Harriet Bowen, who had hip replacement surgery, sits in her trailer at the Treasure Beach trailer park in Selbyville, Delaware, June 27, 2012. Bowen, 64, from Salisbury, Maryland, received the Pinnacle all-metal hip in 2008. She soon developed pain, limited mobility and elevated levels of cobalt and chromium in her blood. In July 2011, Bowen's left hip fractured at the implant site, requiring more surgery. Picture taken June 27, 2012. Reuters/Tim Shaffer

Chromium pills, a nutritional supplement, popularly taken for bodybuilding and weight loss may cause cancer, a new Australian research suggests. The research, led by Peter Lay from the University of Sydney's School of Chemistry, Lindsay Wu from the University of NSW's School of Medical Sciences and supported by the Australian Research Council, shows that the pills are partially converted into a carcinogenic form when entering cells.

Some of the nutritional supplements sold contain up to 500 micrograms the trace mineral chromium per tablet. According to the US National Academy of Sciences, up to 200 micrograms of chromium is safe although National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia puts the daily recommended chromium intake for adults to 25-35 micrograms. It’s still under review, reports

The study has raised serious concerns regarding the safety of taking such pills, if taken long term and in high doses. Chromium pills are readily available over-the-counter and diabetics patients take them too. The research has been published in the journal Angewandte Chemie. Prof. Lay says that taking chromium supplements in high doses is potentially dangerous.

“We can't say for certain whether it increases the risk of cancer ... [but] the fact that we can generate the carcinogenic form in living cells is quite a concern,” said Prof. Lay.

Researchers treated animal fat cells with Chromium (III) in the laboratory. Next, the researchers used a synchrotron's intense X-ray beam, which allowed them to see chromium spots throughout the cell and determine if they were carcinogenic. More research is needed to ascertain if the supplements can actually alter cancer risk significantly. However, the “first time oxidation was observed in a biological sample with the same results expected in human cells.”

The findings clearly go against the common belief in people that anything that is available over-the-counter is safe. Professor Greg Johnson, chief executive of Diabetes Australia said although doctors do at times recommend chromium supplements to patients with chromium deficiency, they are not recommended anywhere in the world as there is little evidence of their benefits, writes The Sydney Morning Herald.