More than a dozen varieties of chromium have been omitted from the positive list of nutrients under the recent EU dietary supplements legislation. According to US industry sources, the result has been a stagnation of innovation in Europe and a scramble amongst US companies and organisations to submit toxicity dossiers on the vital trace mineral.
For the last decade, since the US introduction of a mineral form called chromium picolinate claimed to help build muscle and burn fat, American companies have introduced new chemical forms of chromium and investigated their use for diabetes, cholesterol modulation and even depression. Although chromium picolinate has lost its lustre in the arena of muscle building, studies have shown that it is more bioavailable than the run-of-the-mill chromium chloride generally used by cost-conscious multivitamin manufacturers.
"European countries have never allowed these new organic chromium forms so no research has been done," said James Komorowski, director of technical services and business development for Nutrition 21, a New York supplier of ChroMax brand chromium picolinate. "A US Department of Agriculture study found chromium chloride was poorly absorbed, so it'd be a shame if European consumers would not have access to these better-absorbed forms."
The Safety Dance
Nutrition 21 and other suppliers are working with various industry trade groups to submit comprehensive safety dossiers to the European Commission in order to ensure a diversity of chromium forms make the final positive list.
Chromium picolinate is in a unique position because on the one hand, Nutrition 21 recently announced its ingredient has achieved GRAS status indicating lack of toxicity, while on the other hand, the US Institute of Medicine is conducting a safety review after reports of kidney damage. In addition, the EU's Scientific Committee on Food did not approve chromium picolinate in 1999 because it claimed insufficient human bioavailability data was submitted.
Nevertheless, Komorowski is confident that between the GRAS finding, the conclusion of the IOM review and Nutrition 21's toxicity dossier, the EU authorities will change their minds. "When the IOM assesses the data we see, and sees it's safe, it will make chromium pic's safety clearer to sceptics," he said.
Researching The Mineral
Phil Harvey, chief science officer for the National Nutritional Foods Association, based in California, is concerned the EU Directive will stifle innovative research and harm US companies looking for new markets. "Right now there are two or three chromium forms and that's all you've got," said Harvey. "Especially with mineral chelates, you want to keep it open in terms of research interests. Something can pop up that we would shut the door on. You don't want to miss any form that has some interesting potential. Science is by no means cut-and-dried."
He cited chromium polynicotinate as an example, a form championed by InterHealth Nutraceuticals, based in California. Unlike the five-member chemical ring of chromium bound with picolinate, chromium polynicotinate is a six-member, oxygen-coordinated form bound by niacin. A study conducted by InterHealth showed it to be even more bioavailable than picolinate, although Nutrition 21 says their picolinate is more stable and less likely to be affected by foods than nicotinate or chloride.
Because chromium polynicotinate is bound with niacin, studies have suggested a similar physiological response as that of niacin but from much lower doses, which is significant because of niacin's infamous "flush." Meanwhile, a chromium histidine complex has been shown in studies at the USDA to absorb better than both polynicotinate and picolinate.
"As science starts to prove the benefits of chromium compounds, people will really develop an interest to put them into products for consumers suffering from diabetes," said Gary Troxel, executive vice president of InterHealth. "I don't think there's going to be any doors shut for anybody, but the regulatory issue with European member states is a hurdle."