germanium sesquioxide in appearance, germanium dioxide lacks a germanium carbon bond and is therefore correctly classified as inorganic.
GeO2 contamination has tainted the reputation of the germanium supplement market considerably.26,27,28 However, contamination of germanium sesquioxide with dangerous levels of inorganic germanium occurs only as a result of extreme carelessness or a wanton act. Analytical testing is capable of detecting levels of contamination far below anything considered dangerous29. Common sense dictates that careful processing and quality controls are necessary to insure the safety of germanium or any other supplement.
The image of germanium sesquioxide was tainted by the actions of a few reckless and unscrupled profiteers over a decade ago. Asian material, grossly contaminated with GeO2, caused numerous cases of renal compromise and some fatalities30-33. This, combined with the failure of "scientists" to correctly classify the different forms, generated considerable fear and confusion and fostered overgeneralized statements on the dangers of all germanium-containing products.26,27,28,31,34
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or [email protected] report issued in 1987 by Okuda, et al, further compounded the misunderstanding. Two cases of renal toxicity were attributed to germanium sesquioxide35. The discussion section of this publication suggested possible product contamination but still attributed the toxicity to germanium sesquioxide. However, the presence of GeO2 contamination in the Okuda, et al, study was proven conclusively in a paper published the following year by Matsusaka, et al.36. Two years later, Okuda revised his position on germanium sesquioxide by demonstrating the inherent safety of chronic high doses of germanium sesquioxide (240 mg/kg/day) and the toxic effects of GeO2 at 150 g/kg/day 37.
The original Okuda error of 1987 has been cited for 15 years as evidence of germanium sesquioxide toxicity. This creates a false perception of a larger body of evidence against germanium sesquioxide. Subsequent authors of scientific publications 30, 32, 34, 38, 39 seem unaware that a correction was made in 198836 and that the subject of germanium sesquioxide toxicity was fully explored again in 199037.
Overwhelming evidence supports the safety of pure germanium sesquioxide. Acute and chronic exposure to extremely high doses demonstrates a margin of safety difficult to surpass 38, 40,41,42,43,44,45,46. Relatively speaking, germanium sesquioxide is at least 1.5 times safer than calcium carbonate47, three times safer than table salt48, four times safer than potassium chloride48, and 23 times safer than chromium picolinate49.
I also think it is important to note that contamination problems occurred with Asian material. However, there has never been a problem with U.S.-manufactured germanium sesquioxide.
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